This post, How to Structure Your Essay Introduction, is the second post in our five part Essay Writing Series. In it, we’ll explain how to introduce your themes and structure them into an effective thematic framework.
Some common questions students have about structuring an essay introduction are:
- Why is the structure of an introduction important?
- How do I structure an introduction?
- How should I introduce my themes?
- How should I structure and order my themes?
In this post, we will answer these questions and then give you a step-by-step guide to writing a thematic framework.
Table of Contents
1. Essay Structure
2. Signposting your essay
3. How to structure your essay introduction – a step-by-step guide
4. The next step
Students are often told to produce a sustained argument, but they do not know how to do this. This is because they do not realise how the parts of an essay fit together as a unified whole to present a clear and sustained thesis. A good introduction structure is crucial to producing a sustained argument.
In this, part 2 of our Essay Writing Series we explain how to structure your essay introduction. You may want to read the other posts in our series before this one:
The Importance of Good Essay Introduction Structure
Learning how to write a thematic framework is a crucial step in developing essay writing skills. Band 6 essays score highly because they have excellent structure. Readers must be able to follow you argument from the thesis, to the introduction of themes, and then onto your body paragraphs.
Your analysis and insights won’t get you marks unless they are presented clearly and logically. Writing a strong thematic framework is part of good essay introduction structure. You need it to create a sustained argument to score a Band 6 result!
Read on to find out how to do this by writing a good thematic framework.
To get started let’s think a bit more about essay structure.
The Purpose of Essay Structure
The point of essay structure is to develop a sustained argument. Let’s think about this process for a moment:
- A sustained argument is one that asserts a consistent argument throughout. This argument is the thesis.
- The thesis needs to be supported by a series of ideas that are backed by evidence. These ideas will be your themes.
- You need to introduce these themes in your introduction. This means that your readers know what you will argue in the remainder of your essay. These function as signposts.
In this last post, we looked at the structure of an essay. Let’s refresh our memory.
Diagram: The structure of an Essay (© Matrix Education 2017)
This demonstrates that there is a logical sequence to writing an essay. As we considered in the previous post, this process looks like:
- Introduction – Introduce your main argument (thesis);
- Introduction – Explain the key 2 or 3 ideas (themes) that will support your main argument;
- Introduction – Explain how these ideas fit together logically (thematic framework);
- Body Paragraph – Introduce a specific idea;
- Body Paragraph – Present evidence that supports your idea;
- Body Paragraph – Connect this idea to your main argument;
- Body Paragraph – Repeat steps 4,5,6 for the other ideas that support your main argument;
- Conclusion – Restate your argument;
- Conclusion – Make a concluding statement.
What we want to do in step 2, is introduce the key ideas that will:
- Support the thesis (step 1)
- Introduce the body paragraphs (Step 4).
Let’s look at how this works.
Signposting, Topic Sentences, and the Thematic Framework
The thematic framework is a crucial piece of signposting in an essay. But what is signposting?
Signposting is giving cues to a reader so they know where they are orientated in your essay. When we introduce the themes in an introduction, we are telling the reader what to expect as we progress through the argument. This is the thematic framework.
The topic sentences we use to introduce our body paragraphs have a direct connection to the thematic framework in our introduction. When the reader reads the topic sentences, they see a cue that reminds them of what and how we said we were going to argue. This creates a sustained argument.
“Without the thematic framework and topic sentences, you cannot have a sustained argument!”
Now we know what a thematic framework needs to do, let’s put one together.
Writing a Thematic Framework – a Step-by-Step Guide
To build our thematic framework, we will continue look at the question we considered from the first post on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Step 1: Unpacking the Question
Before we look at how to write a topic sentence, we need to have a thesis to link to. Continuing on from Part 1 in this series, we will use Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth (1606) as our text. We will continue to answer the same question:
“William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is not about revenge, it is a play concerned with morality and madness.”
To what extent do you agree with this statement? Make use of detailed references to the play in your response.
To recap, the thesis we developed was:
“The resolution of The Tragedy of Macbeth (1606) is driven by revenge. However, it is Shakespeare’s interrogation of the morality of Macbeth’s actions and his subsequent descent into madness that is the central focus of the text.”
What makes this a good thesis?
Remember, a good thesis must be clear and concise. This thesis is good because:
- In this example, the first statement rejects the questions assertion: revenge is central to the text.
- The second statement qualifies this by stating that morality and madness are also key themes.
- This position is made nuanced by the language we have used.
- Note how we have avoided saying that “we agree,” “to a great extent,” or “to a small extent.” This demonstrates an understanding of form.
