How to Write an Introductory Paragraph for VCE English

An essay introduction should contain four main elements; the title and author of the text, a clear contention, body paragraph signposting and metalanguage or vocabulary specific to each text and prompt.

We break down what you need to know to craft that perfect introductory paragraph for your English VCE exams. Broken down by English Tutor Bess Mansergh

An essay introduction should contain four main elements: 
  1. The title and author of the text
  2. A clear contention
  3. Body paragraph signposting 
  4. Metalanguage or vocabulary specific to each text and prompt

A contention is an argument, usually articulated in a single sentence, that responds directly to the essay prompt. Some useful questions to consider when devising a contention for your own essay are: 

  • Do I agree or disagree with the prompt? Remember, you can partially agree/disagree. Often, a sophisticated response will consider both points of view.
  • How can I challenge the claim made in the prompt? How can I support it?

Body paragraph signposting involves outlining the main points of your essay.

Let’s look at an example introduction on the film Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock.

Note: There are many ways to write an introduction and the following examples are provided as structural guides only. 

Prompt: In Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock suggests that suspicion is justified. Discuss.

Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller film Rear Window (1954) (1), created during the notorious McCarthy era in America, justifies suspicion as a means to ensure public safety(2).  Through presenting a panoptic yet partially obscured view of the courtyard setting, Hitchcock creates an atmosphere of intense distrust in which all the neighbours are subject to voyeuristic scrutiny. (3) Hitchcock’s avid portrayal of Jeff as a hyper-suspicious protagonist (4), who introduces the audience to the hermetic world of the courtyard and is vindicated in his conviction of the murderous Thorwald’s guilt, further consolidates the credence of suspicion in the film. (5) However, through the wavering relationship of his two protagonists, Jeff and Lisa, Hitchcock also alludes to the collateral consequences of adopting a dogmatically suspicious world view. (6)

  1.  Title of the text is underlined
  2. This topic sentence outlines a contention that responds directly to the prompt and incorporates relevant contextual information. Note: in order to respond directly to the prompt, the contention uses keywords such as “justifies” and “suspicion”. The writer has also demonstrated their understanding of the text through denoting the name of the author, title, genre, and date in which the text was produced.
  3. The second sentence signposts an argument for the first main body paragraph that foregrounds setting and atmosphere. Note: consider the salient elements of the text you are studying; these might include characterisation, setting, narrative voice or genre. How might you build paragraphs and examples around these broad ideas?
  4. Appropriate use of metalanguage
  5. The third sentence signposts an argument for the second main body paragraph that foregrounds the relationship between audience and protagonist.
  6. The fourth sentence signposts an argument for the third main body paragraph that challenges the claim made in the prompt.

Prompt: Persepolis is a coming of age narrative. Discuss. 

The 2003 graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi titled Persepolis (7), depicts the challenges of growing up amid the turbulent socio-political milieu of revolutionary Iran.(8) Satrapi’s autobiographical (9) exploration of childhood dreams, personal grief, and teenage angst, are presented as formative experiences that were integral to shaping her identity and understanding of the world. (10) The first person narrative voice detailed in the captions, which Satrapi uses to comment on her growth from an innocent child to rebellious adolescent, further typifies the graphic novel as a bildungsroman. (11) Yet the literary project of Persepolis seemingly transcends the coming of age narrative through its concurrent exploration of Iranian history, culture and politics. (12) Thus, Persepolis interweaves a personal memoir of growing up with a larger narrative that documents the metamorphoses of a nation. (13)

7.  Title of the text is underlined

8. The opening sentence presents a clear contention in response to the essay prompt and demonstrates an understanding of “the coming of age narrative” through using the term “growing up”. Author, title, genre and date of publication are also included.

9. Appropriate use of metalanguage that demonstrates an understanding of the text’s form

10. The second sentence signposts the argument of the first main body paragraph by deconstructing the thematic concerns of the coming of age genre and identifying them in the text.

11. The third sentence signposts the argument of the second main body paragraph and foregrounds some conventions that further affirm the prompt.

12. The fourth sentence signposts the argument of the second main body paragraph and expands on the prompt by suggesting that the text cannot be simply confined to a coming of age narrative.

13. The fifth sentence concludes the introduction and summarises the argument. Note: a concluding sentence is not necessary.



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