Tense Use In Your Introduction

Your introduction is like a map. It clearly points your reader in the direction you will be taking them, within the structure of your essay. It is also a formal introduction, a ‘Hi how do you do.’ An essay is very different from a creative writing piece, where a writer keeps juicy bits of information away from the reader and divulges them throughout the plot to keep the reader hooked and to drive the plot. You do not need to drive any plot of an academic essay, but of course you need to engage with your reader. For most essays your introduction will be in future tense. If you think of it as a road map it’s easy, you are informing the reader of where you will be going. Here is an example of an introduction in future tense:
This essay will argue that socio-economic factors were crucial to the lives of women, and Gissing’s Rhoda Nunn highlights this. The changing views of what was acceptable for Victorian women is articulated in Well’s portrayal of Ann Veronica, a biology student who is a strong, resourceful and independent women. This is contrasted with Gissing’s Monica Madden, a middle class shop girl who tried and failed to become modern women as she was forced to marry out of economic necessity instead of love. Overall Ann Veronica’s rebellion against traditional patriarchal views confirms that attitudes to women were changing and it sets her place as the strongest female character examined in the two novels. The issues that will be examined in regards to opportunities for women herein are female sexuality, the understanding of marriage, marrying out of necessity for money and working life as a woman.
This introduction ‘sign-posts’ what is to come within the context of the essay. It is straightforward, it is easy to follow and you get a clear sense of direction. This will be an essay about first-wave feminism and characters created by male authors.
If you were to write this introduction in the past tense, how could you signpost? Instead of writing ‘This essay will argue that socio-economic factors were crucial to the lives of women’ the past tense would be ‘This essay argued that socio-economic factors were crucial to the lives of women.’ This is incorrect, as you are already telling the reader that you don’t need to argue this point because it has already been asserted. So if you are presenting this in the past tense, what’s the point of writing the rest of your essay?
Yet, just like any other grammatical or stylistic rule there are loop-holes and exceptions to the rule. Future tense is a general rule of thumb, but if you are writing a sociological essay – chances are you may need to write some of your introduction in past tense. Why? Because chances are you will be writing a case study or a study on something that has already happened, but you still need to signpost where you are going.

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