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Contributor: C. Yarnoff, The Writing Program, csy771@northwestern.edu

Posted: 2011

Comment: This handout focuses on ways of writing a clear and interesting introduction for an analytical paper.
Tips for Writing an Introduction to an Analytical Essay
The most important goals of an introduction are to interest your target audience, provide any necessary background information, and state your thesis. Generally, the thesis appears at the end of the introduction. Here are some tips for accomplishing the other two goals.
Interest your target audience. Consider using these methods:

  • Challenge a prevailing idea.

    • All too often, American culture is reduced to a sum of white European cultures. This oversimplification brutally denies the shaping of American culture, even European-American culture, by many non-European groups, most notably the African diaspora. The foods, language, and music of America would be fundamentally different without its influence.

    • We often associate mutations with disfiguring diseases and mental and physical disabilities. Yet, mutations are extremely important to evolution. Mutations fuel the process of evolution by providing essential variation that natural selection can act on.




    • Yangyang is an active and bright 10-year old boy living in Sheyang, a suburban city in China. He has always been at the top of his class, but from age two, his parents noticed that he exhibited some odd mannerisms and unexplainable behaviors. (From a paper analyzing the treatment of autism in China.)




  • Provide examples to show the significance of what you’re analyzing.

  • “Who am I?” is a question so profoundly simple that many never seriously attempt to answer it or even ask it in the first place. Yet questions of identity are thrust before everyone on a daily basis: does one choose the “men’s” or “women’s” bathroom, which “race” does one choose on a college application, and how does one explains Multiple Personality Disorder. These are all issues of identity with serious emotional and psychological consequences.

  • Use an interesting or striking quote that is relevant to your thesis.

  • A Native American once said to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, “Be careful in revising those immigration laws of yours. We got careless with ours.” This Native American man clearly sees the irony in America’s attitude towards immigrants.

  • From April to July 1994, the infamous Hutu militia, known as Interhamwe, and allied Rwandan soldiers killed between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Rwandan men, women, and children. Threatened with the loss of political power, a circle of political leaders organized the killings, inciting the Hutu majority to violence with the cries, “You have to kill the Tutsis, they’re cockroaches…We must finish them, exterminate them, sweep them from the whole country. There must be no refuge for them” (Peace Pledge Union).


Provide necessary background information. If background information will help readers understand the idea you’re analyzing, consider these methods:

  • Explain the meaning and context of the idea you’re analyzing.

  • In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov, Ivan, the rational yet tortured middle brother of the Karamazov family, is continuously questioning the nature of good and evil. At one point in the novel, Ivan makes the startling conclusion that, if there is no God or immortality, then “everything is permitted” (Dostoevsky 263). According to this view, man is inherently evil, and, without the intervention of a higher authority, it would be natural and unavoidable for man to act in his own self-interest, even to the detriment of others. Yet despite this view, Ivan is continually tortured by the needless suffering of his fellow men. He sees the pain inflected on innocent people and cannot understand how such suffering can exist in a world with a loving God.

  • Explain the historical or intellectual context relevant to the idea you’re analyzing.

  • Recent terrorist activity has thrust Pakistan’s madaaris into the center of international political scrutiny. Congress, the media and the 9/11 commission all declared the madaaris to be dangerous institutions deeply responsible for incubating and exporting terrorism. The madaaris have been branded as the “education of the holy warrior”, “incubators of violent extremism” and “weapons of mass instruction” (Dalrymple). But more nuanced views of Pakistan’s madaaris refer to “the madrasah myth” and even “the madrasah scapegoat” (Bergen & Pandey, “Scapegoat”), an attempt by Western governments to explain recent global terrorism which, in reality, has roots far beyond the madaaris.

  • Define a key term—central to the idea you’re analyzing—whose meaning is not obvious or agreed upon.

    • “Madrasah” is defined as “center of learning”, derivative of “darsun”, the Arabic word for lesson or simply, school (Ali 12). A Western definition refers to madrasah as “a school providing a secondary-level education in Islamic religious subjects” (Bergen & Pandey, “Myth”). Madaaris are a type of Qur’anic school, which are institutions originally established to facilitate memorization of Qur’anic verses (Boyle 10). The madaaris offer free religious education, funded by public and private philanthropies and foreign aid (Roy).

 The examples come from papers that have won the Freshman Seminar Award sponsored by the Writing Program and WCAS.


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