Part of writing your paper will involve drafting a beginning for your paper. This “beginning” or introduction to your paper is the first thing that your audience reads, so it is what you use to make your first impression on your reader. The introduction begins to show the reader the quality of your paper—both in terms of writing style and content. You definitely want this first impression to be a good one, and you’ll have to make some decisions to make your introduction an invaluable part of your paper.
Perhaps one of the most common kinds of introductions used within research papers is the “inverted pyramid” style paragraph. This style of introductory paragraph moves from a general statement about a trend or an idea and then works toward the specific. Let’s look at an example of how it works.
The Puritans left England in a time of religious persecution and fled to a country they believed would offer the freedom to worship as they liked. The irony in this situation is that they denied others that same liberty. William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation offers insight to the struggles faced by the Pilgrims while trying to sustain a community based on Puritan piety. Bradford shows the colony's demise through the citizens' adherence to a moral and religious code.
In the example above, the first sentence sets up the context of the paper and engages the reader (that the paper will relate to the religious persecution of the Puritans). Each sentence that follows it becomes more specific, and this increasing specificity culminates in the most specific sentence-- the thesis statement that sets up what the paper will be about.
As in the example above, your introduction should accomplish two general purposes: engage your reader and establish your thesis.
Engage Your Reader
You can use many techniques to engage your reader. Your goal is to set up a context within and for your paper that is both interesting and informative for your audience. The Allyn and Bacon Handbook provides another way to think about your introductions: think of your introduction as a transition. Your introduction leads the reader from his or her outside world into the world of your paper (p. 151).
Several strategies can help you lead your reader into the world of your paper or set up a context in your introduction. What kind of context you need to provide or how you go about engaging your audience depends on what kind of information your audience needs in order to understand your discussion. Below are a few strategies that you may employ in drafting an introduction for your paper. We’ve included an example of each kind of introduction as well. Just click on one of the following links to learn more about each strategy.
- Provide Background Information
- Review the Literature
- Supply a Short Narrative or Anecdote
- Include a Surprising Statistic
- Define Key Terms or Subjects
- Use Quotations
These are only a few of the strategies available for you to use. And, these strategies can be used in combination to engage your reader in and provide a context for your paper. How do you know which strategy or combination of strategies to choose? As you think about trying different strategies in your paper, you’ll need to ask yourself several questions:
- What strategy would my audience or reader expect?
- What information would my audience need in order to understand or be prepared for my thesis?
- What strategy is most meaningful for my thesis statement?
Essentially, you’ll need to consider your writing situation carefully to determine which strategy to use to begin your paper.
Establish Your Thesis
Again, two parts make up the introduction: engaging your reader and establishing your thesis. While engaging your reader is the first thing you do in your introduction, establishing your thesis is something you’ve probably already done. Our goal in this handout is not to help you develop a thesis but rather to consider how a thesis statement fits into an introduction. You can find more information about how to craft a thesis statement in the handout “Define the Purpose, Consider the Audience, and Develop the Thesis.”
As a reminder, a thesis statement is the controlling idea for your paper. In the inverted pyramid introduction, the final sentence in the introductory paragraph(s) often states the thesis statement. It may include the main idea you wish to communicate, your attitude toward the idea, and your purpose. Your “attitude toward the idea” is your opinion of the topic. Your thesis cannot be a statement of fact (i.e. husbands and wives assume marital roles), but rather your thesis statement has to be an assertion about that fact.
Let’s look at an example.
|Audience||Psychology students, especially those who plan to offer marriage counseling,|
|Purpose||need to be informed|
|Main Idea and Your Attitude||that marital roles adopted by husbands and wives are determined as much by their individual social networks as by family history or personal values.|
In the example above, you can see that the writer identified the audience for her paper. You also may need to identify your audience, depending upon your instructor’s guidelines. But remember, even if you don’t have to directly state your audience, your audience will play a large role in what you’re writing about.
Frequently, an organizational statement will follow or perhaps even be part of the thesis statement. Organizational statements list the order of discussion and the details included in the paper's supporting paragraphs.
Let’s look at an example that establishes the context and provides a thesis.
In the last 20 years, hot air balloons have gained a significant amount of attention. Recently, this focus has caught the eye of the media, with numerous adventurers seeking to stake their claim as the great firsts in this thrill-seeking sport (context). Communication students (audience), particularly those individuals wishing to enter the field of broadcasting (more specific audience), need to become familiar with this recent mid-air craze as it is certain to capture the public's curiosity (purpose and controlling idea). This paper discusses the various motivations for these types of trips (main idea 1), examines their successes and failures (main idea 2), and identifies the future trends in hot air ballooning (main idea 3) for these sky-venturers who have floated their way into today's headlines (organizational statement identifying three main ideas to be discussed).
In this example, we’ve indicated the main parts of the introduction: the context, purpose, controlling idea, audience, and organizational statement. This paper’s introduction sets up the author’s purpose and audience with the statement “Communication students, particularly those individuals wishing to enter the field of broadcasting, need to become familiar with this recent mid-air craze as it is certain to capture the public’s curiosity.” This information conveys to the reader that the purpose is informative; the audience is communication students, especially those entering broadcasting; and the controlling idea concerns the recent craze related to hot air ballooning. The organizational statement follows and identifies the three main ideas that the paper will discuss: “various motivations;” “successes and failures of trips;” and “future trends.”
This handout has given you a lot of strategies concerning how to begin your paper and information about what elements make up an introduction. But, there are a few things that you shouldn’t do in an introduction.
1. Don’t apologize for your topic.
2. Don’t repeat your paper’s title in the introduction, unless it’s part of a quoted line, book title, etc.
3. Don’t define terms that would be familiar to your audience (i.e. Webster’s definitions).
4. Don’t begin your paper with trite phrases (such as “from the dawn of man” or “in today’s world).
Writing introductions can be a difficult part of the writing process. But, you can write your introduction either at the beginning of the writing process or after you’ve written you paper. Don’t feel pressured to begin the writing process by writing the introduction. You can begin with a body paragraph and write the introduction later.
Ultimately, when you write your introduction isn’t as important as what you actually say in it. Although, if you write your introduction at the beginning of the writing process, you will want to reread your introduction as a critical reader to ensure that your introduction reflects what you did in your paper.