When beginning to compose an argument paper, you’ve probably read a wide variety of discussion on the topic, picked out several key pieces of research you want to include, have constructed at least a working thesis statement, and developed at least three solid reasons that will support the thesis. You may even have an outline. It’s time to start writing – but you’re already stuck. Overwhelmed with all the information you want to communicate, you don’t know where or how to begin.
Writing an effective introduction for a research paper is one of the most difficult tasks facing students as they begin the writing process. Introductions are more than simply a good “hook.” Before sitting down to write, it’s important to consider a few key points:
1. What is your rhetorical purpose?
Understanding rhetorical purpose helps to clarify what exactly you want your writing to do at each stage of the paper. Consider what you want the introduction to do:
· Do you need to grab the audience’s attention by stating startling statistics?
· Would it be more effective to tell a narrative to create empathy?
· Does the argument need historical information or background to inform the reader of the issue?
Below is a list of rhetorical purposes that will help you clarify what you want your introduction to accomplish (this can be done for each section or paragraph):
· Create Interest
Ask yourself, what exactly do I want or need to DO in this paragraph? Once you can answer this question, you can more easily decide how to begin.
2. Who is your Audience?
Your instructor has given you an assignment to write a research paper, but keep in mind that even though you are writing this paper for a class assignment which your instructor will grade, your instructor alone isn’t your audience. You will most likely be writing for a general readership and academic community, unless otherwise directed. Consider this audience as you begin crafting the introduction. If you are still fuzzy on what your rhetorical purpose is, considering who your audience will be might help clarify the purpose. What do they need to know? Answering this question will help you plan your strategy.
3. What is your focus?
Consider an email; an email has a subject line to identify what the content is for the recipient. This is a simplified way to think about the focus of your paper. Be specific. Keep asking yourself, what do I want to say about this topic? So what about your topic? So what about stem cell research or landfills or texting while driving or bio-engineered crops or fill-in-the-blank? You can’t write an introduction until you can clearly articulate your exact focus in the form of a thesis statement. The thesis serves as the guiding force of your paper, and without it, your argument – and organization – will fall apart.
Beginning the Beginning: What is the Context?
Once you have answered these questions, begin setting the context for your paper. What is the discussion or debate that this argument is a part of? What are the pros and cons of the issue? Who are the players involved? To set the context, provide general information on the issue for your reader, considering why the reader should care about this topic. Provide enough information to compel the audience to pay attention and keep reading. Make the reader care enough to act on an issue, if that is your purpose. Start broad and end narrow, meaning, offer general information about the topic, and conclude the intro with your thesis statement.
What NOT to do in an Introduction:
· Begin with your thesis statement
· Tell the reader what the paper will be about (In this paper I will. . .)
· Reference a dictionary (According to Merriam Webster.com, a landfill is. . .)
Once you have a first draft of the entire paper and are ready to begin the revision process, go back to the introduction to reconsider if you need to add or remove any information. This is just a first draft, so if it’s not communicating what you want, you can always revise it. The intro might not be exactly the way you want it, but it’s at least a starting point to get you going.
Remember that these suggestions are for argument papers. A research paper might also be an exploratory essay, which will be more an inquiry than argument, and with different rhetorical purposes. Defining your purpose, audience, and focus, then putting the argument in context, will help you compose a successful introduction and essay.