How to write an introduction

a guide to writing good introduction paragraphs

Writing an introduction

Definition: What is an Introduction?

The introduction is the beginning of every academic paper. Therefore, it forms one of the three cornerstones of every academic text, next to the main body and conclusion of your paper.

A good introduction skilfully leads the reader to the topic and arouses interest. The introduction paragraph also needs to describe the aims that you want to achieve through writing this very paper, and state which methods you use to achieve your goal.

Contents of a good introduction paragraph

The answers to How to write a good introduction is manifest in three key aspects, namely:

1. Relevance: Why is the research topic important?

2. Research topic: What is the research question and/or topic that will be dealt with? and

3. Procedure: What is your procedure in answering the research question? (cf. Karmasin & Ribing 2014: 29).

In short, the introduction introduces the area of research as well as the research question derived from it. A good introduction tells the reader why answering the research question will lead to new, important insights.

Derntl (2014: 110) summarises three tasks that a good introduction paragraph needs to fulfil, which are in line with the above-mentioned (1) relevance; (2) research topic; and (3) procedure:

How to write an introduction three phases

Also useful: What is plagiarism?

Outline of methods in your introduction

Equally important is the outline of the methods used to answer the research question.

The University of Leicester gives a concise overview of what you need to achieve when writing a good introduction to your research paper – and when to write the introduction paragraph (University of Leicester [a]):

How to write an introduction main roles

In the introduction paragraph you need to justify how and why you narrow down your topic. This will be rounded off by a short description of your line of argument and the structure of your paper.

Tip: Make sure not to turn your introduction into a simple reproduction of your table of contents.

Like the conclusion paragraph, the introduction paragraph of your bachelor thesis must not be a fragment but be consistent and understandable in and by itself. This means that the reader does not need to rely on insights established within the main body of the paper in order to understand the introduction paragraph (cf. Brauner & Vollmer 2004: 121).

Also useful: What is plagiarism?

How to write an Introduction: Structure & most important aspects

StepsAspect in writing an Introduction
Step 1Leading to the topic
Step 2Justification of the topic’s relevance
Step 3Subject of your research paper or essay
Step 4 Aims of your research paper
Step 5 Outline of Methods
Step 6Dissociations and limitations of your research questions and their reasons
Step 7 Differentiation and disambiguation of terms
Step 8Structure of your research paper or essay

Find more detailed Information below by clicking on the relevant aspect.

How to write an Introduction – Step #1: Leading to the topic

There are numerous ways to lead the reader to your research topic:

  • Provocative proposition

(adapted from Brück 1997, quoted in Franck & Stary 2009: 146)

“Sociology can no longer be dissociated from insights and findings on women’s situation in
society that have been developed by feminist scientists over the last 20 years.”

  • Questions

e.g. What can the differences between individuals be attributed to? Is it genetics or environmental factors? And what comprises the practical relevance of this question? (cf. Franck 2004: 64)

This question may also be quite thought-provoking (UNC College of Arts & Sciences 2018):

  • Experiential report that leads to the research topic

(adapted from Faulstich-Wieland 1995, quoted in Franck & Stary 2009: 147)

“Over the last few weeks I have interviewed former teachers of a primary school for girls on the immediate post-war era. Amongst other things I wanted to find out what it meant to them to have taught girls. Unanimously, the pedagogical ambition was found to be the same, regardless of the students being boys or girls.”

  • Description which outlines the problem and/or research topic

(cf. Franck 2004: 65) – this can also be a puzzling scenario (UNC College of Arts & Sciences 2018):

  • A quote

(UNC College of Arts & Sciences 2018):

Make sure the quote is relevant to your research paper and that you do not just use a “famous” quote for the sake of having used a “famous” quote.

Generally, the following overview might be useful when writing your introduction paragraph (De Montfort University 2017):

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 2000-word assignment, select between three and fivc key ideas and introduce them in the precise order in which they will be discussed.

How to write an Introduction – Step #2: Justification of the topic’s relevance

The introduction paragraph of your thesis or research paper contextualises your research topic in the greater schemes of the research area and establishes a connection to the specialist area from general field of study (cf. Rossig & Prätsch 2005: 71).

The following three examples are a guideline as to how you can best tie in with the most current research (University of Delaware n.d.):

How to write an introduction examples background

The following example illustrates how you can point the reader to your topic’s significance (Regoniel 2015):

How to write an introduction significance of the study

Looking at this example of an introductory paragraph, which highlights the relevance of your endeavour, you can see that the author proceeded as follows (Regoniel 2015):

Example of an introduction

How to write an Introduction – Step #3: Subject of your research paper or essay

When writing your research paper introduction or an introduction paragraph for your essay it is crucial to name what you will be researching.

