Creating a successful essay or research paper has always presented the challenge of fitting the intended audience experience in terms of reading and understanding the material. In order to write papers that will be read carefully, students must acquire the variety of skills required of all researchers. The focus of this guide is the range of strategies that help in writing introductions that will capture readers’ attention and effectively present research topics
Why is an Introductory Paragraph Important
The importance of introductory sections in academic papers cannot be overstated. To some extent, this section will set the tone for the rest of the paper. An introduction can be defined as the first part of a paper that effectively uses inductive logic to present both basic information about research fields and the purpose of the particular paper. In other words, introductions are used to transition from general statements concerning the state of the art or background information underpinning the purpose of the research into particular questions that the paper aims to answer.
In terms of its role and importance in a paper, the introduction fulfills a variety of functions. In particular, it helps undergraduate researchers to establish the importance of their projects, present clearly defined research problems, and briefly discuss the structure of the work and various methods used to approach the topic (Greasley 55). Unlike executive summaries and abstracts (other potential components of academic papers), introductory sections are not aimed at summarizing findings and discussing the process of data collection and research in detail. This fact should be taken into account during the writing to clearly differentiate between the function of an introduction and a conclusion.
Characteristics of an Effective Introduction
Today, many books are devoted to the secret of effective academic writing. In some cases, recommendations may vary greatly depending on the field of study (humanities versus science, technology, engineering, and mathematics [STEM] fields), the type of assignment to be completed, and some authors’ personal preferences related to organizing a paper. In an attempt to understand the key principles of effective writing, Townsend and his colleagues analyzed a number of writing guides for students and summarized their recommendations (Greasley 55). As a result, the researchers formulated the following basic requirements for effective introductory sections:
- Introductions should “discuss the importance or timeliness of the topic” (Greasley 55). Presenting the topic is not enough for an effective introductory paragraph; students are also expected to discuss the chosen problem from a practical viewpoint to outline the positive consequences of focusing on certain questions.
- Students ought to state the problem explicitly. The failure to meet this requirement significantly reduces the paper’s chances of capturing the attention of readers and makes the research appear ill-structured.
- It is pivotal to “indicate the scope of an essay” or a research paper to avoid ambiguity and demonstrate the relevance of the collected data to the topic (Greasley 55). This statement must present all aspects of the chosen topic to be studied. It can also be important to mention ideas that relate to the topic but are not discussed and explain the reason why some aspects have been excluded.
- Good introductory sections present and “define the terms to be used” (Greasley 55). Some scientific terms have different meanings depending on the context and the field of study. Failure to provide definitions for the key terms can lead to ambiguity and decrease the effectiveness of the paper.
- Finally, a properly structured introduction should “delineate the argument to be presented” (Greasley 55). In the absence of a thesis statement, the key idea of the work will remain unclear.
Effective Thesis Statements and Mistakes to Avoid
The last sentence of the introduction should present a specific and effective thesis statement that manages to summarize an entire paper in one or two concisely written sentences. This can be difficult to achieve, especially when it comes to research projects that study relatively broad topics. Modern students recognize that creating effective thesis statements is one of the most difficult tasks in working on written assignments (Hatakeyama 32). The key recommendations related to this aspect of writing an introduction are listed below:
- To improve their thesis statements, students are encouraged to engage in peer-review activities to consider outside perspectives (Hatakeyama 39).
- Good thesis statements should not be too broad or present unnecessary details.
- Students should understand the difference between the main problem and its components to avoid focusing on the latter.
- Synonyms and broad terms must be used carefully to avoid a loss of focus.
- Subordinating conjunctions help to indicate relationships between concepts and ensure that research questions are not disconnected.
- If some particular phenomena are studied, both causes and consequences should be presented.
- Thesis statements should be objective, research-based, and unbiased—avoid using words and expressions that convey feelings or make the thesis statement sound informal.
- Well-known facts or other researchers’ findings should not form the basis of thesis statements—students should be able to demonstrate the originality of their projects.
- Any words that can be understood in a variety of ways should be replaced with more specific equivalents (for instance, try to avoid using such words as “people,” “society,” etc.).
Engaging the Audience and Revisions
In addition to presenting the chosen topic, introductory sections are intended to capture the attention of the audience and make readers curious about the results of the research. The following strategies can help achieve this goal:
- Link the research problem to everyday issues affecting your audience (using personal stories, news stories, pieces of literature, etc.).
- In discussing social issues, statistical data and questions can be used expressively to provoke thinking and explain the size of the problem (Greasley 60).
An opportunity to revise the introduction should never be missed, especially if it has been written in advance of composing other sections. After finishing the research paper, it is pivotal to re-read the introduction and revise all sentences that seem to stray from the topic. Other areas for attention include the use of terminology (whether some key terms used in the body of the paper have been missed) and the extent to which a thesis statement reflects the intent of an entire work.
In summary, students must keep in mind a range of problems before commencing work on their written assignments. Creating a clear and effective introduction requires both research and writing skills. In general, students are advised to participate in peer-review activities to develop the necessary components of introductions along with receiving suggestions for improvement; using Townsend’s criteria as a checklist is also recommended. Moreover, it is imperative to strike the right balance between factual information and personal opinion to ensure that introductions are unbiased and focused.
Greasley, Pete. Doing Essays and Assignments: Essential Tips for Students. 2nd ed., Sage Publications, 2016.
Hatakeyama, Yukako. “Student Perceptions on Pre-writing Processes: Challenges, Helpful Activities, and Noticing Seen Through Reflections.” ICU Language Research Bulletin, vol. 32, 2018, pp. 32-44.