How to write an introduction

How to write an introduction

We are going to look at the Writing Task 2, the essay of the IELTS and/or TOEFL. They're very similar. That's why we will do them together. There are no big differences, but I will point them out.

And what I'm doing is I'm concentrating on the introduction today, the introduction paragraph and I will not show you the whole essay.

I'm just showing you the introduction. Now, you're wondering, "Why? It's just the introduction. It's a short one, right?" No. This is probably the most important paragraph in your whole essay. This is where you make or break your score.

Why is the introduction so important?

Here is where the reader understands what you're about to do. This is where the grader understands if you understood the question. Understands if you know what you're talking about. Understands if you knew how to plan well. Very, very important is the first paragraph, the introduction.

Why planing is so important

So what are you going to do? Of course you're going to plan first. You're not going to start writing. Do not write one word of your essay until you have your plan ready. Once you have your plan ready, your essay is done. You just have to translate this plan into sentences.

You're going for three to five sentences. If you write less than three, you missed something, you didn't do enough. If you write more than five, you're going for words.

You don't have time, don't worry about it. Three to five get down what you need to get down. Get into your bodies where you're going to be writing the most.

Questions you should answer

There are four questions you want to answer in the introduction. You will already have these answers once you've planned properly. What do you want to answer?

  • What is the topic?
  • What is the question?
  • What is your opinion?
  • What are your reasons?

These are the four things that must be included in the introduction. Now, a lot of you think:

Well, the topic and question are the same thing, right?

But no, they're not. This is where a lot of people lose points because they don't realize that these are two different things. The "topic" is the general idea of what the question is about. The "question" is, specifically, what are you asked to do.

The most common type of question you will see on both the IELTS and the TOEFL is a question that asks you to choose between two things. They want you to choose one and argue why that one is better than the other one, or why that one is so good.

What I'm going to show you today will mostly apply to these types of questions. But if you have a question that asks you to compare and contrast two things, keep in mind even if they ask you to compare two things, they're still going to ask you to lean towards one of them, to choose one as better than the other, in which case you're still going to need to give your opinion.

What is the topic?

You're going to keep this very, very general. All you're doing is giving the idea of what the essay is about.

I know all of you have probably practiced this question:
Is it better to live in the countryside or in the city? Explain your reasons, giving examples, etc.

Your first sentence, very, very general: What is the topic of this question? City life? Country life? No. The topic is "where to live". So your first sentence introduces the idea of living, choosing a place to live.

What is the question?

The question is then more specific, so your sentence narrows a little bit, becomes a little bit more focused. The question is: "Is it better in the country or the city?"

What is your opinion?

Then, you have to give your opinion. You must say:
I believe, I think, In my opinion.

You don't have to use these words. There're other ways to say your opinion, but if you're not sure of those, put one of those.

Make it very, very clear what you're saying. This is your thesis. This is a very specific sentence. After reading this sentence, the grader must understand which side you've chosen and what you're going to argue.

What are your reasons?

And then you see the last sentence gets a little bit more general. Why? Because you're giving your reasons. You're not giving details. You're giving general reasons of why you have this opinion.

So four sentences, or you can squeeze them. Or you can add extra information. Don't go more than five. More than five means you've lost focus. Three means you have a very good command of the language.

Personally, if you can do a very strong introduction paragraph in three sentences, it could actually be better for you than five.

We're going to look at an example, and you'll understand better what I'm talking about here.
Deciding where to live is one of life's more difficult choices. One may opt for life in the country or the city. In my opinion, life in the city is more advantageous. This is due to the fact that the city offers better economic and social opportunities.

Okay, so here's our first example. I made it a little bit more basic.

I've got four different sentences answering each question individually.

Just to refresh our memories, what is the question?
"Is it better to live in the city or the country?"

So remember: I'm starting with a very general idea of the topic. "Deciding where to live is one of life's more difficult choices."

"Where to live" here is your topic. Very general. Have I given any information? No. Have I expressed an opinion? No. All I'm doing is introducing the topic.

That's all I want the reader to know: we're talking about where to live.

Next sentence. "One may opt for life in the country or the city." Now, just in case you're not sure, "opt for" means "choose". I used "choice" here; I used "deciding" here; I want to use as much different vocabulary as I can. "Opt for", if you know it, use it. A little bit extra points for nice language. "One may opt for life in the country or the city." This is your question. Country? City? Very clear.

"In my opinion" very, very direct and to the point. State your thesis. State what you believe. "In my opinion, life in the city is more advantageous." "I choose the city; it's better." That's all I want to say. I'm answering the question. This is my stance. This is my opinion.

"This is due to the fact that the city offers better economic and social opportunities." So I'm going to present the reader with two reasons: economic and social. Am I giving any idea what the economic reasons are? No. Am I giving you any ideas what the social reasons are? No. They're very, very general. I've made it a bit more general.

So I've answered all four questions. I'm doing exactly what the essay's supposed to do, what the essay's asking me to do.