This can be done through taking to your specific research question: Which aspects do you reduce the research topic to, and which definition of the key terms used in your research question will adhere to (cf. Nitsch et al. 1994: 88)?

The research question is derived from the research topic and, therefore, the research question needs to be linked to the research topic you will tackle in your research paper or essay (compare also article Research Question).

How to write an Introduction – Step #4: Aims of your research paper

Another vital question to answer in the introduction paragraph is: Which objective do you pursue, and which outcome is anticipated? (cf. Franck & Stray 2009: 144).

The title of your research paper is not identical to your objectives: Usually, the title of your research paper or essay describes the general subject area as opposed to the niche you want to occupy (Stickel-Wolf & Wolf 2013: 202).

The introduction paragraphs below shows how best to describe the objective of your paper in one sentence (Penn State 2019):

How to write an introduction examples aim

How to write an Introduction – Step #5: Methods

Knowing how to write an introduction also means to have a firm grasp of the methods you will be using to achieve your research goal. The way through which you anticipate to reach your aims needs to be pointed out in the introduction paragraph of your essay or the introduction of your research paper.

This means to explain how you will go about gathering answers to your research question (vgl. Samac, Prenner & Schwetz 2009: 60). Regarding the theory your research paper is based on, this means to outline the theoretical underpinnings of your research paper (incl. the most important literature you use).

In an empirical research paper like your dissertation, which includes empirical studies, the introduction needs to explain the methods used to analyse the data you gathered in your study and how you analyse this data (cf. Kornmeier 2013: 105).

Where appropriate, you could mention practical backgrounds in the introduction paragraph, such as work experiences or research stays. The introduction paragraph should keep this information to a minimum though (cf. Oertner, St. John & Thelen 2014: 31).

How to write an Introduction – Step #6: Dissociations and limitations of your research questions and their reasons

Knowing how to write an introduction also means to know your limits. The introduction paragraph hence dissociates your research topic from other fields in this research area (cf. Rossig & Prätsch 2005: 71).

Knowing how to write a good introduction also means to give valid reasons for any limitations and restrictions you put your research paper under. The introduction paragraph of your research paper clarifies why you restrict your research topic to a certain, potentially very specific research area, and why this is important to achieve the goals you set out to achieve with, for example, your bachelor thesis, or any other research paper for that matter (cf. Stickel-Wolf & Wolf 2013: 202).

How to write an Introduction – Step #7: Differentiation and disambiguation of terms

The introduction paragraph of your research paper, bachelor thesis or master thesis, needs to explain basic but fundamental terms that are vital in the understanding of your research topic.

Explanations of terms that are only relevant to individual segments of your research paper should not be part of the introduction paragraph (cf. Rossig & Prätsch 2005: 71). Focus on terms that you might use (slightly) differently than your readers might expect, and define them accordingly (Case Western Reserve University 2018).

How to write an Introduction – Step #8: Structure of your research paper or essay

Knowing how to write an introduction also includes knowing the structure your research paper takes. In a few sentences in the introduction paragraph you should outline your line of argument, which emerges from the outline (table of contents) of your bachelor thesis, master thesis or dissertation.

Generally speaking, you give an outline of how you will go about answering your research question, which is mirrored in the structure of your research paper (cf. Kornmeier 2013: 106). Also, giving an outline of your research paper in the introduction paragraph will help the reader to keep oriented throughout your research paper or essay.

Below you can find two examples from term papers (Tossey, Lisa. (n.d.); Wilson, Lily. 2016):

  • The main purposes of the investigation of children’s Internet addiction are to study the phenomenon, learn about both views, reveal the true opinion, and create a list of the recommendations for the parents.
  • I will be exploring how these POV cameras are being utilized in teaching, with a focus on science education, to gather data and provide virtual experiences – both in the lab and in the field.
Note: As a rule of thumb, the quality of the explanations depends on the length of your research paper, i.e.: The shorter your research paper, the shorter your initial explanations in the introduction paragraph of your research paper (cf. Franck &Stary 2009: 144).
What you want to achieve is an understanding in the reader as to why you proceed in a certain way, i.e. how your procedure will aid you to answer your research question satisfyingly (cf. Stickel-Wolf & Wolf 2013: 203).

