Odds are, you’ve heard an instructor say that the introduction is the most important part of your essay. And it’s true! Your intro lets the reader know exactly what you’re going to say in your essay. A good introduction will introduce your topic and tell the reader what you are going to argue (your thesis) and how you are going to convince the reader that your thesis is true (what evidence you will use).
Once you’ve written a strong introduction that contains these elements, don’t forget about it! It’s easy to get sidetracked by the wealth of information and possible arguments at your disposal when writing an essay. But keeping focused on your intro is what can help turn an okay essay into a great one.
For example, let’s say a student began their paper arguing that cheddar is the best cheese to use in a grilled cheese sandwich because of its sharp flavor, gooey texture when it melts, and availability at different price points.
Then this student spent the following three pages talking about the history of cheddar cheese, without stating how it relates to making grilled cheese sandwiches. Yes, this paper would have a lot of information about cheddar cheese, but would fail to support its original thesis that cheddar is the best for grilled cheese sandwiches. That’s because the student was not focused on the argument set out in the introduction.
With that in mind, don’t forget to bring everything back to your main point. Here are a few helpful hints for keeping your paper focused after your introduction.
1. Print out your intro paragraph and keep it out in front of you.
It might seem unnecessary, but if you have your fully typed intro paragraph in front of you along with the rest of your notes or outline, you’re less likely to lose the thread of your argument. Nothing is worse than spending an hour writing a paragraph, only to realize it doesn’t directly relate to your thesis! Use your introduction as a map to refer back to as you steer your reader towards the right destination.
2. Think of the first sentence of each new paragraph or body section as another mini introduction.
You might have heard this called the “topic sentence.” For example, the student writing about why cheddar cheese is the best for making grilled cheese sandwiches might have a paragraph about how cheddar cheese has a sharp flavor. A poorly written first sentence of this new paragraph might simply read:
Cheddar cheese is great because it has a lot of flavor.
Notice that this sentence does not explain how this new section will tie back to the larger introduction on why cheddar cheese is the best for making grilled cheese sandwiches. Why does it matter that cheddar cheese has a strong flavor? And what exactly does it mean for cheddar cheese to be great? Is it great to eat on its own? Is cheddar great for making macaroni and cheese? Unless the student makes a clear statement that tells the reader why this detail is important, and how it fits with the larger argument, the reader won’t necessarily know why the student has written about this detail.
A better sentence would read:
Cheddar cheese is the best cheese for making grilled cheese sandwiches because it has a sharp flavor, whereas other popular cheeses are bland.
In this sentence, the writer has written a clear argumentative statement that fits in with the larger argument. She or he might spend the rest of the paragraph backing up this statement by citing a poll that says most people surveyed say that cheddar tastes better than American cheese, or by talking about the science behind why cheddar cheese has a sharper flavor than Swiss cheese. But no matter what direction the writer takes, the reader will clearly see how this section of the essay leads back to the writer’s thesis. Just make sure to add accurate in-text citations or a works cited page so you’re properly crediting your sources!
3. Don’t be afraid to go back and change your introduction
Once you’ve written something, the last thing you want to do is go back and erase it. But sometimes tweaking or even rewriting your introduction once you’ve fleshed out your main ideas can vastly improve your paper.
Let’s go back to our student’s thesis about cheddar and grilled cheese sandwiches:
Cheddar is the best cheese for making grilled cheese sandwiches because it has a sharp flavor, it gets gooey when melted, and comes in different price options.
This is a really good authoritative thesis statement. As the writer develops the body paragraphs, she or he spends time arguing that cheddar is the best because it has a sharp flavor, but isn’t as intense as certain other cheeses like gorgonzola or aged gouda. Once this body paragraph has been written, it might make sense to change the thesis statement to more specifically say that cheddar cheese is the best choice because it is flavorful, but is not too intense.
In this instance, a quick change to the thesis statement helps the writer make sure that the body paragraph directly supports the thesis. Some writers even prefer to write a thesis statement at the beginning, but save the introduction for the end, when their argument is fully formed.
Although it can feel daunting to have an introduction paragraph finished and the rest of your paper left to write, sticking to your introduction can help you breeze through the rest of your writing process. Just be sure to stay focused on your argument.