The GP Essay – Writing the introduction
Like every other piece of writing, a GP essay begins with an introduction. Personally, I find the introduction the hardest part to write. Even as I type this little advice column, you would never have guessed how long I took to draft this one, tiny paragraph.
Now why do I say the introduction is the hardest part? Because most experienced GP markers can tell if a student’s essay is yay or nay based on the introduction alone. To understand this, one needs to know the functions of a GP essay introduction, which are:
- To set the context of your essay (background information)
- To define the question (definition of terms)
- To state your stand and address the task (thesis statement)
Thus, if you mess up or fail to do any of the above, the marker roughly knows that the rest of your essay would be –to put it bluntly— crap.
To help you avoid such a situation, here is a simple guide to writing a decent introduction.
1. Provide background information
Most students struggle with two problems in this area:
- What to write?
- How much to write?
To address the first problem, providing background information can be done in several ways:
- Facts and figures
- Quotes or idioms
- Anecdotes a.k.a. experiences and short stories
Do note that your introduction also serves to attract your reader to read on so if possible, think of a good hook i.e. interesting background information. If you really cannot think of one, abandon the idea and deliver the cold, mundane facts to avoid wasting any more precious time. For example:
A picture is always more powerful than mere words. What is your view? (2006)
Introduction with a hook:
Approximately 500 years ago, explorers in France stumbled on some cave paintings depicting life scenes in the Palaeolithic era. Fast forward to today, one can find graffiti on city walls and brightly-coloured advertisements advocating how one should live one’s life. Thus, it is without question that for over centuries, pictures have been the mode of choice for conveying messages rather than words…
Introduction without a hook:
“A picture is worth a thousand words”. In the world of advertising, this expression is as good as law. How often do we see books, brands and even election campaigns that are void of illustrations? Indeed, many people …
Regarding how much background information to write, a good length would be between 3-4 lines. This is ENOUGH. Any longer and you are spamming.
2. Define the question
This part is easy because it only requires you to paraphrase the question. However be warned that a marker can tell how well a student understands the question based on his/her paraphrasing so choose your words carefully. Only paraphrase key words in the question.
Now here comes the problem. When GP teachers tell you to define the key words, some students end up doing this:
Can space research be justified nowadays? (2011)
Space research is the development of rockets, satellites or probes for space exploration. Some people think space research is unnecessary in today’s world.
Students make the mistake of mechanically defining key terms. Not only is this boring, but it disrupts the flow of your introduction. Only include this type of definition if it is absolutely necessary in helping the reader understand the context. If not, save it for your essay body.
Instead, you should be subtle when defining the key terms, for example:
Some people would argue that probing the universe for extraterrestrial life or sending rockets into space is a waste of time and resources in the present era.
Look at how much better the language flows in the second example.
3. Write your thesis statement
A thesis statement states your stand (if the question demands it) and tells the reader what he/she is going to read about in the next few paragraphs. A simple thesis statement can look something like this:
The key to good health is lifestyle rather than medicine. How far do you agree? (2010)
I agree to a large extent that lifestyle plays a more significant role than medicine in determining good health. I will now present reasons to justify my stand in the following paragraphs.
To sum up, your whole introduction should be about 7-8 lines. The goal is to keep it short and sweet; like an appetiser to tantalise your reader. Remember that a bad introduction is like a bad first impression and as objective as markers try to be, their outlook towards your essay is inevitably affected by your introduction. Thus if I were you, I would start working on perfecting that first impression.