An essay is our opinion on the text, this is reflected in any statement we make. By taking a nuanced position we don’t need to say that we are arguing to a specific extent. It is implicit in our response.
Step 2: Choosing and Introducing the Themes
Now that we have made a thesis statement, we need to explain what themes we will discuss and how we will approach them. We call this section of the introduction the thematic framework.
Let’s look at the themes we need to use and how to outline them.
Our question presents the themes we will discuss – revenge, morality, madness – so we don’t need to decide on them. But we do need to explain briefly what aspects of them we will discuss, and how they relate to our argument. Thus, a good thematic framework should be at least two to three sentences for a three theme essay.
In this example, for the sake of presenting a clear example, we will present one sentence for each theme:
Macbeth’s madness is a response to his awareness of his immorality, it is driven by his fear of the revenge he feels he deserves. Macbeth’s actions are immoral, killing a king is regicide and the murder of his friends demonstrate his increasing depravity. As Macbeth’s madness emerges, he questions his morality and is plagued by visions and haunted by the spirits of his victims.
Let’s unpack why this is a good thematic framework:
The first sentence of the thematic framework:
- connects the themes of morality and madness to revenge. It explains that we believe Macbeth has acted immorally and that this is important to an understanding of the text.
“Macbeth’s madness is a response to his awareness of his immorality, it is driven by his fear of the revenge he feels he deserves.”
The second sentence of the thematic framework:
- explains what is immoral about Macbeth’s actions.
“Macbeth’s actions are immoral, killing a king is regicide and the murder of his friends demonstrate his increasing depravity.”
The third sentence of the thematic framework:
- introduces Macbeth’s madness and frames it as a moral consequence of conscience.
“As Macbeth’s madness emerges, he questions his morality and is plagued by visions and haunted by the spirits of his victims.”
Thus, the ordering of these sentences structures the logic of our response:
- Macbeth is about revenge AND morality and madness;
- Macbeth has acted immorally; and,
- Fear of revenge and awareness of his immorality leads to his madness.
This is the process Matrix English Advanced students are taught to use when writing their introductions. When you write your own thematic framework, you could use two sentences if you want to be more concise. We would recommend that you make it at least two sentences, ensuring you include enough detail to foreground the argument you will present in the body.
What is next?
The Next Step: Developing Topic Sentences
Now we have a thesis and thematic framework, we can look at how to write topic sentences. Topic sentences are an important part of essay structure and signposting.
Read part 3 of the Essay writing series, How to Write Topic Sentences to learn why Topic Sentences are essential to a great essay structure!
Want to take your English skills to the next level?
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The essay-writing process:
See our Super Book: Better Essays and Persuasive Techniques
Step 1: Researching information
Brainstorm the issue by investigating a wide range of sources — traditional (books) and non-traditional (web-based). Be sure to canvass a range of views from all stakeholders. (These are groups that have an interest — either personal or professional — in the issue.) What do the experts say? What are your own observations and experiences?
Step 2: Mapping ideas
Your mind map should identify the problem and include the facts, consequences and solutions. Draw arrows between related ideas or group common points.
Step 3: Analysing and classifying information
After you have brainstormed all components of the issue, you need to put them under the microscope and identify the alternative viewpoints. You need to make sense of them and think about which side is more convincing.
1. Organise “for” and “against” points.
2. Think about your information.
- think about which side has the most convincing evidence;
- think in an independent manner; that is, don’t just follow an opinion because an expert or someone you admire thinks in a certain way;
- think logically and critically; that is, question or test your information. (See pp. 20-22.) What does it suggest? What are the consequences?
3. Which side do you think is more convincing and why? You must be confident that your views are the most logical, sensible and persuasive.
Step 4: Planning and drafting
Take three scraps of paper: group together common ideas and write the related parts or a cluster of ideas on each sheet. Explain and develop each idea.
- organise your points or sheets in order of priority;
- start with your most important reason; and
- choose a convincing point from the opposite side to include in your “rebuttal” paragraph.
Think about the “big picture”: before dealing with the pieces, and getting lost among the details, we need to get a sense of the final puzzle so all the pieces fit together.
Headings: write a heading for each group of ideas. This will help you write the statements.
Step 5: Writing: what is your point of view?
Before starting your essay, write a summary outlining your ideas and reasons. This will encourage you to think about what you want to prove. Be specific and clear. The summary will also help to keep you on track.
Your introduction should not only set the scene and arouse interest in the topic, but must clearly outline your attitude or “main contention” and supporting reasons in order of priority. Where necessary, you should also define any key terms and frame your response around these so that you keep on track.
