The main purpose of an introduction is to orient your reader. It is your chance to provide necessary context, introduce key terms, establish tone, and set up your thesis.
A good introduction allows the reader to get a sense of your writing style and argument. It also provides a road map for the rest of the paper. After reading it, your reader should know exactly where the paper is going.
Introductions are going to vary according to your circumstances. Your introduction for a biology class paper will be quite different from your introduction for a literature class paper. While this makes it difficult to pin down an exact strategy for every scenario, here are a few general guidelines for writing effective introductions.
Writing an Effective Introduction:
- Write the introduction last: A common strategy for writing an effective introduction is to write it after you have finished everything else. This way you know exactly where your paper is going and what evidence you are offering.
- Write a tentative introduction, and revise it later: If you can’t start writing without an introduction, try writing a tentative one based on where you think your paper is going. Then, go back and revise the introduction as necessary.
- Choose the best approach for your topic: There are three common approaches to organizing an introduction:
- The “funnel” approach, or moving from general to specific. Begin with the most general information and work your way to the most narrow, typically your thesis.
- Specific to general. Begin specifically (with an anecdote, for example) and fan out into more general concepts, but always ending with your thesis.
- The “beanpole” approach. This approach is especially common in the sciences and requires that you maintain an explicit, narrow focus on your topic.
- Be aware of style: In some cases, it may be acceptable for you to begin a paper with a “hook,” or attention-getter, such as an anecdote, a quotation, a question, or a statistic. Make sure that your opener creates the appropriate tone for the purposes of your paper because not all techniques work in every discipline or for every instructor.
- Use assertive language: To convince your reader that you have something to say, your language should be firm. Use verbs like “argue” instead of “suggest.” Avoid words like “might” and phrases like “it seems” or “it could be argued.”
Qualities of Ineffective Introductions:
- Restating the question: It is a common strategy and often a helpful starting point to use some of the prompt in the development of an introduction. Make certain, however, that you are not simply repeating the question nearly verbatim. Rather than helping you focus your paper, this approach often communicates a lack of interest in the topic.
- Overly general phrases: While it might be interesting to know the state of humanity’s relationship to a given topic, it is very rarely relevant to the context of your paper. Similarly, any sort of vague reference or bit of extraneous information can muddle the focus of your introduction and leave your reader confused about the goal of your paper.
- Leading with a dictionary definition: Knowing the exact definition of a relevant term is a great way to make sure you are on the right track. However, it very rarely needs to make an appearance in your paper in the unimaginative form of a dictionary definition.
Adapted from Loyola Marymount University Library's Writing Guide