Drafting the Research Essay: Introductions
The opening passages of any piece of focused writing serve a variety of critical purposes. They introduce the workâ€™s subject, establish its authorial voice, develop the important points that are up for discussion and, perhaps most importantly, provoke the readerâ€™s interest through the creation of what is commonly called a â€œhook.” On this important subject, King says:
But there’s one thing I’m sure about. An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.
How can a writer extend an appealing invitation—one that’s difficult, even, to refuse?
We’ve all heard the advice writing teachers give: Open a book in the middle of a dramatic or compelling situation, because right away you engage the reader’s interest. This is what we call a “hook,” and it’s true, to a point. (Fassler)
The same advice holds true for writing engaging research arguments, and perhaps the most compelling way to immerse your audience in the â€œdramatic or compelling” nature of your subject matter is by narrating a case study. If you are writing about the water shortages and drought conditions now plaguing large regions of the American West, for instance, you might begin your essay by describing a scene from one of the water-distribution centers that has been established in such communities as Fresno and Bakersfield. If you are writing about the potentially adverse effects of digital technology on the human attention span, perhaps you describe some of the recent findings by Stanford psychologist Clifford Nass on how digital multitasking is making us less efficient at learning and storing information.
Whichever subject you choose to write about, the introduction serves an important function in setting up your essay. Here are some additional elements, including examples, that you will want to consider as you begin writing your research argument. (1)
The introduction has work to do, besides grabbing the readerâ€™s attention. Below are some things to consider about the purposes or the tasks for your introduction and some examples of how you might approach those tasks.
1) The introduction needs to alert the reader to what the central issue of the paper is.
Few people realize how much the overuse of antibiotics for livestock is responsible for the growth of antimicrobial—resistant bacteria, which are now found in great abundance in our waterways.
2) The introduction is where you provide any important background information the reader should have before getting to the thesis.
One hundred years ago there were only 8000 cars in the United States and only 144 miles of paved roads. In 2005, the Department of Transportation recorded 247,421,120 registered passenger vehicles in the United States, and over 5.7 million miles of paved highway. The automobile has changed our way of life dramatically in the last century.
3) The introduction tells why you have written the paper and what the reader should understand about your topic and your perspective.
Although history books have not presented it accurately, in fact, the Underground Railroad was a bi-racial movement whereby black and white abolitionists coordinated secret escape routes for those who were enslaved.
4) The introduction tells the reader what to expect and what to look for in your essay.
In 246 BCE, Ctesibius of Alexandria invented a musical instrument that would develop into what we know as the organ. Called a hydraulis, it functioned via wind pressure regulated by means of water pressure. The hydraulis became the instrument played at circuses, banquets, and games throughout Mediterranean countries.
5) The thesis statement (often located at the end of the introduction) should clearly state the claim, question, or point of view the writer is putting forth in the paper.
While IQ tests have been used for decades to measure various aspects of intelligence, these tests are not a predictor for success, as many highly intelligent people have a low emotional intelligence, the important human mental ability to reason about emotions and to use emotions to enhance thought. (35)
Although there is no one â€œright” way to write your introduction, there are some common introductory strategies that work well. The strategies below are ones you should consider, especially when you are feeling stuck and having a hard time getting started.
Consider opening with an anecdote, a pithy quotation, an image, a question, or a startling fact to provoke your readerâ€™s interest. Just make sure that the opening helps put your topic in some useful context for the reader.
One day, while riding in the car, my five-year old son asked me why my name was different from his daddy’s. I welcomed the opportunity to explain some of my feminist ideas, especially my strong belief that women did not need to take their husband’s name upon marriage. I carefully explained my reasons for keeping my own surname. My son listened intently and was silent for a moment after I finished.
Then he nodded and said, “I think it’s good you kept your own name Mom!”
“You do?” I asked, pleased that he understood my reasons.
“Yep, because you don’t look like a Bob.”
The study of anthropology and history reveal that cultures vary in their ideas of moral behavior. Are there any absolutes when it comes to right and wrong?
Overall, your focus in an introduction should be on orienting your reader. Keep in mind journalism’s five Ws: who, what, when, where, why, and add in how. If you answer these questions about your topic in the introduction, then your reader is going to be able to follow along with you.
Of course, these are just some examples of how you might get your introduction started, but there should be more to your introduction. Once you have your readers’ attention, you want to provide context for your topic and begin to transition into your thesis, and don’t forget to include that thesis (usually at or near the end of your introduction). (36)