In my second-semester composition course, a student asked a question about how to write introductions to research papers. I jotted down some notes for her, so my musing today is to offer some quick advice on how to get that research paper started by writing good introductions. This isn’t a “lesson” exactly, but I hope the notes are useful.
I think a good way to think of introductions is to be lean and quick. Many students at the beginning of my writing courses tend to begin with generic, vague, dramatic, and “grand gesture” comments. Do not do this!
For instance, DON’T write openings such as:
- “In our complicated [technological] world (or society or culture) of today…”
- “Since time began…” or “Ever since time began people have studied…”
- Other variations: “Since the dawn of time….” “As long as there has been history people have wondered…” etc. etc.
Just get right to the start. For example,
“Recidivism, known as the rate at which former inmates are re-arrested or re-sentenced for new crimes, is a looming problem for the American penal system.”
In one sentence you set up the general topic, the problem, give a definition, and are prepared to offer a couple of statements about the problem before informing the reader what the research question or thesis will be, which will typically appear at the end of the opening paragraph or two:
“This paper will evaluate whether or not prison education programs can provide a significant reduction in recidivism rates.”
There’s nothing wrong with being simple and plain in research writing. There’s no need to “dress up a topic with significance” because if it weren’t important you wouldn’t be writing about it. You don’t have to “sound smart” because a good research paper will be smart. It will do the talking for you.
Your introduction wants to:
- Inform the reader what you are doing and why.
- Interest the reader in reading further.
Often, a brief opening statement of a startling and/or significant fact about your topic will create interest and motivation, as well as reveal the need to write the paper:
“In 2017, 50% of new K-12 teachers hired left the teaching profession within five years (citation)….
Often, a (brief) anecdote will serve to set the stage for the research paper. It can even be personal.
“Only four years after receiving my freshly-minted teaching degree, I resigned from my teaching position in middle school and returned to college to pursue a new career.”
You can combine both approaches:
“Only four years after receiving my freshly-minted teaching degree, I resigned from my teaching position in middle school and returned to college to pursue a new career. According to the latest statistics, I’m one of 50% of brand-new K-12 educators who quit the profession before reaching their fifth anniversary…”
Keep it short, sweet, relevant and simple. You don’t have a lot of space to muck around and you want to get on with developing your paper.
I hope this answer helps you and other students deal with introductions!
You may also be interested in my article: Reducing Repetition