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Writing a full mark introduction for essays

Watch this to unpack the art of the perfect essay introduction for Higher History (and learn how to make an explosive start)

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In the 1940s, the world raced to create atomic weapons.

Robert Oppenheimer was a theoretical physicist and the so-called ‘father of the atomic bomb’. His team working on the Manhattan Project were successful in harnessing nuclear energy to make a new and terrifying weapon – the atomic bomb. The arms race that followed between the East and West, both chasing ever-more powerful weapons, defined the Cold War.

In trying to explain the famously complex Physics behind nuclear weapons during an interview, Oppenheimer said “I can make it clearer, but I cannot make it simpler”. In other words, the most complicated ideas can be put in a way that is clear to understand, even if the topic is difficult.

Writing an introduction for a Higher History essay, takes a similar approach. You will take complicated ideas, like the Cold war for instance, and make them clear to understand.

That is what an essay is and it all starts with the introduction – get this bit right and the rest will be explosive..

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Writing an introduction for a Higher History essay is straightforward once you understand the three main steps- context, line of argument and factors.

Let’s look at this essay question on why the Cold War started (on screen text).

The first key step to writing an excellent introduction for Higher History is to place the question in its historical context. Easy, right? It is if you know what context means.

The easiest way to do this is to set the scene. Imagine whoever is reading your essay knows nothing about the start of the Cold War, so you are basically painting a picture of what was happening at that time in relation to the question- in this case, the arms race and the start of the Cold War. The easiest way to do this is to begin with a clear start date in one sentence describing what is happening at the beginning of that specific time period. And then, in another sentence, describe what is happening at the end of the time period.

Don’t worry if you don’t know specific start and end dates, but you should be able to describe each, in detail, using other key facts, such as names, places etc. It is important, however, and an SQA requirement, that you have at least two separate sentences for context.

Once you have set the scene, you then need to include a clear line of argument.

Your line of argument is crucial to your entire essay- you are answering the question, which should be clear to see in the introduction, throughout the main body and in the conclusion. Essentially like a thread being sewn throughout your essay.

For example, let’s look back at the previous question- do you think that the arms race was the main reason for the start of the Cold War? If yes, make this clear and provide a little explanation which you will build on in the essay.

If not the most important, make a judgement on the arms race (it is crucial you refer to the factor in the question) and, again, a little analysis. For example, the arms race was not the most important reason, but it was quite important as it created competition between the USA and the USSR.

Whatever factor you choose as the most important in your introduction should remain the same throughout. There should be no surprises in the conclusion!

And finally, the last, and easiest step of your introduction, the other factors.

This really depends on your line of argument. If you decide the factor in the question is the most important, you can simply introduce the other factors which, although not the most important, do still play a role.

If the factor in the question is not the most important in your opinion, you must make clear which factor is, as well as the other factors involved.

You should aim for at least three factors (preferably four) in total, and you must make a clear judgement on each, such as quite important or played a role, and each factor must be in a separate sentence.

So, next time you to begin to write an introduction for a Higher History essay, think carefully about the three steps discussed- 1. Context 2. line of argument and 3. factors.

I agree with Oppenheimer, the famous Physicist: complicated ideas can be made clear if you think very carefully about how you introduce them. Set out the introduction carefully and you are on the track to writing a truly explosive essay…

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