How to write an introduction
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How to write an introduction

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  • This version of the presentation includes notes for the instructor. The presentation has been designed so that each slide is self-explanatory and its function clear. Review the presentation first, as you would your own lecture material. Then, when it comes time to give the presentation, simply read out the slides to your audience, adding your own observations, anecdotes and humour as you go. For extra guidance, instructional notes have been provided for each slide. The presentation has been designed for general use, with no particular course in mind. You may feel that some slides are not relevant to your particular case. Simply omit or modify those slides to suit your requirements, or insert slides of your own in the slide-show.
  • Emphasize the importance of a good introduction. Relate the introduction of an essay to first impressions at an interview! First impressions are important.
  • Explain how an introduction functions – discuss the roles that an introduction plays. You can take suggestions from the audience and discuss them.
  • Prepare the audience for an example of a good but predictable introduction: set the scenario of a student who has completed the body of the essay and now has to write an introduction. If the audience asks why the student did not write the introduction first, say that there is a good reasons for this but you will come to that later.
  • Give an example of a good but predictable introduction – one that uses words like ‘essay’ and ‘thesis’. Make sure that everyone is aware of the three components: topic, organization, and thesis.
  • Explain that there is nothing wrong with this introduction, but that there are ways in which it could be improved. Take suggestions from the audience about how to improve it. Prepare the audience for the next three slides, where you will discuss each of the three components (topic, organization, thesis) of this introduction.
  • Explain that there is nothing wrong with the structure-sentences. Make sure everyone is aware of organizational words such as ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘next’, ‘finally’, and so on. Explain that with practice, it is possible to write a better introduction that conveys the organization of an essay without using many overt organizational words or phrases.
  • Explain that a topic-sentence is best when it does not actually include words or phrases that overtly refer to the essay, such as “this essay is about…” Ask your audience how they usually introduce the topic. It is likely that up to now they have used such phrases!
  • Stress the importance of striking an assertive tone in the introduction, especially when it comes to the thesis. Explain that the reader needs to feel confident that the author of the essay is in command of their material and knows where they are going with it. At this point, be prepared to take questions or suggestions from the audience – maybe even allow students to express the difficulties that they have in writing their introductions.
  • Prepare your audience for another example of an introduction – one that takes into account all the points that you have just made about the flaws in the previous example.
  • Give an example of an improved introduction – one that does not use words like “essay”, “topic”, or “thesis”. Make sure that your audience is aware of the three components (topic-sentences, organizational sentences, and thesis-sentences) in this example. Allow them time to read it, and read it out loud to them if necessary, but do not discuss it until the next slide.
  • In this, and in the following slide, discuss and emphasize the point that the introduction has successfully conveyed the topic, organization of the body of the essay, and the thesis, without using words like ‘essay’, ‘topic’, ‘first’, ‘second’ or ‘thesis’. The point is to drive home the message that these words are not necessary, and that it is better to do without them.
  • Drive home the point that the introduction has successfully indicated what the thesis of the essay is, without using the word ‘thesis’ or phrases like ‘the thesis of this essay…’.
  • Discuss the improved impact of the introduction compared to the earlier example. Ask the audience if they can say why this introduction is better. Take suggestions from the audience.
  • Explain that a good essay does not give the impression of a gap between the essay and its author. Point out that introductions which include phrases such as ‘the topic of the essay is…’ or ‘the thesis of the essay is…’ do not generate an authentic tone because they give the impression of a gap between essay and author.
  • Make it clear that students will not be able to go away and write great introductions straight away. Emphasize the need to practice writing improved essay introductions.
  • At this stage in the presentation, explain that there are certain questions that frequently come up. Say that you will go through some of them. Read out the question in green. Throw the question out to the audience. After discussing audience suggestions, you can read the slide to the audience. Field any further questions.
  • Read out the question in green. Take suggestions from the audience. Read the slide to the audience. Field any further questions.
  • Read out the question in green. Take suggestions from the audience. Read the slide to the audience. Field any further questions.
  • Carry on reading out the slide to the audience. Field any further questions.
  • Read out the question in green. Take suggestions from audience. Read slide to audience. Field any further questions.
  • Read out the question in green. Take suggestions from audience. Read slide to audience. Field any further questions.
  • Read out the question in green. Take suggestions from audience. Read slide to audience. Field any further questions.
  • Mention some sources that interested students can use to investigate introductions further. Emphasize the Bethune Writing Centre.
  • Mention some sources that interested students can use to investigate introductions further. Emphasize the Bethune Writing Centre.

