How to Write an Introduction For a History Essay Step-by-Step

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An introduction of a historical essay acquaints the reader with the topic and how the writer will explain it. It is an important first impression. The introduction is a paragraph long and about five to seven sentences. The parts include the opening sentence, arguments and/or details that will be covered, and a thesis statement (argument of the essay). 

What Is A History Essay?

An essay is a short piece of writing that answers a question (“Who are the funniest presidents”) discusses a subject (“What is Japanese feudalism”), or addresses a topic (“Causes and Effects of the Industrial Revolution”).  A historical essay specifically addresses historical matters.

These essays are used to judge a student’s progress in understanding history. They also are used to teach and analyze a student’s ability to write and express their knowledge.  A person can know their stuff and still have problems expressing their knowledge.  

Skillful communication is an essential tool.  When you write your introduction to a historical essay remember that both the information and how you express it are both very important.  

Purpose of An Introduction

If a person is formally introduced to you, it is a means of getting acquainted.  

An introduction of a historical essay acquaints the reader with the topic and how the writer will explain it.  The introduction is a roadmap that lays out the direction you will take in the essay.

This is done by the opening paragraph, which is about five to seven sentences long.  

Grab the Reader’s Attention 

The introduction of a historical essay should grab the attention of your reader.   

It is the first time the reader has to react to your essay.  Make sure it is clear, confident, and precise.  The introduction should not be generic.  It should not be vague.  

Do not provide sources in the introduction.  You do not want the reader to check them out instead of finishing the introduction.  Leave sources to the body of the essay.  

When Should You Write The Introduction?

A movie is not filmed straight through.  Parts of a movie are filmed separately and later edited together.  This is also possible when writing an essay, especially with the ease of computers.

An introduction works off the rest of the essay.  If you have already written the whole essay, it can be easier to write an introduction.  I often write the blog summary on top last.  

Others will find it useful to write the introduction first, perhaps because it provides a helpful outline for the rest of the essay.  It is a matter of personal taste and comfort level.  

Step-By-Step Instructions 

Step One: Opening Sentence

The first sentence of your introduction sets the stage and draws the reader in.  

The opening sentence should introduce the historical context of the subject matter of your historical essay.  Historical context is the political, social, cultural, and economic setting for a particular document, idea, or event.  For instance, consider this opening sentence:

The Emancipation Proclamation was an official presidential declaration handed down in the middle of the Civil War declaring slavery was now abolished in areas under Confederate control.  

A possible topic of the historical essay is “The Strengths & Weaknesses of the Emancipation Proclamation.”  This opening sentence sets the stage.  We are no longer in the current day reading about something in the living room.  We are in the middle of the Civil War.  

There are various ways to start things off.  For instance, you can use a quotation such as President Wilson’s or Winston Churchill’s famous sayings about democracy.  

The important thing is to grab the reader’s attention and start the ball rolling.  Know your audience.  An academic audience expects a more studious approach.  And, don’t just start with a catchy sentence that has no value to the rest of the historical essay.  

Step Two: Facts/Statistics/Evidence

The next step in writing an introduction is to write a few sentences (three to five) summarizing the argument you will be making. These sentences would provide the facts and arguments that will be expanded upon in the body of the paper.  The sentences are basically an outline.  

If we continue with the previous subject, the summary section can be like this:

It was a major moral accomplishment to use the abolishment of slavery as a war measure. Meanwhile, it had pragmatic benefits, including as a matter of foreign policy, and harmed the South’s chances to win the war. Nonetheless, the measure was of questionable legality and had the possibility of causing major divisions. 

The introduction should be clear and crisp.  Try to remove unnecessary content.  This is not just about filling a word quota.  The introduction should have actual content, not empty calories.  

Step Three: Thesis Statement  

The finale of the introduction is the thesis statement, the argument being made in the essay.  This should be one sentence long.  An example would be:

The Emancipation Proclamation was as a whole very successful while having various disadvantages that still made it a risky proposition.  

The thesis sentence is very important.  It summarizes the core of the essay.  The reader is now informed about what you are about to argue.  The body of the essay should fill in the details.  

In Conclusion About Introductions … 

An introduction at a party, date, or in a historical essay is about making a good first impression.  The basics are the same.  Catch the other person’s attention, provide a snapshot of what you are trying to say, and make the person hungry for more.  

The other person often has the obligation to “hear” what you have to say.  Take it as an opportunity.  And, remember, if you mess up, it will be a lot harder to impress later on.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.