The introduction in essays & introduction paragraph examples

The University of Leicester gives an example of a good essay introduction. Be aware that essays are a particular kind of research paper and differ from e.g., articles or ‘scientific’ term papers. In the following example you see how to write a good introduction to the essay question “What is the importance of imitation in early child development?”(University of Leicester [b]):

How to write an introduction example essay

What do you want to achieve with the introduction to your bachelor thesis?

„We want a story that starts out with an earthquake and works its way up to a climax.”

Samuel Goldwyn, film producer and publisher.

While a scientific research paper is no film script and no professor will expect an earthquake when sitting down to read the introduction paragraph of your research paper, you still want to achieve similar things with your introduction paragraph:

Your introduction paragraph needs to captivate and win over the reader immediately. In doing so, the introduction guarantees that the reader will keep reading your paper with interest.

The introduction paragraph is the actual beginning of your paper, as neither abstract, nor foreword, nor table of contents belong to the actual body of the research paper.

In the introduction paragraph you reach out to the reader for the first time (cf. Esselborn-Krumbiegel 2002: 132), and ideally you would want to leave a good impression on the reader. In providing a short guide through the structure of your paper, the introduction paragraph is the flagship of your research paper (cf. Stickel-Wolf & Wolf 2013: 200).

How to write an Introduction: Length of the introduction paragraph

Planning your writing is quite a pragmatic endeavour. This includes deciding on how long each part of the text needs to be. The lengths of individual parts of your research paper depend on the overall length of your paper.

While the main body of your research paper will be the longest, the introduction paragraph will account for up to 15% of the scope of your text (cf. Stickel-Wolf & Wolf 2013: 201). Gruber, Huemer & Rheindorf advise you to restrict your introduction to only 5%, which is one page in a 20-page research paper (2009: 98), and Esselborn-Krumbiegel (2002: 142) advise 10%.

The introduction paragraph of your research paper, essay or bachelor thesis should hence account for 5-15% of your paper. Andermann, Drees & Grätz (2006: 86) suggest you write up your introduction paragraph in a manner that holds a sensible relation to the rest of the text. Knowing how to write a good introduction is not an easy endeavour just because it is comparatively short in size. Be short and precise, boil everything down to its essence and save the longer versions of explanations for the main body of the text.

Tip: The introduction does not anticipate the main body. Instead, the introduction announces the content of the main body. Hence, the introduction paragraph paves the way into the main body of your research paper or essay. As an announcement, the introduction needs to be short and precise by definition.

Where to start and what to write first: Introduction paragraph vs. conclusion paragraph

Where to start on that blank piece of paper in front of you? As ironic as it might sound, it is a just and well debated question. The introduction paragraph and the conclusion paragraph are closely linked. While the conclusion paragraph summarises the main body of your research paper, the introduction paragraph prepares the reader for it. Hence, both conclusion and introduction are part of a bracket that parenthesise your research paper (Brauner & Vollmer 2004: 120).

Theisen suggests, you write the introduction paragraph as the last part of your paper. This is because you, the author of your paper, are likely to know only at the end of your work what you could actually achieve (Theisen 2013: 152).

The introduction is considered to be the most difficult part, which is why it can be easier to write an introduction at the end once you know where you are headed. It is advisable to start off your paper by one of the chapters of the main body. This strategy can also prevent a writer’s block. This could be done through an appropriate quote that gets the reader started and is then followed by the research context and a research question.

Several authors also emphasise that it is important you have gained a thorough overview of your research topic before you can know how to write your introduction well enough to truly capture the reader. Hence, they too consider writing the introduction paragraph towards the end of the entire writing process of your research paper or essay (cf. Rossig & Prätsch 2005: 71; Bänsch & Alewell 2013: 79; Stickel-Wolf & Wolf 2013: 201).

Contrary to this view, Kornmeier argues that even the author of a research paper should know no more at the point of the introduction than they do at the point they start their writing process (Kornmeier 2013: 109). The research question, too, should not be inserted afterwards (cf. Samac, Prenner & Schwetz 2009: 61).

Where to start and what to write first: Introduction paragraph vs. conclusion paragraph

Where to start on that blank piece of paper in front of you? As ironic as it might sound, it is a just and well debated question. The introduction paragraph and the conclusion paragraph are closely linked. While the conclusion paragraph summarises the main body of your research paper, the introduction paragraph prepares the reader for it. Hence, both conclusion and introduction are part of a bracket that parenthesise your research paper (Brauner & Vollmer 2004: 120).

Theisen suggests, you write the introduction paragraph as the last part of your paper. This is because you, the author of your paper, are likely to know only at the end of your work what you could actually achieve (Theisen 2013: 152).