How to write an introduction How to write an introduction Presentation Transcript

  • Just the plain facts!Just the plain facts! PRESENTATION SERIESPRESENTATION SERIES How to write an introductionHow to write an introduction ©© Nicholas G. Ashby 2004Nicholas G. Ashby 2004
  • GeneralGeneral  The purpose of an introduction is to prepareThe purpose of an introduction is to prepare the reader for the body of writing that comesthe reader for the body of writing that comes after it.after it. You know what you are writing about and why.You know what you are writing about and why. But unless you inform your readers of this in anBut unless you inform your readers of this in an introduction, they will feel lost and judge yourintroduction, they will feel lost and judge your essay to be an unclear piece of work!essay to be an unclear piece of work!
  • A good introduction:A good introduction:  indicates the topic that the essay is aboutindicates the topic that the essay is about  describes how the body of the essay isdescribes how the body of the essay is organizedorganized  explains the point of writing the essay;explains the point of writing the essay; the point of writing an essay is usually tothe point of writing an essay is usually to argue for a thesis, so you will need toargue for a thesis, so you will need to explain what thesis you argue for and howexplain what thesis you argue for and how you argue for it – this is called ayou argue for it – this is called a thesis-statement, and most essaythesis-statement, and most essay introductions include one.introductions include one.
  • First exampleFirst example Suppose you had to write a ten page essaySuppose you had to write a ten page essay onon the topic of whether body-checkingthe topic of whether body-checking should be banned in junior ice-hockey.should be banned in junior ice-hockey. YouYou did your research and found that there aredid your research and found that there are several main arguments for and against aseveral main arguments for and against a ban. In the body of your essay youban. In the body of your essay you described and evaluated these arguments,described and evaluated these arguments, and determined that arguments for a banand determined that arguments for a ban are stronger than arguments against a ban.are stronger than arguments against a ban. Now you must write your introduction!Now you must write your introduction!
  • First exampleFirst example Here is how someone new to academicHere is how someone new to academic essays may write the introduction (theessays may write the introduction (the topic-sentence is in red, essay structure intopic-sentence is in red, essay structure in blue, thesis in yellow):blue, thesis in yellow): This essay is about the issue of body-checking inThis essay is about the issue of body-checking in junior ice-hockey.junior ice-hockey. First, arguments for a ban onFirst, arguments for a ban on body-checking are examined. Second, argumentsbody-checking are examined. Second, arguments against a ban are discussed.against a ban are discussed. It is shown that pro-It is shown that pro- ban arguments are stronger than anti-banban arguments are stronger than anti-ban arguments. Therefore, the thesis of this essay isarguments. Therefore, the thesis of this essay is that body-checking in junior ice-hockey should bethat body-checking in junior ice-hockey should be banned.banned.
  • Discussion of first exampleDiscussion of first example This introduction is all right so far as it goes.This introduction is all right so far as it goes. It is better to have an introduction thatIt is better to have an introduction that includes the three important elementsincludes the three important elements ((topictopic,, structurestructure,, thesisthesis) than to have one) than to have one that does not.that does not. Many people start out byMany people start out by writing essays with introductions like thiswriting essays with introductions like this one.one. It does have the virtue of being clear,It does have the virtue of being clear, and clarity is essential.and clarity is essential. But let us review itBut let us review it to see if it can be improved.to see if it can be improved.
  • Discussion of first exampleDiscussion of first example The structure-sentences are fine.The structure-sentences are fine. Notice that words such asNotice that words such as firstfirst andand secondsecond are useful in helping to describe how theare useful in helping to describe how the body of an essay is organized.body of an essay is organized. However, if you can convey the structure ofHowever, if you can convey the structure of your essay without using too manyyour essay without using too many organizational words, that is even better.organizational words, that is even better.
  • Discussion of first exampleDiscussion of first example The topic-sentence could be improved.The topic-sentence could be improved. Rather than writing: “Rather than writing: “This essay is about…This essay is about…”” it would be better to write a few topic-it would be better to write a few topic- sentences that convey a sense of thesentences that convey a sense of the current state of the topic.current state of the topic. This not onlyThis not only tells the reader what the topic is but it alsotells the reader what the topic is but it also gives the impression that you aregives the impression that you are knowledgeable about the topic and inknowledgeable about the topic and in command of your research material.command of your research material.
  • Discussion of first exampleDiscussion of first example The thesis-sentences could be better.The thesis-sentences could be better. Instead of writing: “Instead of writing: “Therefore, the thesis ofTherefore, the thesis of this essay is…this essay is…”” simply give a bold, factualsimply give a bold, factual sentence that expresses your position onsentence that expresses your position on the issue.the issue. This conveys an air of confidence,This conveys an air of confidence, unlike the phrase “…unlike the phrase “…the thesis of thisthe thesis of this essayessay…” which is timid and non-committal.…” which is timid and non-committal.
