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What Should You Say First? - Creating an Introduction

An effective introduction arouses an audience's interest and provides a sense of purpose. It is like a highway sign directing a traveler at the start of a journey. Although some literary texts delight their readers by misdirecting them, most audiences want to have a clear sense of a paper's purpose as soon as they start reading.

There are many different ways to introduce a paper; some of the most common ones are

  • anecdote: tell a story to demonstrate the importance of a topic
  • misunderstanding: present a subject which many people fail to understand then promise to clarify their perspective
  • startling fact: use a surprisingly fact or statistic to intrigue a reader
  • background: explain the context of an issue so it is understood better
  • problem: present a pressing issue that needs to be solved
  • disagreement: explain two or more views on a subject then argue for one position
  • concept: apply a concept to clarify a situation
  • familiar/unfamiliar: make the familiar seem uncommon or make the unfamiliar seem common

For some other ways to create an introduction, see Bruce Ballenger's good advice in chapter four of The Curious Researcher. Remember that almost every introduction should answer these three key questions:

  • What is this paper about?
  • Why should a reader care about this topic?
  • In what order will this subject be explained?

Although the final draft of a paper should begin with an effective introduction, some writers prefer to delay drafting their introductions until most of a paper has been drafted. They reason that they cannot write an introduction until they know to what conclusion they want to bring a reader. Others believe that they cannot start drafting until they have a strong introduction so they have a clear sense of direction for the rest of the draft. Skillful writers begin wherever they can, meaning they write an introduction first for one paper and save it until last for another.

Because writing is a recursive process when we write multiple drafts, we can go back and revise a rough introduction after a draft is completed or reorganize a draft after a strong introduction has been written.