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Opinion will vary between sub-disciplines and between supervisors on exactly what makes an effective introduction. Here are some suggestions for you to apply to your own essay writing:

  • ...motivate the question. What is at stake here? Why is this such a significant question? Is it an area of controversy?
  • ...introduce the material you will be using to answer the question, e.g. text(s), if not defined by the question
  • ...define the terms of the question if necessary, and/or problematise these if relevant
  • ...give relevant context for the specific material you will be focusing on. If this is one or more texts, where/when were they written? Are they representative of a particular literary or cultural ‘movement’? Do they reflect particular concerns of their society/time?
  • ...convey the direction of your argument and point towards your conclusion
  • ...give a clear sense of the structure of your essay, i.e. how you plan to approach the question

Examine one of your own introductions, taken from a recent essay. What did you do well? How could it be improved?

Evaluating introductions

How would you evaluate the following introductions? How could they be improved? Jot down some praise and criticism for each before clicking below to access feedback for comparison:

(a) ‘Not every reader of La ciudad y los perros will agree that the price paid for the various stylistic permutations one finds in it, for the episodic structure of the book and its covert system of information, is justified’ (Peter Standish). Discuss.

Vargas Llosa employed an unconventional and striking narrative technique in the writing of his novel La ciudad y los perros. Rather than the traditional linear and chronological plot he used a sequence of episodes which alternate between past and present. He also introduced a number of distinct narrators and narrative styles which are not always clearly labelled for the reader. Unravelling the threads of the novel’s structure thus becomes a major focus during the reading process. This essay will argue that the ‘price’ paid for these is not merely ‘justified’, but that the structure is essential to the novel’s significance.

(b) Discuss the nightmare quality of Conrad’s narrative.

The essence of Conrad’s writing is not to be found in a common subject, characterization, theme or narrative technique, but rather in a style or approach that governs and transcends all of these. Conrad attempts to deal with human experiences of incredible depth and intensity, concentrating on the darker elements of emotional and psychological anguish, with a dual focus on the inner conflict created by external forces beyond a character’s control and the evil inherent in humanity. How does Conrad achieve this nightmarish effect?

(c) Discuss the culterano features of Góngora’s works.

Arising from Renaissance poetic theory, ‘culteranismo’ and ‘conceptismo’ became, through the work of Góngora and his contemporaries, arguably the most significant stylistic developments in early seventeenth-century Spanish literature. In its broadest sense, the term ‘culteranismo’ refers to a deliberate attempt on the part of a poet to render his language and style more intricate and elaborate. Words and syntaxes of a Latinate origin were introduced; allusions and tropes of various kinds were woven densely into the verse. Poems in the ‘culto’ style were self-consciously crafted, their artifice being greatly admired by the learned reader for whom they were written. Although the target for much criticism, particularly concerning the narrowness of his ballads’ appeal in comparison with the traditional ‘romance’, the ‘culto’ style employed by Góngora was effective in enriching Spanish poetry in its diction, its syntax and its figurative language.

Now click here to access feedback on the introductions, to compare with your answers.