  • Second exampleSecond example The introduction on the next slide takesThe introduction on the next slide takes these points into account. Compare it withthese points into account. Compare it with the previous introduction andthe previous introduction and note hownote how wording the three main elements differentlywording the three main elements differently can improve the impact that the introductioncan improve the impact that the introduction has on the reader.has on the reader.
  • Second exampleSecond example Body-checking has always been a controversialBody-checking has always been a controversial issue. However, the recent decision of Hockeyissue. However, the recent decision of Hockey Canada to allow some hockey associations to permitCanada to allow some hockey associations to permit body-checking among players as young as ninebody-checking among players as young as nine years of age, on an experimental basis, hasyears of age, on an experimental basis, has aggravated the controversy quite considerably inaggravated the controversy quite considerably in recent months.recent months. Perspectives fall into three mainPerspectives fall into three main categories: viewpoints of fans, the official standpointcategories: viewpoints of fans, the official standpoint of Hockey Canada, and positions held by theof Hockey Canada, and positions held by the scientific community.scientific community. Evaluation of the mainEvaluation of the main argumentsarguments shows quite clearly that Hockeyshows quite clearly that Hockey Canada’s decisionCanada’s decision to allow body-checking in someto allow body-checking in some junior games,junior games, even on an experimental basis, is aeven on an experimental basis, is a serious mistake.serious mistake.
  • Discussion of second exampleDiscussion of second example In this second introduction, theIn this second introduction, the topic-topic- sentencessentences give an impression of the currentgive an impression of the current state of the topic (and, so, convey the topicstate of the topic (and, so, convey the topic of the essay to the reader) without usingof the essay to the reader) without using the wordsthe words essayessay oror topictopic. The. The structure-structure- sentencessentences inform the reader of the maininform the reader of the main parts of the body of the essay and theirparts of the body of the essay and their order of discussion (views of fans,order of discussion (views of fans, Hockey Canada, and scientific community)Hockey Canada, and scientific community) without using many organizational words.without using many organizational words.
  • Discussion of second exampleDiscussion of second example TheThe thesis-sentencesthesis-sentences tell the reader wheretell the reader where you stand on the issue and how you arrivedyou stand on the issue and how you arrived at your position (through evaluation of theat your position (through evaluation of the main arguments for and against a ban),main arguments for and against a ban), without including words such aswithout including words such as essayessay oror thesis.thesis.
  • Discussion of second exampleDiscussion of second example This second introduction gives the reader theThis second introduction gives the reader the impression that you are knowledgeable on theimpression that you are knowledgeable on the topic, and that doing the research has led youtopic, and that doing the research has led you to an intelligent, informed thesis.to an intelligent, informed thesis. Why didn’tWhy didn’t the first introduction have the same effect?the first introduction have the same effect?
  • Discussion of second exampleDiscussion of second example The reason is that within the context of anThe reason is that within the context of an essay introduction, words likeessay introduction, words like essayessay,, topictopic andand thesisthesis make it seem as if theremake it seem as if there is a gap between you, the writer, and theis a gap between you, the writer, and the essay. This gives the impression that theessay. This gives the impression that the concerns about and position on the issueconcerns about and position on the issue may not bemay not be youryour concerns and positionconcerns and position (only(only the essay’s!). Notice that the secondthe essay’s!). Notice that the second introduction gives the impression that thereintroduction gives the impression that there is no gap, and that you areis no gap, and that you are expressingexpressing yourself through the essay.yourself through the essay.
  • Practice!Practice! Practice writing introductions without usingPractice writing introductions without using phrases such as “phrases such as “the topic of this essay…the topic of this essay…”” or “or “the thesis argued for is…the thesis argued for is…” Expressing” Expressing the topic without using words likethe topic without using words like topictopic oror subjectsubject may be particularly challengingmay be particularly challenging because it is easy to include too much detailbecause it is easy to include too much detail and end up with an unintended body-and end up with an unintended body- paragraph. But with practice, you will beparagraph. But with practice, you will be able to write more effective introductions.able to write more effective introductions.
  • Frequently asked questionsFrequently asked questions 1. How long should my introduction1. How long should my introduction be?be? One common mistake is to write anOne common mistake is to write an introduction that is too long; the introductionintroduction that is too long; the introduction is so detailed that it is indistinguishable fromis so detailed that it is indistinguishable from the body of the essay!the body of the essay! As a rule, anAs a rule, an introduction should not be longer than aboutintroduction should not be longer than about 8% of the length of the essay.8% of the length of the essay. ForFor example,example, the introduction of a ten, fifteen, and twenty-the introduction of a ten, fifteen, and twenty- page essay should be a maximum of about apage essay should be a maximum of about a page, apage, a page and a quarter, and one and apage and a quarter, and one and a half pages respectively.half pages respectively.
