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Critical Essays: How to write a BAD introduction

Watch this to understand the art of writing a perfect introduction for Higher English (and why first impressions matter, a lot)

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First impressions matter. A lot.

A famous study by psychologists at the University of California discovered that when you meet someone new it takes less than a tenth of a second for your judgments to start forming and this starts to control how you respond to people. It seems we can’t stop this from happening. It shapes what we think and how we respond.

Apparently, something as simple as a smile makes it much more probable to like someone, to believe what they say and to be interested in them. We’re hooked even before they’ve got their first word out!

So first impressions are important! Well then, what about the introduction to your English critical essay? Just like the first smile when you meet someone, your essay introduction is your opportunity to set the tone, to show the examiner that you know exactly what you are doing and to get them hooked.

Really like the first impressions reference. I’ve reworked this very slightly but the “hooked” section might need a little work. I want us to finish the intro with 3 points so it has a punch and there’s a reference back to the first impressions.

An introduction is a way of setting the scene for the critical essay you are about to write. Lots of people say that they struggle with introductions as they feel like they don’t know where to start. I would suggest starting with basic information, such as the author and title, and then make sure you address the question and also define the key terms of the question. When you are planning and writing an introduction, remember BAD. So I suppose, I am about to tell you how to write a BAD (but excellent) introduction.

Firstly, it’s really important to remember that the person marking your exam is not your teacher. They don’t know what text you have studied and may not have even read the text you are writing about. So, an introduction needs to include BASIC information about your text: the title, the author, the main theme, and a short summary.

You also need to ADDRESS THE QUESTION. By this, I suppose I mean “answer it”, very briefly. Your whole essay will be you answering this question but you need to begin guiding the examiner through your argument or line of thought.

Importantly, you need to DEFINE THE TERMS OF THE QUESTION. By addressing the question you will have used the key words or terms from the question itself. You will need to clarify exactly what these key terms mean to you in the context of your chosen text and essay.
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Let’s have a look at this in more detail. Here is an essay question for prose fiction:

Choose a novel or short story in which there is a central character to whom you react with mixed feelings.

With reference to appropriate techniques, briefly explain why you react to the character in this way and discuss how this reaction adds to your understanding of the text as a whole.

The text I am going to use is “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen.

Here is what we need to include in our introduction (and it doesn’t need to be in this exact order, as long as it is all included):

Beginning with basic information, we need the title (Pride and Prejudice), author (Jane Austen), theme (prejudice) and a summary (three or four lines is fine).

We also need to address the question, and the best way of making it really clear to the examiner that you are focused on the question, is to use the same wording. So in this case you want to use the words “central character”, “react” and “mixed feelings”. Often questions have more than one part to consider. In this case, you need to briefly address “why you react to the character in this way” and “how this reaction adds to your understanding of the text as a whole”.

When defining the terms (or key words) of the question, you need to think about what the key terms are and what they mean in relation to your essay. In this example, you need to explain which “central character” you will discuss. I’m going to look at Mr Darcy.

The “mixed feelings” I am going to write about are dislike or antipathy, and sympathy.

How about something like this for the first few lines?

In “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, Mr Darcy is a central character to whom I react with mixed feelings. Initially, I disliked him, as he appears rude, arrogant and proud; however, as the novel progressed I began to feel sympathy for him as he is revealed to be a kind and generous man, who is misunderstood and misrepresented. The portrayal of Mr Darcy and the mixed feelings he evokes, link to the theme of prejudice that is explored throughout the novel.

I would then add a short summary to this. Students who are aiming to write really sophisticated essays shouldn’t just include a summary that has been learnt off by heart and used in every essay: try to write a summary that emphasizes the key plot points for the essay you are about to write.

Remember, this is just an introduction. This shouldn’t be too long or take you ages. It should be a clear and concise paragraph that establishes what you are going to be talking about in the essay.

So, think very carefully about how you introduce yourself and your essay to the examiner. Make sure your introduction, your smile, makes a great first impression.

Can you time this again but make sure that you take the time to slow things down at the intro so we draw the audience in? I’m a bit concerned that we’re going to be over 4mins.

Something like….

So remember! Your introduction is your best shot at a good first impression for the examiner. It sets you on the right track so, think carefully about how you introduce yourself and your essay. Make sure your introduction, your smile, makes a great first impression… and who knows maybe you’ll come up smiling when the exam results come back.

Feel free to change that - I’m trying to make it light at the end and also make that last sentence feel a bit less abrupt.