This is the first of a series of lessons on how to write introductions for IELTS essays. The main messages are that a good introduction is key to writing a good essay, a good introduction can (and perhaps should) be simple and there is more than one way to write an introduction.
Why introductions matter
Introductions matter for a variety of reasons. Two of the most important are that it is the first way you can impress the examiner and it helps you write well-structured essays:
- The introduction is the first thing the examiner reads. Get it right and you are off to a good start – they like you. Get it wrong and you have immediately made a bad impression. It’s like forgetting to say hello when you meet someone.
- The introduction helps you structure your essay. Get it right and the essay becomes easier to write. It may be only 2/3/4 sentences long, but those 2/3/4 sentences can often mean whether you write a good or a bad essay. It is worth spending time on. Arguably, those sentences are the most important sentences in the essay.
What the introduction must do
There are different ways to write an introduction as I will explain below. However, there are certain “golden rules” that you need to remember.
1. The introduction must address the task in the question, not just a general topic
IELTS essay questions are always specific – they ask you to answer something in particular – that’s the task. They are never just about a general topic. A fairly common problem is for candidates to write about the topic and not the task in the introduction. Problem. If you do this the chances are you will not address the task properly in the essay itself.
In the future more adults will work from home and children will study from home, as computer technology becomes cheaper and more accessible. Do you think this is a postive or negative development?
The skill is to read the question and identify what the task is. It’s the bit with the question mark. Though you may need to read back a little as well. You should note that the task is often complex – meaning it involves more than one idea. In this case, the intro needs to address:
whether if in the future it is positive or negative whether children and adults will work form home
This introduction is full of goof language but does not work at all because it fails to address
- the idea of computer technology being used from home
- children and adults
- whether the trend is positive or negative
Computer technology has undoubtedly changed our lives in many ways and it is perhaps the single most influential invention in the history of mankind. There are few other inventions that have had a similar impact on the way we lead our lives and this trend is almost certainly going to continue as it becomes more freely available. Indeed, it is very likely that future generations are going to become more and more dependent on computer technology.
In contrast, this example works well and addresses all the parts of the task
There is no doubt that computer technology has changed the way we lead our lives and that this trend will continue into the future. One aspect of this revolution is the growing tendency for people of all ages to work from home.In my view, this is largely a beneficial change, although there are certain negative aspects to it.
2. It must connect with the rest of the essay – topic paragraphs and the conclusion
Is this too obvious to point out? One possible problem is that you learn to write introductions as a separate skill. The key, however, is to see the essay as a whole with each part of the essay doing a particular job. The role of the introduction is to connect to the question and the different parts of the essay itself. A good intro makes for a coherent essay.
Linking the introduction to the main topic paragraphs
The introduction should also give the reader a general idea of what is to come in the main topic paragraphs. There are different ways to achieve this, but in general you want to make certain that the first sentence in each para relates to something you have written in the introduction. Typically, this means that the final sentence in your intro looks forward to the rest of the essay.
3.Identify your position in the introduction
In some ways, this is the same point as point 2 above. It is though one of those things IELTS examiners are trained to look for so it is worth emphasising. The idea is that the essay must have a consistent position – this means the intro, the topic paras and the conclusion need to say the same thing. If they don’t, your essay won’t be coherent.
There are different ways in which you can identify your position in the introduction and how you do it may depend on the type of essay you write. The two most obvious variations are:
- to state your opinion – this is most appropriate in argument type essays where you give your view about a topic
- to say what the issue is and how you are going to discuss it – this is most appropriate in discussion type essays where you simply discuss an issue
4. Don’t simply repeat the question/task – summarise it
The introduction needs to refer to the question, but it must not repeat it word for word. If you do that, the examiner will “put a line through it” and not count any words you use in the introduction in the word count. This means you need to learn the skill of summarising:
- You can use some of the same language. It is often a mistake to try and change all the words from the question – the right word is the right word
- You can change the form of the words in the question (verbs become nouns etc)
3 different types of introduction
Simon, who is an ex-IELTS examiner, generally favours quick introductions that are “low maintenance”. There is a lot to be said for this point of view
- it allows you to spend more time and words on the main body of the essay
- it works best if you are aiming for a 5 para structure
- it can be surprisingly hard to do, sometimes a slightly longer introduction is easier to write
- there is a danger that you miss out on identifying part of the task and your introduction is incomplete
- it’s good for IELTS, but poor practice for more academic writing
Many languages around the world die every year, often replaced with more widely spoken dialects. Opinions as to whether this is a positive or negative trend are mixed. On one hand, people feel sharing a common language may help to encourage economical development in the world. However on the other hand, many feel the losing of languages is a negative trend that makes it increasingly difficult to trace humanity’s heritage. Both of these accounts will be examined before a conclusion is reached.
- It is technically more correct as an essay introduction – a good thing
- You are much more likely to address the task properly and identify your position
- It’s quite long – perhaps a quarter of the whole essay. This means you have fewer words to use in your main body
- How long does it take to write? Is there a big enough reward for writing an intro that complex?
Enda Tuomey who writes the excellent Writefix site (which I firmly suggest you visit) favours a fairly fixed formula for writing introductions (and essays in general). His formula varies slightly according to the situation but broadly focusses on a 3 sentence introduction.
The strong points of this system are
- The introductions are technically correct (Ryan pretty much follows this system too)
- If you can write one good introduction, it helps you to write another. It helps to learn a pattern.
- As he has updated the site, the formulas have become more complex and therefore less easy to learn
- There is a danger that if you follow too many “rules”, you ignore the question in front of you. IELTS questions vary quite a lot and I am not sure that his formulas fit all the questions.
A fourth way?
Is there a 4th way? Of course there is. It is simply to visit the sites link above and experiment for yourself – they all contain good advice. My introductions vary quite a lot – I choose the introduction according to the essay. I borrow from them all. That’s my best suggestion – learn to write different types of introductions.