Now, the only thing I would suggest about this one, very basic. Let's join the last two sentences.

"In my opinion, life in the city is more advantageous due to the fact that the city offers better economic and social opportunities."

So now, I have a three-sentence paragraph and a little bit more complex sentence because I have more clauses and more phrases in it. So it shows a little bit of sentence variety. And it's very simple. All you have to do is just take out the beginning. If I want, I can just take out the whole thing -- "due to the fact" is a good expression. Use it, remember it, and just put "because". If you're stuck, if you don't know another expression to show reason, just use "because".

Preferably, you don't use "because" because a thousand other people taking the test with you are also using "because". You want to be a little bit different. You want to stand out a little bit. But if you're panicking, if you're stuck, use "because".

Slight differences between TOEFL and IELTS.

The only difference is the time and number of words. For IELTS, you have 40 minutes to write your essay. TOEFL you have 30 minutes. That's ten minutes is a huge difference, right?

You have to write your paragraph up to eight minutes for IELTS. More than eight minutes, maybe ten with the planning, you're getting into a bit of trouble.

In TOEFL, you have maybe five, six minutes to do this. So you have to be a little bit quicker. You have to be better prepared. All that means is just practice, practice, practice. Write lots of essays.

Another difference in IELTS, you need a minimum of 250 words, whereas in TOEFL you need more words. So write more. If you can add another sentence but not get off-topic, put it in for the TOEFL.

But I'm going to show you another example, a little bit more complex, a little bit fancier, and one that I can use for a "choose one", or a "compare and contrast and choose".

Let's do that.
As a person reaches adulthood, he needs to decide on where he would prefer to live. While there are advantages to both living in the country and the city. I believe that for economic reasons life in the city is more beneficial. This is because the city offers more employment opportunities, as well as a more affordable cost of living.

I made this one a little bit more multipurpose, depending on what kind of questions you're asked.

If you're asked to compare and contrast, you can use this. If you're just asked to choose between two, you can still use this.

First thing you'll notice after we read it: only three sentences, but it's actually longer than the last example.

First sentence: "As a person reaches adulthood, he needs to decide on where he would prefer to live." Again: topic, "where to live". You can introduce another topic, adulthood, because you can incorporate that into your reasons. I'm not saying much. My topic is still "where prefer to live".

Next: "While there are advantages to both living in the country and the city". So here, I'm introducing the fact that I might be comparing. "Both have advantages" - so I'm going to compare these.

"I believe that for economic reasons -- I have your thesis and your main reason -- life in the city is more beneficial" -- I've chosen one. Here's my general reason. Now, you're thinking, "Okay. Done, right?" No, because here's an example of where you can use one reason for your whole essay. You don't have to have two reasons.

"This is because the city offers more employment opportunities, as well as a more affordable cost of living." So now, you realize, I actually do have two reasons under the umbrella of the one reason.

How to think of ideas

So many people think, "Oh, I can't think of ideas. I don't know what to say about this."

If you can have one idea, that's fine. Split it into two categories. "Economic reasons": jobs and cost of living. It's cheaper to live in the city because more people, more things come in, etc.

Complex sentences

I only have three sentences. The second one is a very long, complex sentence.

If you can write a sentence that has more than one clause, more than one phrase, you're going to get bonus points because it shows a very strong command of the language.

In the second sentence, I'm doing three things here almost.
1. I'm showing that I'm going to talk about the advantages.
2. I'm giving you my opinion.
3. I'm giving you my major reason all in one sentence.

And then, I'm getting a little bit more specific about how I'm going to split this up.

A few words about body paragraphs

Two things to keep in mind:
1. Order your reasons
2. Make sure that the body paragraph follows suit.

My first body paragraph has to be about employment and my second body paragraph has to be about the cost of living.

If you're comparing and then choosing:
First paragraph: Make the comparisons.
Second paragraph: First reason for your choice.
Third paragraph: Second reason for your choice.


Some of you may be angry with me right now because I used "he" in my introduction.

"He" is okay.
"She" is okay.

Please do not do this: he/she, him/her, him/her, himself/herself.

1. It doesn't count as extra words
2. This gets it really, really annoying for the reader.

If you're a girl, say "she". If you're a guy, say "he". If you're a guy and you want to say "she", say "she". If you're a girl and you want to say "he", say "he". But only choose one. Don't worry about it. You're not going to lose points for this.


I can't stress enough how important it is to practice writing. And ideally, use the service, and check your essays, read feedback. But write your essays, and go over them.

Make sure all your pronouns are okay, all your prepositions are okay, your subjects and your verbs agree. Try to have different vocabulary, different sentence structures. And practice, practice, practice. When you start preparing for the IELTS and the TOEFL, start with the essay. Learn to write first. Because that takes the longest time to improve, and it's usually where people get their lowest score on the test.
Ken Tucker
I hope you found the post useful and let me know if you have any comments or questions.