The main contention is a concise statement summing up your point of view on an issue. Take a stance — it is no use “sitting on the fence”. What is your view on the topic? For example, schools should drug test students. The Government should increase taxes on junk food to subsidise fresh fruit and vegetables.
Be confident and state your opinion clearly and assertively. It is important to pursue your views in a way that allows you to sound mature, intelligent and sensitive.
Your body paragraphs and topic sentences
The body paragraphs should outline your most important reasons in order of priority. Each body paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that unifies the paragraph. There should be one main idea in each paragraph.
Topic sentences are statements that become the backbone of your essay and show how you intend to develop your ideas. They answer the question, “What do I want to say regarding the topic?”
You will be expected to follow the TEEL structure in school. TEEL is an acronym relating to the logical sequence of your paragraph according to the following rules: Topic Sentence, Evidence, Explanation, Link.
The topic sentence:
- shows the focus of each paragraph;
- shows how you are interpreting the evidence;
- develops your argument;
- controls the paragraph; and
- gives it unity and order.
You will need to outline your Evidence and Explain and interpret your evidence. What does it say about the topic? How does the evidence support my contention? Make your points and Link them back to your topic sentence.
In a well-written body paragraph, you must ensure that:
- the sentences develop and expand on the topic sentence;
- there is a logical step-by-step progression of ideas; and
- there are no irrelevant or unnecessarily repetitive sentences.
Your discussion should involve a rebuttal. That is, you must find weaknesses in the opponent’s argument and counter-punch. The rebuttal is generally your last body paragraph in your essay.
- Look for your opponent’s errors or blind spots. What facts, surveys and statistics
have been used and how have they been (mis)interpreted?
- Explain your opponents’ weaknesses or shortcomings. This gives
you an opportunity to further strengthen your own views.
- Examine the opponent’s qualifications and motives. Are they likely to gain money or fame from the scheme or proposal? Consider their moral standing and credibility.Are they truthful? Is there evidence of double standards?Do they say one thing and do another?
The concluding paragraph sums up your argument. It should tie together the ideas that were introduced in your introduction and developed in your body paragraphs. It must show how these ideas (causes/reasons/factors) relate to each other and contribute to and reinforce your point of view. If there are two or more parts to the question, be sure to include responses to each part in your conclusion. This gives your essay unity and coherence.
- Keep the structure simple.
- Begin with a link sentence that makes it clear that you are now summing up your main points. Phrases such as “in conclusion”, “finally, it is evident that …” or “to answer the question whether ….” seek to place your conclusion in a context and show that these are your final statements.
- Do not develop any new points.
- Do not include long quotations or simply restate your introduction. You may use a short pithy quote to inject colour into your conclusion, but basically the paragraph should be in your own words.
- Aim for an impact and leave the reader with a sense that your views offer the only course of action. For example, you may forecast future trends and the implications resulting from your discussion. Leave the reader with some food for thought. What might happen in the future?
How can you improve your essay?
Refer Chapters 2 and 3 which cover key strategies that enable you to strengthen your TEEL structure. Specifically, it will help you sharpen your essay by thinking more precisely about the evidence, by making connections between key ideas, and by thinking about your style and the impact of your words.
The following strategies will help you examine your evidence and construct sharper topic sentences.
- Chapter 2: Reasoning strategies: Nowadays, it is easy to cut and paste a range of ideas from digital sources. However, it is important to evaluate the evidence. Does it make sense? What does it prove? Is it relevant? This chapter encourages you to think about a range of information that you may use to prove your point. You must analyse its significance, show connections and draw conclusions. Linking strategies: You must make sure that your essay flows logically, clearly and convincingly. Use keywords and signposts to guide the reader. The sentences in your paragraphs must flow in a logical order; your paragraphs must also be arranged logically so that you can steer readers through your most important points.
See Chapter 2 Reasoning Strategies
- Chapter 3: Persuasive strategies: Consider how you want your readers to think and feel. This chapter introduces you to some common appeals that you may use to influence your reader’s response. Such appeals also help you categorise your information and write sharper topic sentences: Attacking strategies: To counter your opponents’ views, you must be well equipped with a variety of attacking strategies. Which facts have they (conveniently) overlooked or misrepresented? What are their biases? This section shows you how to criticise and isolate them: Stylistic strategies: Your tone, sentence structure, choice of words and pronouns all add to your message. They are part of your personality as a writer and help to influence readers.
Please see our slideshow for an overview:
See Chapter 3 Persuasive Strategies