The introduction is considered to be the most difficult part, which is why it can be easier to write an introduction at the end once you know where you are headed. It is advisable to start off your paper by one of the chapters of the main body. This strategy can also prevent a writer’s block. This could be done through an appropriate quote that gets the reader started and is then followed by the research context and a research question.

Several authors also emphasise that it is important you have gained a thorough overview of your research topic before you can know how to write your introduction well enough to truly capture the reader. Hence, they too consider writing the introduction paragraph towards the end of the entire writing process of your research paper or essay (cf. Rossig & Prätsch 2005: 71; Bänsch & Alewell 2013: 79; Stickel-Wolf & Wolf 2013: 201).

Contrary to this view, Kornmeier argues that even the author of a research paper should know no more at the point of the introduction than they do at the point they start their writing process (Kornmeier 2013: 109). The research question, too, should not be inserted afterwards (cf. Samac, Prenner & Schwetz 2009: 61).

How not to write a good introduction

The following table summarises important aspects you should refrain from when writing your introduction (adapted from Franck & Stary 2009: 144-146):

Don’ts in your introduction paragraphBad Examples of introduction paragraphs
Limitation of research topic is not justified scientifically: If you limit your paper to certain aspects, it is vital to explain your (scientific) reasons for doing so in the introduction paragraph. Limiting your research shows that you have a good grasp of the general research area as well as your possibilities in the realms of your bachelor thesis or essay.“The topic of the philosophy of science is a wide subject. Due to this an analysis of various scientific theoretical approaches will be refrained from in this paper.”
Refraining from further analysis because something is too complex: “[…] is beyond the scope of this paper” does not add anything important to your argument. What follows from refraining from mentioning certain topics/outlines?“The group of themes concerning the relation between the polish minority to German parties; the role of the Polish questions in the Prussian house of parliament; the Polish banks in Berlin etc. have been used during research but the respective descriptions would have been beyond the scope of this paper.”
Justify your personal interest in the matter or making a personal confession:
Science is not about beliefs and your personal conviction is no justification for your bachelor thesis.
“My preoccupation with the works of Toni Morrison stirred up many emotions in me. The more I exposed myself to her work, the more complex my picture of the author and her work turned out to be.”
Recounting the table of contents:
What is the sequence of the chapters? This does not need to be recounted but explicated.
“Chapter six deals with the developed prototype. Single models of domains of prototypes and their points of intersections will be explained. What follows is a description of the implementation and possible extensions of the prototypes. The paper will conclude with chapter seven, which will provide an outlook.”
The introduction does not anticipate the main body. Instead, the introduction announces the content of the main body. Hence, the introduction paragraph paves the way into the main body of your research paper or essay. As an announcement, the introduction needs to be short and precise by definition.

In a nutshell

  • The introduction paragraph is part of the actual research paper (other than the pretext and indices). The introduction paragraph establishes the first contact with the reader, introducing the topic and encouraging to continue reading your research paper.
  • The introduction paragraph of your bachelor thesis should account for 5-15% of the overall length of your research paper.
  • It is advisable to only write the introduction paragraph of your bachelor thesis or research paper after you have finished the main body and conclusion paragraph of your research paper. Only then will you know what you managed to achieve in your research paper and hence you only fuel realistic expectations in the reader through your introduction paragraph.
  • Essential parts of the introduction paragraph of your bachelor thesis also include your research question; the aims of your research paper; and the methods applied to achieve those goals.
  • Make sure to briefly explain how and why you limit your topic. Refrain from phrases like “This is beyond the scope of this paper” as this is not a sufficient or a satisfactory explanation.
  • Finish off your introduction paragraph with an outline of your research paper, i.e. the sequence of the chapters: How the chapters are sequenced, which line of argument you will be following, etc. Make sure you do not simply recount your table of contents.
  • Avoid personal confessions and subjective opinions. Neither of them have their place in the introduction paragraph of your research paper to justify the choice of your research topic or method.

Works cited

Andermann, Ulrich, Martin Drees & Frank Götz. 2006. Wie verfasst man wissenschaftliche Arbeiten? 3. Ed. Mannheim: Dudenverlag.

Bänsch, Axel & Dorothea Alewell. 2013. Wissenschaftliches Arbeiten. 11. Ed. München: Oldenbourg Verlag.

Brauner, Detlef Jürgen & Hans-Ulrich Vollmer. 2004. Erfolgreiches wissenschaftliches Arbeiten – Seminararbeit Diplomarbeit Doktorarbeit. Sternenfels: Verlag Wissenschaft und Praxis.

