Writing a good introduction: Show that you truly understand the question

7 08 2011

It’s quite easy to write an average introduction. And to be honest, you can still get a good mark with an average introduction. The opposite applies – no matter how amazing your introduction is, lousy content would still be your downfall. However, we are dealing with a subjective subject – so if your essay teeters between average and good, making a good first impression can colour your reader’s vision, putting them in a better mood when reading the rest of your essay, and, if you’re lucky, make your essay appear better than it is.

One way to do this is to really understand the question. Imagine that the question is an emotional, angst-ridden teenager who just wants to be understood. The biggest challenge that you face is to show, in your introduction, that you truly understand this “emo teenager”.

‘The key to good health is lifestyle rather than medicine.’ How far do you agree? (2010)


The phrase “…rather than medicine” suggests that people mistakenly believe that medicine is the answer to good health, and that eople tend to forget or neglect the importance of lifestyle – something the question implies is more important.

Underlying issues:

The question suggests “lifestyle (as the) key to good health”, and this hints at two underlying issues – (1) that the way we live our lives might be affecting our health adversely, and (2) in light of current lifestyle trends (for instance, the increasing trend of people getting gym memberships or signing up for Yoga classes or jumping onto the latest healthy diet bandwagon), lifestyle is (becoming ?) an increasingly important way of ensuring good health.

Embed the debate (include a key counter-argument):

When there’s a slant to a question, there’s definitely a debate involved, which will be associated with the underlying issues mentioned above. A good introduction is aware that there is a debate, acknowledges it, and embeds both sides of the debate into the introduction.

The following excerpt from an introduction highlights the first feature (recognizing the slant/implications), along with a number of other good skills:

From the start of the 20th century until now, dozens of pills have been invented, seeking to restore people to the pink of health, curing them from those irritating little common colds that they so often contract [1] . With modern medicine providing an easy (and at times, seemingly miraculous) cure, it is easy to neglect the importance of lifestyle [2]. And it is equally easy to forget that we are living in a time where the number of deadly, frightening pandemics has increased immensely [3]. These diseases threaten to invade our iummune system, which, up to now, no awful-tasting concoction [a], no magic vaccination, no duo-coloured capsule [b] can cure [c][3]. How then can we fight a threat that even modern medicine cannot cure? The answer is surprisingly [d] simple – so much so that it might sound laughable, naive, even childish [d]. The answer lies in our lifestyle [4].

– Adapted from Amelia’s script


  • [1] Identify the issue(s): We rely on medicine to cure us and make us healthy
  • [2] Highlight the slant / implication of the question: We might neglect the importance of lifestyle (note: this can also be seen as an having embedded the debate – after all, medicine can be considered quite miraculous in its ability to restore our health, which is a key argument for proponents of medicine)
  • [3] Sprinkle in some context: Bringing in some relevant characteristics of the modern world, and setting the context adds a touch of sophistication to your essay. Note that Point (2) of “underlying issues” also counts as context (Context: the increasing trend of people getting gym memberships or signing up for Yoga classes or jumping onto the latest healthy diet bandwagon)
  • [4] Ensure your stand is clear and unambiguous


  • [a] Appeal to the sense of taste
  • [b] Appeal to the sense of sight
  • [c] Use of a triplet
  • [d] Pre-empt your reader’s counter-arguments: Adding “surprisingly”, “laughable, naive, even childish” makes the statement more sophisticated. Simply saying that “the answer is simple” makes you sound naive – answers are rarely simple, and as a reader, that would be my instinctive counter-argument to anyone who says “the answer is simple”. But saying that it is “surprisingly” simple and that it sounds “childish” makes you sound far more insightful, because now I think that you know something that I don’t. As the reader, I cannot counter-argue your statement with “that’s such a naive stand” because you’ve already embedded my counter-argument into your stand – which makes me think, hey, this writer has something interesting to say because they are clever enough to realise that it sounds simplistic, yet they’re sticking to that stand – which must mean they have a good reason to do so.
Although a good introduction will manage to capture the underlying issues, as well as the slant/implication(s) of the question, as mentioned at the start of this post, it is possible to get a good grade even with an average introduction. To do that (assuming your introduction is just average), you’ll have to deal with all these issues, as well as address of the slant of the question and question implications, in your body paragraphs. This, of course, is in addition to the key requirement of this question – to compare, in each paragraph, lifestyle with medicine.
Edit this introduction further to incorporate the underlying issues mentioned near the start of this post.



5 responses

11 08 2011
U Bhalraam

You should write a book.

12 08 2011
Ms De Souza’s 2010 Paper One Review « PROGRESS IN G.P.

[…] Writing a good introduction: Show that you truly understand the question (Good health) […]

12 08 2011

Hi Adrienne, just something I ran through with my students. While the question does posit ‘medicine’ as the key to good health, shouldn’t we privilege ‘good health’ or ‘key to good health’ as the subject and therefore, the determiner of subsequent interpretation. If so, warding off and living free from major or minor illnesses can be deemed ‘good health’ but I would really be expecting scripts to also consider ‘medicine’ in the form of vitamins, supplements and other ‘artificial’, man-made substances. I got more than few essays talking about staying away from cancer and other major, major diseases.

13 08 2011
Adrienne de Souza

Ah, I see what you mean. Hmm, I credited those who mentioned vitamins and supplements, though to be honest, I’m still not sure how I feel about that because vitamins aren’t *really* medicines. Or at least, they fall into a bit of a grey area of “medicine”. So although I would credit vitamins for scope I wouldn’t penalise anyone who didn’t mention vitamins. Instead of vitamins, when it comes to “good health”, my comparison would be exercise and healthy eating (carrots, not Redoxen!) against Paracetamol. But if you’re talking about essays that focus mainly on the big illnesses, then I think that’s really quite narrow.

13 08 2011
Reinforcements Have Arrived… « Gee Pee Land

[…] insightful post by Ms. De Souza on writing a good introduction (an aspect of essay writing I have not really […]

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