Pointers for Writing an Introduction

A good introduction requires a good thesis. After all, the thesis is usually both the last sentence and the culmination of your introduction. For this reason, I recommend that you construct a strong thesis before you write the rest of the introduction.

Thesis aside, your main goal is to give your audience some background or context for your paper that will motivate them to read further. Contexts come in many different forms, including:

  1. Historical context. A biographical sketch of a person central to your paper, or an overview of an important event, can set the stage for historical discussions.
  2. Personal context. A carefully chosen anecdote from your own life can provide an approachable and human introduction to larger social issues.
  3. Modern context. Facts and figures can impress a reader by correcting common misconceptions, indicating the scale of a problem, or demonstrating the impact of a technology or policy.
  4. Scholarly context. By tracing the history of a controversy, you can persuade readers that you have identified a significant point of contention. And everybody loves a good argument.

Your choice of context will depend on your topic, of course, and the examples above are only suggestions to get you started. As with everything in writing, you get to make the final decision about what will serve you best.

Once you have gathered your contextual information, you will want to present it in precise, interesting language and skillfully phrased sentences to engage your audience.

Many students wait until they have written the rest of a paper before they tackle the introduction. I recommend this strategy — especially if you are the sort of writer who keeps revising the opening sentences and risks crippling frustration before even getting to the rest of the paper. The contours of a suitable introduction may be more obvious once your arguments are in place. Whatever approach you take, keep in mind that writing a strong introduction is difficult enough (and important enough) to merit a draft or two.

Now let's look at some common mistakes in introductions.

The Introduction

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