Papers: How to write an introduction

I once turned in a “seven-page paper” with three whole pages of introduction, only three pages of actual body text, and a three-sentence conclusion lifted from my Introduction, just phrased in past tense. I got an A on that paper.

If there’s one thing I’m good at writing, it’s introductions. I can’t write catchy leads, the kind I want for articles or stories or whatever, but when it comes to academics, I’ve got the intros down. In this post, I’ll explain my plan of attack.

First thing I do is I write out my outline in paragraph form. I call it the thesis paragraph. Actually, I don’t even have to write it out. I can just drop in the right phrases for my topic and subtopics. Here’s how it goes:

The project will begin with a brief survey of _____________. From there, it will offer an analysis of ___________. Finally, this paper will outline __________. The goal of this project is to ___________.

If it’s a paper that will argue for a specific position, I’ll include a sentence in front of the paragraph on that:

This paper will argue that ___________.

If I need to expand the Introduction, I include a bunch of stuff on definitions and clarifications. If it’s a paper on specific people, I might include some random background info on them. This immediately follows that whole thesis paragraph.

Before beginning the primary sections of this paper, however, it is important to clarify how terms will be used. __________ describes…

To expand these definitions even more, after defining whatever terms I’m planning to use in the paper, I like to include a final introductory paragraph on what the paper won’t cover. This one points out a number of questions or directions the paper could go based on the topic but won’t.

Lastly, it is important to note a few of the paths this paper will not take. First…

This is a great way to narrow down your subject and patch up any holes your paper might have. Sometimes, if I drop a section from my paper that was originally in the outline, I’ll include a bit about that section here, explaining why the paper won’t cover that. Also, if you just don’t feel like dealing with a specific argument or a certain kind of research, you can say that right up front. This way, it’s tougher for the professor to accuse you of leaving out stuff you might need in the paper. Just say you don’t need it. They’ll take your word for it.

Doing all this takes up space in your paper too, which can be good, and it shows you’re committed a certain level of detail in your research, which makes your paper seem stronger.

I almost always finish off the Introduction with these two wonderful sentences:

Further exploration into these areas of research would venture beyond the scope of this project. Therefore, this paper will now turn to the subject at hand.

Sometimes I include a few sources in these last introductory paragraphs, but most of the time I don’t have to. I can just pick what I want to talk about and explain that that’s what I want to talk about. That’s the nice thing about this part. It’s not about the topic – it’s about how I’ll handle the topic. As a result, I can write it however I want, without citing sources for why I’ve chosen to do it this way.

Finally, I jump all the way back to the top. I write three sentences outlining the topic, its background, why it’s important or controversial or something like that. This is much easier to write at the end of the project than at the beginning, so I usually save it until then.

I also like a trick one of my professors taught me. He always threw a quote or two at the top of his papers, offset to the right side of the paper. This makes it look nice and professional, since you’re quoting sources from the start, makes your paper stand out, since I guess not many students do this, and yeah, takes up space.

With the introduction fairly set, you can move into the actual content.