The UVic Writer's Guide

The Length Of The Introduction

The introduction should be brief relative to the rest of the essay. If the opening is inappropriately lengthy, the reader will lose interest, annoyed that you have failed to get started. Do not include unnecessary background information, especially if the professor is already conversant with the material on which you are writing. For example, this introduction is clearly too long:

In the play The Glass Menagerie,Tennessee Williams uses a number of realistic and non-realistic techniques. The characters and the language are predominantly realistic. The narrator, Tom, is excluded as a realistic character when narrating. The characters and their actions are unrealistic because they are seen through Tom's mind. Tom's memories of the events are revised and his acting in the play is formed around his guilt and his selective recollections. Various other unrealistic techniques include the music, lighting, and screen devices. Williams uses symbolism in this play. The places, characters, actions and objects centre around the idea that the Wingfield family is trapped in an unrealistic world and is unable to face reality. The use of the setting emphasizes the hopelessness of the Wingfields' lives. Amanda, the mother, holds on to the past, which is indicated by her clothes and her language. Tom, the son, desperately seeks to escape from home to follow his father's adventurous lifestyle. This is suggested by his continuous attendance to the movies. Laura, the daughter, lacks self-confidence due to a crippling illness, and thus feels she is unable to survive in the working world. Laura's glass collection symbolizes Laura herself. Lastly, Jim represents the only realistic character. The use of symbolism helps to describe the roles of the characters in the play.

You may wish to spend some time analysing what is wrong with this introduction. Can you tell whether the essay is to be about realism realism or symbolism? The final sentence, which is presumably the thesis, makes a statement about symbolism, but the paragraph begins with a discussion of realism. Is there too much detail about the play for an introduction? Should some of the material be left for later paragraphs? Are there other problems of usage, repetition, truism and so on?

This introduction, on the other hand, is inadequate because it is too brief:

In Jane Eyre, the heroine comes into contact with two men who share some qualities but differ greatly. Mr. Rochester and St. John Rivers are emotionally and socially strong, which helps to mold Jane's character.

The reader learns virtually nothing because the paragraph does not suggest how the argument will develop.

Try not to be too self-referential in your introduction, or elsewhere for that matter. When you talk to someone you do not continually remind that person that you are having a conversation. Avoid sentences like "It is this problem that my essay will focus upon."

Though you have been advised to begin with the general, do not start your essay with a bland statement like "Catch-22, written by Joseph Heller, is an extremely interesting novel." The first sentence is important; do not waste it on a meaningless generality.

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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated May 12, 1995