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Writing

This Guide was created as a joint project of the Academic Resource Center and the William H. Hannon Library.

Introductions

The main purpose of an introduction is to orient your reader to your argument and where your paper is going. It is your chance to:

  1. Provide necessary context
  2. Introduce key terms and establish tone
  3. Set up your thesis.

A good introduction allows the reader to get a sense of your writing style and argument. It also provides a roadmap for the rest of the paper. While introductions vary by discipline, there are a few general strategies for writing effective introductions.

Strategies to Try

  1. Writing the introduction after you have finished everything else. This way you know exactly where your paper is going and what evidence you are offering.
  2. Writing a tentative introduction based on where you think your paper is going. Then, go back and revise the introduction as necessary.
  3. Utilizing firm language to convince your reader that you have something to say
  4. Beginning a paper with a “hook,” or attention-getter (an anecdote, a quotation, a question, or a statistic) that creates an appropriate tone for the purpose of the paper (not all techniques work in every discipline or for every instructor)

What to Avoid

  1. Restating the question nearly verbatim. Rather than helping you focus your paper, this approach often communicates a lack of interest in the topic.
  2. Using overly general phrases. Any sort of vague reference or extraneous information can muddle the focus of your introduction and leave your reader confused. 
  3. Leading with a dictionary definition. Knowing the exact definition of a  term is great to make sure you are on the right track, but it very rarely needs to be stated in the unimaginative form of a dictionary definition.

Example Introductions

Ineffective Introduction

The American Heritage Dictionary defines freedom as “the condition of being free of restraints.” This definition seems similar to the kind of freedom Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential philosophy develops in Being and Nothingness and Fyodor Dostoevsky writes about in The Brothers Karamazov, which shows that freedom is a concern common to the human experience. When these authors write about freedom, then, they are writing about what it means to be human. As a result, it would seem that Dostoevsky’s book presents a literary account of Sartre’s existential thought.

Why is this ineffective?  It opens with a boring dictionary definition; uses unhelpful and overly general phrases like "the human experience"; and uses unassertive language throughout.

 

Effective Introduction:

“Man is condemned to be free,” writes Jean-Paul Sartre, “because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does” (Being and Nothingness). Sartre’s philosophy, known as Existentialism, is concerned foremost with the nature of our responsibility as free agents in the world. This overwhelming concern with freedom was undoubtedly influenced by Sartre’s experiences during the Second World War under totalitarian regimes. Nearly a century before Sartre developed Existentialism, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s magnum opus The Brothers Karamazov provided a clear illustration of Sartre’s existential philosophy in action through its development of the concepts of authenticity and bad faith.

Why is this effective? It makes effective use of an opening quotation; employs the "funnel" approach; clarifies a key term; uses key terms to lead into the body of the paper; and uses direct, assertive language.


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