5.2 Structuring and introduction
An introduction is like a guidebook to your whole assignment. It gives background information into your topic area and outlines all the ideas you are going to present. Remember that most introductions will be about 10% of the final essay and will include some or all of the following:
- An introduction to the context or background of the topic (you could include interesting facts or quotations)
- The reason for writing about this topic
- Definitions of any complex terminology that will be referred to throughout the assignment (note that definitions are not always necessary)
- Introduce the main ideas that stem from your topic/title and the order in which you will discuss them?
You may want to use the grid below to help you structure your introduction; you can use the right-hand column to jot down your own ideas.
Structuring an introductory paragraph
|Introduce the context or background to the topic: Perhaps you could explain the title in your own words or use a quotation from an author who offers a supporting or contradictory statement about your topic area.|
|What is the purpose of writing about this topic? Is there a problem or controversy with the topic?|
|Definitions: Are you using any complex terminology or acronyms that need defining? Try to use a working definition from an expert in your subject area rather than referring to a general dictionary definition.|
|Introduce the main ideas that stem from your topic: You cannot write about everything; for a 2,000 word assignment, select between 3-5 key ideas and introduce them in the precise order in which they will be discussed.|
Structuring a paragraph in the main body of your assignment
What is a paragraph?
Paragraphs in the main body of your assignment usually contain a number of sentences which develop new ideas or expand upon existing ones. You may also need to construct paragraphs which offer contrasting views on the ideas you have already developed. A succession of well-structured paragraphs can help to create a coherent and logical argument. You need to consider the purpose of each paragraph:
- Is it developing a new idea?
- Is it expanding on an idea already mentioned?
- Is it offering a contrasting view on an idea already mentioned?
You may wish to use the grid below to record your ideas for each of your paragraphs.
Structuring a paragraph in the main body of your assignment
|An introductory sentence (this is sometimes called a topic sentence): This tells the reader the purpose of your paragraph and introduces the main idea you are developing, expanding upon or contrasting with another.|
|Examples/evidence/quotations: You will usually need to include evidence that develops/contrasts an idea. This informs and strengthens your argument. Try and introduce your evidence clearly and remember to reference the source (either as a citation in the body of your text or as a footnote/endnote).|
|Evaluative sentence/s: You may need to offer some explanation on the relevance of your examples/evidence/quotations. Why is this evidence useful? What does the author say that supports the idea you are developing? Does this evidence have any limitations?|
|Concluding sentence: This draws together the main idea being made in your paragraph.|
Structuring a conclusion
Your conclusion is the final paragraph of writing in an assignment. It must summarise (very briefly) every important idea you have discussed in your work as well as draw conclusions based upon the evidence you have presented. You need to make sure that you have directly answered the question. It is always useful to link your conclusions back to the essay title.
You can use the grid below to help you structure your conclusion. The right-hand column can be used for you to make a note of your own ideas.
Structuring a conclusion
|Summarise each of your points in the order in which you have presented them..|
|State your main conclusions based upon the evidence you have presented.|
|Link your conclusions back to the title – make sure you have directly answered the question and that your reader finishes your essay with a clear sense of your viewpoint on the topic (you must do this without saying 'I').|
Tips to remember:
- Your conclusion will be about 10% of the whole assignment
- You should not include any new information in your conclusion.
This is in response to a highly intelligent thread started in the forum by one of the readers of this site. Are there particular skills you need for writing introductions to discussion essays? Here is my response!
The basics of an IELTS essay introduction
The place to start is to remember what the basics of an IELTS essay introduction are. These, I will stress, are guidelines not rules – there is always more than one way to do it:
keep if brief: it is just the introduction, you want to spend most of your time on the main body paragraphs. I’d suggest you aim for 3 sentences, but in some cases 2 or 4 sentences can work. I personally HATE one sentence introductions.
keep it clear: it is really important that the examiner knows what your essay will be about after she/he has read your introduction. Don’t try and be clever. Think clearly and aim to let the examiner know what you want say. Think is the important word in that sentence.
identify the task: all IELTS essay questions ask you to write in a particular way: this is the task. Examples of this are “Say whether you agree or disagree about x”, or “Say what the causes of y are”. For me, it is really important to put this in the intro because if you don’t your essay may not answer the question. A huge mistake.
identify your point of view: this is what some teachers call “thesis statement”. I don’t. The idea is that what you think should be clear throughout the essay. That means you want to give your answer in the introduction and not just the conclusion.
Is writing introductions to discussion essays special?
I don’t think so. I know lots of candidates and teachers like to categorise essays. Personally, I’m not sure that this is necessary. Better I think to have one set of guidelines and answer the question in front of you. Much simpler that way. It is also much more likely to get you a good score. There are no marks for writing a “discussion essay”, there are only marks for answering the question. So focus on that.
Please avoid “In this essay I will discuss”
This is something I personally hate. Much more importantly, it is an example of tired language that almost all IELTS examiners hate too – they want to see you use your own words and not “learned language” . I will show you some examples of how to do this below.
Top tip – learn to write different introductions
A lot of IELTS essays go wrong because students try to write a particular type of essay that they have practised before. Then they get a question in the test that doesn’t quite fit the model. They try to repeat a form of essay they have learned and fail to answer the question. To avoid this it really helps to learn different ways of doing the same thing. Learn how to write introductions that are two and three sentences long.
Two examples of introductions to discussion essays
This is the original task posted by Rohit, read my intro:
Some people think that the teenage years are the happiest times of most people’s lives. Others think that adult life brings more happiness, in spite of greater responsibilities.
Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.
There are different views about whether people are happier as teenagers or in adulthood. While there is something to be said for the idea that the teenage years can be extremely happy, my view is that most people achieve greater satisfaction later in life when they have a career and a family of their own.
- This is only two sentences long. that can be fine. There are very few rules remember.
- I clearly identify the task.
- My point of view is clear too – I also show that I will be talking about the family and careers too. Neat.
- Note how I use while to connect the two different views I need to discuss. Excellent for your grammar and helpful for this task.
- The logical structure of the essay will be one para about how childhood can be best and another about the joys of being 40! Then when I write my conclusion I simply come back to my intro.
This is a slightly more complex question, but asked in the same way:
There is an increasing shortage of housing in many countries. Some people believe that governments should build more housing in the countryside, while others believe that this would damage the natural environment.
Discuss both these views and give your opinion
Most people would accept that some action needs to be taken about the chronic housing shortage that is threatening so many countries around the world. One logical solution to thisproblem would be to create more housing in the countryside which is relatively underpopulated. My view, however, is that thiswould lead to serious damage to the environment and alternative options need to be found.
- See how this introduction is three sentences long. It is still clear and simple though. This is the situation. Here is a solution. This is what I think about the solution. I am still discussing both view and giving my opinion. Just in a different way.
- See how I link the different part of my introduction together with this and however. You want to make sure that your introduction is well-written. Don’t write too quickly.
- Just like the previous introduction, I Identify the task and I clearly state my view.
- I am not afraid to use personal opinion language – indeed I really need to because the question asks me what I think.
Now test yourself
If you like you can leave me an introduction as a comment to this lesson. The alternative is to pop into the forum and post there. Actually, I’d prefer that as that would allow you to share your language and ideas better. If you follow my advice, you will:
- write 2/3 introductions – don’t bother with the whole essay – focussing on a skill is better for learning
- write different types of introduction – this will help in the test – you can’t predict the question you will have