Writing introductions to essays

Writing essays is a task you are very likely to have to do for Cambridge First, Advanced and Proficiency, as well as IELTS. The length of the essay and the complexity of the question vary depending on the exam, but the basic skills are the same.

You will always need to:

  • plan the essay by brainstorming ideas
  • organize your ideas
  • write an introduction and conclusion
  • read your work through and make corrections

The introduction is very important because it is the first thing the examiner will see. A good introduction has two main elements:

  • restating the question
  • explaining what you're going to do in your essay

We'll look at two IELTS examples for these exercises.

Restating the question
The examiner already knows which question you're answering! So, why do you need to do this? Firstly, restating the question shows the examiner you have understood the question. Secondly, it helps you focus. Thirdly, it's an opportunity to demonstrate your range of vocabulary and your ability to manipulate sentence constructions.
Example question: What are the benefits of living in big cities, as opposed to rural areas? What are the problems of rural areas and how can they be solved?


  • Underline the key words in the question.
  • Think of synonyms that would work in this context.

benefit = advantage, pro, plus
big city = metropolis, urban area
as opposed to = compared with, in comparison to
rural area = countryside, in the country
problem = disadvantage, minus, drawback
solve = resolve, overcome

Sentence construction

  • Look at the way the sentences are constructed e.g. verbs or noun phrases.

the benefits of living in…; how can they be solved?

  • Think of ways to change them.

For example,

  • change a verb construction to a noun construction:

the benefits of life in…

  • change passive to active:

how we can solve them

You now have eight things you could change in order to state the question in your own words and show that you have control over English. You don't have to use all the changes you thought of and it doesn't matter if you haven't got as many possibilities as I have included here.

So, the first two sentences of my introduction might look like this:

There are many advantages of life in urban areas when compared with country living. The question to consider is: what are the disadvantages and how can we overcome them?

Explaining what you're going to do

This just needs to be one more sentence which briefly outlines how you are going to answer the question. Useful phrases are:

I will (attempt to/try to) discuss / look at / consider / compare / examine…

So, I can add a sentence like this to my introduction:

I will compare a typical city in Europe with a countryside area and try to give suggestions for solving the problems found with cities.

Your turn

Here's another IELTS question. It's a different style of question, but the principles of how to write an introduction are the same.

Recently the freedom to work and live anywhere has become the main trend due to the development of communication technology and transportation. Do the advantages of these developments outweigh the disadvantages? Discuss.

  • Which are the keywords?
  • Can you think of an alternative for each keyword?
  • What structures can you see?
  • Can you change them?
  • Write one sentence explaining how you will answer the question.

Example answers at the bottom of the page.

  • freedom, trend, due to, development, communication technology, transport, advantage, disadvantage, outweigh
  • flexibility, movement towards, because of, advances, -----**, transportation, benefit, drawback, make up for
  • the freedom to…; the development of technology; Do….outweigh…?
  • people are free to…; developments in technology; Are …outweighed by…?
  • I will examine the drawbacks to developments in communication and transport, and attempt to balance them against the benefits.

** There aren't always alternatives!

Article contributed by Nicola Prentis who is a teacher and materials writer, based in Madrid and London. She is the author of Speaking Skills (B2+) - a self study book with Collins.