Thursday, 13 July 2017

Writing an Essay Introduction: Giving Context

Context in an Essay Introduction

The context component is the first part of your introduction, and usually makes up the first sentence or two of your essay. For most college essays, your context shouldn’t be more than three sentences; if you’ve covered the basics and you have more points to make to give context to your reader, you should instead incorporate them in your body paragraphs.

Your context is all the background information which a reader needs in order to understand your research. You should think of the context as providing a door into your research; in order for the reader to even have a basic idea of what your essay will be doing, they need some background information first. Your essay should be understandable by anyone in any field of study. Picture someone on the other side of the world picking up your essay. When they read your context, they should be able to get enough background information so that they can understand the rest of your essay clearly.

If you’re writing an essay for a subject like English literature, this background information could include things like the title of the book or poem you are analyzing, the author’s name, and a brief summary of the main events or main themes in the book or poem. Your reader will need to know these things before they understand your analysis.

For a subject like History, you could include the events you will look at, the dates of these events, and a general idea of what the events entailed.

Your context should be informational and general, not giving your specific points yet, but just broadly introducing your field of research.

Look at this example of context from an essay on photosynthesis:

Photosynthesis is the process by which many organisms, especially green plants, use sunlight to synthesize nutrients. These nutrients are synthesized from water and carbon dioxide, and the process involved the green pigment chlorophyll.

This general information hasn’t said what exactly our essay will be about yet, but it’s just given the arena that we’ll be working within. Now, the reader knows that we’re discussing photosynthesis, and they know what photosynthesis is. These two sentences should provide more than enough context for an essay about an experiment of how to increase the nutrient production in certain green plants through introducing new types of plant hormones in the soil. Now that the reader has this background information, they’ll be able to know what you’re talking about when you introduce the thesis of your essay in your thesis statement.

Another example of context can be found below. Let’s say you’re writing an essay on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, “Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds.” There will be many readers out there who don’t know the poem and who don’t know who Shakespeare is, so if you immediately jump into your analysis, the reader will be completely lost. Firstly, you need to provide some context:

William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright who lived from 1564-1616. He often wrote in the sonnet form, which involves poems of 14 lines. One of Shakespeare’s most popular sonnets, Sonnet 116 entitled “Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds,” deals with a lover who is reluctant to admit that true love has any faults.

You’ll notice that I introduced the author, gave the span of his life, explained what a sonnet is, and gave a brief summary of the poem under discussion so that the reader knows the field that we’ll be discussing. I’ve done all of this in three sentences. Now, I can go on to write my thesis statement, which will tell the reader how my essay will deal with the ideas I’ve introduced in my context.

You’ll notice that there was a lot more that I could write about Shakespeare. I could’ve spoken about the many plays he writes. I could’ve spoken about some of the controversies in his life, and how he wrote freely and provocatively about sex in some of his other poems. But these points would not be relevant to the essay I’m writing. The essay we are writing is about the specific sonnet which we introduced in the context. We only need to contextualize that sonnet for our readers, not say everything there is to say about Shakespeare or sonnets. As long as the reader has a good idea of what you’re talking about, you’ve done your job.

Review Your Learning:
·         The context component of an introduction gives general background information
·         The context should explain the broad field that you’ll be talking about, summarizing or explaining the texts, events or subjects you are discussing in your essay
·         Only the most relevant information should be included in the context component. Everything else should be explained in your body paragraphs

·         Try to make your context less than three sentences for standard college essays. Full-length dissertations might have three to six paragraphs of context in their introductions, as there is much more to discuss.