Case Western Reserve University. 2018). “Division of student affairs. Presenting key terms and concepts”, in: Case Western Reserve University. https://students.case.edu/academic/resources/writing/tone/tone2c.html. Last accessed 12th Aug 2018.

De Montfort University. 2017. “Structuring an introduction, a paragraph and a conclusion“, in: De Montfort University. http://www.library.dmu.ac.uk/Support/Heat/index.php?page=485. Last accessed 12th Aug 2018.

Derntl, Michael. 2014. “Basics of research paper writing and publishing.” International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning 6(2). 105-123.

Eco, Umberto. 2010. Wie man eine wissenschaftliche Abschlußarbeit schreibt. 13. Ed. Wien: Facultas. wuv.

Esselborn-Krumbiegel, Helga. 2002. Von der Idee zum Text – Eine Anleitung zum wissenschaftlichen Schreiben. Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh.

Franck, Norbert. 2004. Handbuch Wissenschaftliches Arbeiten. Frankfurt: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag.

Franck, Norbert & Joachim Stary. 2009. Die Technik des wissenschaftlichen Arbeitens. 15. Ed. Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh.

Gruber, Helmut, Birgit Huemer & Markus Rheindorf. 2009. Wissenschaftliches Arbeiten – Ein Praxisbuch für Studierende. Wien: Böhlau Verlag.

Karmasin, Matthias & Rainer Ribing. 2014. Die Gestaltung wissenschaftlicher Arbeiten. 8. Ed. Wien: Facultas.

Kornmeier, Martin. 2013. Wissenschaftlich schreiben leicht gemacht – für Bachelor, Master und Dissertation. 6. Ed. Bern: Haupt.

Nitsch, Jürgen R. et al. 1994. Der rote Faden – Eine Einführung in die Technik wissenschaftlichen Arbeitens [Betrifft: Psychologie & Sport: Sonderband 22]. Köln: bps-Verlag.

Oertner, Monika, Illona St. John & Gabriele Thelen. 2014. Wissenschaftlich Schreiben – Ein Praxisbuch für Schreibtrainer und Studierende. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink.

Penn State (n.d.). “Essays and Term Papers“, in: Penn State. https://www.e-education.psu.edu/styleforstudents/c6_p13.html. Last accessed 23 Apr 2019.

Regoniel, Patrick A. Feb 9, 2015. “Two tips on how to write the significance of the study“ , in: SimplyEducate.Me.  https://simplyeducate.me/2015/02/09/two-tips-on-how-to-write-the-significance-of-the-study/  Last accessed 12th Aug 2018.

Rossig, Wolfram E. & Joachim Prätsch. 2005.Wissenschaftliche Arbeiten. 5. Ed. Weyhe: PRINT-TEC.

Samac, Klaus, Monika Prenner & Herbert Schwetz. 2009. Die Bachelorarbeit an Universität und Fachhochschule. Wien: Facultas.

Stickel-Wolf, Christine & Joachim Wolf. 2013.Wissenschaftliches Arbeiten und Lerntechniken – Erfolgreich studieren – gewusst wie! 7. Ed. Wiesbaden: Springer Gabler.

Theisen, Manuel René. 2013. Wissenschaftliches Arbeiten – Erfolgreich bei Bachelor- und Masterarbeit. München: Franz Vahlen.

Tossey, Lisa. (n.d.). “Using POV cameras in education to capture personal and unique perspectives – how are emerging visual technologies being used to further learning?“, in: Course Hero. https://www.coursehero.com/file/32193388/Lisa-Tossey-POV-Cameras-Educationdocx/. Last accessed 23th Apr 2019.

UNC College of Arts & Sciences.n.d. “The writing center. Introductions“, in: UNC College of Arts & Sciences. https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/introductions/.Last accessed 12th Aug 2018.

University of Delaware (n.d.). “Examples of Term Papers that Got an A”, in: University of Delaware. https://www1.udel.edu/edtech/gallery/sample-papers.html. Last accessed 23th Apr 2019.

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University of Leicester [b]. (n.d.). “Student learning development. Introduction to an essay: example“, in: University of Leicester. https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/resources/writing/diagnostic/p/pintrotoanessay.  Last accessed 12th Aug 2018. Wilson, Lily. 7 December 2016. “Term Paper Introduction Example“, in: The Pensters. https://blog.thepensters.com/term-paper-introduction-example/. Last accessed 23th Apr 2019.

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