|The introduction to a paper is a very important section, in that it
sets the expectations of the reader. While there is no one formula for
a good introduction, in general, an introduction to a formal paper of this
type should accomplish the following:
A common way to establish significance is through the device Williams
calls establishing "shared context." Very often, writers will begin an
introduction with a proposition that, while perhaps interesting, is
uncontroversial. With the reader's agreement established, the shared
context, the writer will then proceed to state a problem that contradicts
the proposition. This problem therefore challenges the reader's expectation
and creates interest and, we hope, significance. A word such as "however"
and "yet" thus often appears towards the middle or end of such introductions.
- An introduction should attract the reader's attention. Magazine and
newspaper articles often create interest with brief but interesting anecdotes,
questions that pique the reader's curiosity, something of personal relevance
to the reader, or other apt quotations, provocative questions, or statements.
While you shouldn't feel that you have to sensationalize, neither should
you assume that the reader is interested in what you have to say by default.
Very often just raising the interesting issue that your thesis explores
is enough to pull your reader in.
- An introduction should tell the reader explicitly what the thesis (the
point of the paper) is. Although some forms of discursive writing lead the reader
to the thesis only later in the paper or article, in most scholarly writing, readers
should have no doubt about what the central point of your paper is at the outset.
- An introduction should establish the significance of your point to the
reader. You should convince your reader that she or he should care about
what you have to say, though attention to relevance and significance is
part of constructing a successful thesis.
- An introduction should give enough background that the reader can
understand the context and hence the significance of the thesis. However,
the first paragraph should introduce only as much background as is absolutely
necessary for these purposes. Further summary can wait.
- An introduction sometimes previews internal points. Writers often
(but not always) summarize the ways in which they are going to back up
their thesis, so as to prepare the reader and improve the reader's recognition
and retention of those points.
Here are some things to watch out for in your introduction:
Your second paragraph will often connect the opening anecdote or statement
to the rest of the paper, providing a transition from your generalized
introduction to your detailed look at your first point. It is also a common
technique to refer back to your opening in your conclusion, providing a
satisfying closure to the paper.
- Don't start out with a grand generalization. The cliche of the
"pyramid form" introduction often leads to uninteresting and unsupportable
sentences that might begin with "Throughout history...." Showing the
significance of your thesis does not mean that you
have to demonstrate its importance in the history of art or tie it to some
- An introduction is not the place to introduce background or factual
information unless necessary to understand the thesis. A common impulse
is to start a paper with the story of a person's birth, a summary of an entire
story, or with some historical background. However, unless some brief
information is necessary to understand the terms within or significance of
the thesis, save the background for your following paragraphs.
- An introduction should not be too long. An introduction should be
a single paragraph, at least for the length of papers for this class. A
page-long intro is usually too long -- half a page or less is good. If your
opening anecdote is a long one, you don't have to finish it in the introduction
-- just introduce enough of it to get the reader's attention and establish
the significance of your thesis. You can finish it in the body of the paper.
(In fact, such a "teaser" is a common device of newspaper feature writers.)
- Don't start your introduction with a dictionary definition. We're
not interested in how Webster's defines "Gothic." We are interested
in YOUR take on it.
Although a successful introduction will follow these general guidelines, none
of them should imply a rigid formula, nor will I expect one.