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An introduction, which gets the reader’s attention, leads to a purpose statement (e.g., “This paper examines...”), in which you explain the purpose and scope of the paper; this is often followed by a thesis statement (“I will argue that...”), in which you summarise the main point you wish to make; and it typically concludes with a summary of the logical structure of the argument to come. You must try and frame the question in an interesting way. At the end of the introduction, describe in two or three sentences how you will tackle the question. This should briefly state the arguments you will make, and how you will conclude the essay.

Having said this, it is easy to slip into being formulaic, as a “safety first” strategy. There are other forms that an introduction may take. You might for instance open with a fact, example, or quotation that leads the reader into the main topic(s) of the essay. Alternatively, you might wish to draw the reader in by referring to some topical observation or statement. You should certainly experiment to vary your style, so that it does not become repetitive for you or for the supervisor. As ever, the guidelines suggested here are starting points; they are not formulae in which your writing is imprisoned.


Consider the following examples from some real student essays, reproduced with their authors’ permission. They are all answers to the same question: 

“The idea of a natural disaster … is anything but innocent. Insofar as a disaster is rendered natural, with the implication that social agency is absolved of any responsibility for its causes and effects, there is no such thing today as a natural disaster’ (N. SMITH, 2007). Discuss this statement with reference to New Orleans and the impact of Hurricane Katrina. 

Which of these do you think is most effective, and why? Make some notes as you evaluate each example:

Introduction 1

The nub of Smith’s argument is that there is no such thing as a natural disaster in the modern world as a disaster that is purely ‘natural’ as humans are inextricably linked with the concept of a natural disaster and seek to shape natural disasters in our own ways (Smith, 2007). In discussing this statement, I will discuss the construct of disasters; look at how disasters are perceived and the constructs humans place on natural disasters.

Introduction 2

The United States of America experienced the most devastating natural disaster in its history at the end of August 2005: Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans was flooded when three of the levees protecting the city were breached, leaving 80% of the city under twenty feet of water and resulting in $100 billion worth of property being destroyed, 750 000 people being displaced, 1836 dead and 750 reported missing (Rozario, 2007). For the first time in American history, a major city was emptied as its residents fled and thousands of these ‘refugees’ suffered days without significant food, medical attention, or housing. The sheer extent of the destruction and suffering challenged the assumption that disasters brought out the best in American people and its system of governance. The poor, largely African-American communities of New Orleans were practically abandoned, and the mismanagement of the American government led many to view it as a man-made disaster, with local musician Dr. John calling it a ‘coldblooded murder’ (cited in Rozario, 2007). Ecological, centuries-old views of the world often view nature as exclusive from cities, which are often seen as solely an expression of human culture. Lewis Mumford claims that ‘as the pavement spreads, nature is pushed away’ (cited in Kelman, 2006). Yet from analysing the history of New Orleans and the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina it is clear that the two are not mutually exclusive. To draw a line between nature and the city is almost futile, and it is clear that the consequences of the hurricane, and why it was so destructive, are largely down to human, not natural actions.

Introduction 3

A disaster is a catastrophe of substantial extent causing significant destruction, damage, and sometimes permanent change. The impact of Hurricane Katrina is described as a catastrophe in terms of ecology, human life and in a social perspective, but can it be referred to as a disaster caused by nature? Would the events following the hurricane still have been termed a “disaster” had the situation been managed more diligently by the government? Some responsibility lies with the colonial founders of New Orleans, who overlooked the city site’s inherent physical shortcomings, which made a catastrophe inevitable. From another perspective, Klein (2007) argues that the USA’s free market policies welcomed the hurricane, using the concept of “disaster capitalism” – suggesting that Katrina was not a disaster from the national economic perspective. These complexities overshadow the social plight caused by the hurricane, whereby natural conditions prompted the flooding, but human decisions turned the event into a disaster.


Now click here to access a summary of feedback on these passages’ strengths and weaknesses.