Writing Tips for Hum 1

Writing an introduction

Other writing tips:

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:
  • An introduction should attract the reader's attention. Magazine and newspaper articles often accomplish this 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. After having read the introduction, the reader should have no doubt about what the central point of your paper is.

  • An introduction should establish the significance of your point to the reader. You should convince your audience that it should care about what you have to say, though attention to relevance and significance is part of constructing a successful thesis.

  • An introduction can give a preview of how you are going to demonstrate your thesis. Writers often summarize in a brief list of three or so points how you are going to back up your 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:
  • An introduction is not the place to introduce background or factual information. A common impulse is to start a paper with the story of when a person was born, 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 next paragraph.

  • 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 "Postmodernism." We are interested in YOUR take on it.

  • Don't start out with a grand generalization. The cliche of the "pyramid form" introduction often leads to uninteresting sentences that begin with "Since the beginning of time..." or "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 universal observation.
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.

Although a successful introduction will follow these general guidelines, none of them should imply a rigid formula, nor will I expect one. With that said, here are two examples of successful short introductions:

The explosion of fist fights, police, jeers, and cheers that greeted the notorious 1913 premiere of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring is now famous as the screaming birth of musical modernism.
Stuckenschmidt says that the dissonance percussiveness, and savagery of the score were unlike anything the public had heard to that time (67)
, and this premiere became a symbol of the uncompromising new musical language that refused to pander to prettiness or sentimentality. However, contrary to Stuckenschmidt's and other conventional interpretations, The Rite of Spring was a last gasp of Romanticism rather than the birth of modernism,
as shown in its unreserved drama and spectacle, its heritage of Russian nationalism, and its idealization of "primitive" man.
Here the author grabs the reader's attention.
Though citations are not typically used in an introduction, the author here uses it to establish a controversy and hence the significance of the thesis.
Here the author states the thesis in an unambiguous way.
Here the author gives a preview of the three points he will make to support his thesis.

In 1901, Pablo Picasso's closest friend, Carlos Casagemas, committed suicide, an event which shocked the young artist and drove him into a deep, guilt-laden depression. Indeed, in the aftermath of this tragedy, Picasso became superstitious in his fear of anything associated with death, an obsession which was reflected not just in his subsequent "blue period" paintings, but throughout his life. The painting Picasso executed in response to Casagemas' death, paradoxically titled La Vie [Life] (1903), develops several of the distinctive motives that would become important to his later paintings, including his ambivalent view of women, a close connection between sex and death, and an intensely subjective viewpoint.
Here is an interesting anecdote to capture the reader's attention. The details of the story can wait until the next paragraph.
Here the author makes clear the significance of the story. The reader should be interested in this event not just because of an idle curiosity about Picasso's life, but because of how it shaped his art.
Now the author clearly states the thesis...
and gives a preview of the points that will support the thesis.