Whether you’re writing a short paper or an 80,000 word dissertation, your opening chapter should be clear, well-structured and informative. This is because the introduction is the first thing your reader will see in your paper.
It therefore serves as an entrance point to your work, laying out a map for what follows. It is also where you can make a good first impression by demonstrating your communication and analytical skills.
A good paper therefore needs a good introduction. And to make sure your essays start as well as possible, it is worth considering three things in particular: content, structure and style.
There are certain things that every introduction should include, so consider whether your introduction does the following:
Define Your Terms
Often the most important thing you can do is outline your subject area and define how you are using key terms; try to use a definition from an expert rather than a dictionary definition.
Briefly Explain the Background of Your Research
Detailed information can be saved for a literature review, but it can help to identify important existing research in the field and to explain how your work will build on this.
State Your Objectives and what Your Work Adds to the Debate
Explain specifically what you are arguing and how this contributes to existing knowledge.
Outline the Structure of your Paper
Provide an overview of what each section in your paper will cover and how they relate to your overall argument. This will make your work much easier to follow.
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It is particularly important that the introduction to your paper is easy to follow, as a disorganized opening will create a negative first impression and there is sometimes a lot of information you need to convey in a short space (ideally, no more than 10% of the paper).
As such, it is vital that each paragraph in your introduction flows smoothly into the next, with clarity and concision priorities. A good introduction will often be structured like a mini-paper in itself, with a beginning, middle and end in which you introduce your topic, explain the key concepts and conclude with a hypothesis.
As mentioned above, clarity and concision are vital when writing an introduction. But there are a few additional things to keep in mind too:
Grab the Reader’s Attention
A good opening paragraph can make a big difference, so try using an interesting anecdote, example or provocative question to introduce your topic.
Avoid Being Too General
Though “Since the beginning of time…” might sound like a good starting point, you’re usually better off being a little more specific.
Make Your Work a Pleasure to Read
A good introduction will make your reader want to read on, so you should aim to make your writing clear, but still try to write with confidence and flair.
Another tip is to write a rough introduction to begin with then revisit it once you have finished your research, by which point you should have good idea of what your paper is about! For more information about writing a dissertation or thesis, read our full dissertation writing guide. Additionally, if you need further advice on how to write and structure an introduction, the professionals at Proofed are here to help.