Strangely, in the past two days I've read two opposing viewpoints on how to introduce topics in academic essays.
I first read a question and answer that suggested it's better in modern essays to avoid the use of signposts ("the next paragraph discusses . . ."), and that questions could be used as an alternative.
Shortly after that, almost by accident, I discovered a different question and answer that indicated asking questions of any kind in an essay should be avoided, and that the classic use of signposts should be adhered to instead.
I found this humorous, because, after reading both, I was left with contradictory advice. When I was in university many years ago, I used to use a very moderate amount of both techniques, relaying on neither much (if at all), and more often simply starting a discussion without indicating anything about it ahead of time.
But without meaning to incite a debate between these two methodologies, I was curious if there is an alternative method that could be used—one that relies neither on narrative signposts nor on questions.
One idea that came to mind is the use of a table of contents. This, on its own, could visually point readers to sections with headings that describe content, avoiding the need to either signpost or ask questions in the body of the essay. However, I can't recall this being used in any of the essays I've been exposed to in the past. (I have seen headings used, without a table of contents, in some academic articles, but not by students for instructors in a course.)
Would a table of contents even be acceptable in an essay? If not, are there any other methods that could be used to point readers to upcoming content?