General Paper notes: Essay Introductions

Excerpt and adapted from "Writing Introductions" GP tuition notes. Copyright Knowledge Skills LLP


The opening paragraph or introduction to a GP essay is one of the most important parts of the essay.

GP students should aim to begin their essay in a manner which accomplishes three main things:

  • Introducing and clarifying the key ideas so as to let the reader know what the essay is going to be about
  • Effectively signalling the direction in which the essay is heading. This is usually achieved by a clear thesis statement that uses the key ideas discussed earlier as leverage.
  • And as a bonus, to get the interest of the reader. From a reader’s perspective (and from our teaching experience), an essay that has a interesting start is a sheer delight after marking dozens of bland openings!

Each of these components have specific strategies. This will be elaborated later under a dedicated “Writing Introductions” GP tuition lesson.

Yet very often, GP students do none of these things. Instead they resort to rather odd techniques to get started. Here are a few.

Mistake no. 1
The “Encyclopedia or Dictionary definition” opening –

Some students go overboard in beginning their essay by defining every term in the question,  whether the terms need explanations or not.
To begin an essay with: “The internet can be defined as a network of computers . . .” or “War is defined as armed conflict between nations” is both unnecessary and an insult to the reader. You can assume that the marker of your GP essay knows what ‘war’ or ‘internet’ is,  despite how you might think of your GP tutor! 🙂
Worse, you spend needless time and effort that will get you no marks and might even penalise the overall impression.
Do Note! Definitions do have  a place in the introductions but not when they are defining the obvious!

Mistake no. 2
Beating around the bush
– the circular and irrelevant opening
Some students seemingly cannot bring themselves to address the question in the opening paragraph. Instead, they waffle vaguely, going on for many tedious sentences, before finally writing what is really in their introduction by paragraph 2.
This is a terrible start. First you frustrate the reader and risk losing their interest(remember our point of having dozens of other essays to mark?). Second and more importantly, your inability to get to the point probably leads to your inability to have an effective and clear thesis statement – a key component of your introduction.
Furthermore . . .

Mistake no. 3
Abusing the use of rhetoric questions
aka “The bombarding reader with questions” opening –
Interestingly, during GP tuition, some students believe that an effective opening consists of a string of questions such as, “Is the environment truly doomed? Do industries and consumers put self interests before the greater good? Can we get our act together or has the failure of key environmental summits support this pessimism?” etc etc.
While the occasional rhetorical question in the body of an essay may be appropriate and indeed, effective, a string of questions is not.
Worse, more often than not, students end up repeating the essay question…without answering it!!
Students should take note that . . .

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[End of Excerpt - Filed under GP tuition notes]
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