  • Frequently asked questionsFrequently asked questions 2. How detailed should the2. How detailed should the introductionintroduction be?be? Another common mistake is that theAnother common mistake is that the introduction is so detailed that it fails tointroduction is so detailed that it fails to indicate the topic of the essay in a clearindicate the topic of the essay in a clear way!way! The introduction only needs to stateThe introduction only needs to state the topic, general structure, and thesis of thethe topic, general structure, and thesis of the essay. The longer the essay is supposed toessay. The longer the essay is supposed to be, the more detailed your topic, structurebe, the more detailed your topic, structure and thesis-sentences can be.and thesis-sentences can be.
  • Frequently asked questionsFrequently asked questions 3. Why am I finding it hard to write3. Why am I finding it hard to write thethe introduction?introduction? The introduction must indicate the topic,The introduction must indicate the topic, structure and thesis of the essay.structure and thesis of the essay. If you areIf you are not completely sure about any of thesenot completely sure about any of these things, you will find it hard or eventhings, you will find it hard or even impossible to write an introduction.impossible to write an introduction. Writer’sWriter’s block can happen when you try to write theblock can happen when you try to write the introduction before you have done sufficientintroduction before you have done sufficient reading and research on the topic.reading and research on the topic.
  • Frequently asked questionsFrequently asked questions 3. Why am I finding it hard to write3. Why am I finding it hard to write thethe introduction (continued)?introduction (continued)? How can you know what the structure ofHow can you know what the structure of your essay will be until you have written atyour essay will be until you have written at least a draft of the body? How can youleast a draft of the body? How can you know what your thesis will be until you haveknow what your thesis will be until you have done the reading and research?!done the reading and research?! To saveTo save time, always write the introduction last.time, always write the introduction last.
  • Frequently asked questionsFrequently asked questions 4. What is an introduction for? Is it a4. What is an introduction for? Is it a summary?summary? An introduction is not a summary. AAn introduction is not a summary. A summary repeats the main ideas of ansummary repeats the main ideas of an essay.essay. An introduction introduces the readerAn introduction introduces the reader to the topic of the essay, describes theto the topic of the essay, describes the organizational structure of the essay, andorganizational structure of the essay, and explains the point of the essay (the thesisexplains the point of the essay (the thesis argued for).argued for).
  • Frequently asked questionsFrequently asked questions 5. What should I put in my5. What should I put in my introduction?introduction? Do not try to pack everything into theDo not try to pack everything into the introduction. It would then not be anintroduction. It would then not be an introduction at all!introduction at all! An essay introductionAn essay introduction does not need to do more than tell thedoes not need to do more than tell the reader the topic of the essay, describe howreader the topic of the essay, describe how the body of the essay is organized, andthe body of the essay is organized, and explain the thesis that you argue for in theexplain the thesis that you argue for in the essay.essay.
  • Frequently asked questionsFrequently asked questions 6. How many paragraphs should I use6. How many paragraphs should I use for the introduction?for the introduction? The introduction needs to indicate the topic,The introduction needs to indicate the topic, structure, and thesis of the essay for thestructure, and thesis of the essay for the reader.reader. In a short ten page essay, all ofIn a short ten page essay, all of these things should be easy to include in onethese things should be easy to include in one or two paragraphs. In longer essays, youror two paragraphs. In longer essays, your topic, structure, and thesis-sentences will betopic, structure, and thesis-sentences will be more detailed, and so more paragraphs maymore detailed, and so more paragraphs may be required to complete the introduction.be required to complete the introduction.
  • Other sources and resourcesOther sources and resources  Make an appointment for the Bethune Writing CentreMake an appointment for the Bethune Writing Centre (go to Master’s office at 205 Bethune to book a slot,(go to Master’s office at 205 Bethune to book a slot, or call 416 736 2100 ext. 22035)or call 416 736 2100 ext. 22035)  Visit York Centre for Academic Writing online resourcesVisit York Centre for Academic Writing online resources at:at: http://www.arts.yorku.ca/caw/resources.htmlhttp://www.arts.yorku.ca/caw/resources.html  The following books may be useful:The following books may be useful: Hacker, D. (2003).Hacker, D. (2003). A Canadian writer’s referenceA Canadian writer’s reference (2(2ndnd ed.). Scarborough, Ont.: Nelson Thomsoned.). Scarborough, Ont.: Nelson Thomson Learning.Learning. Call number: PE 1408 H293Call number: PE 1408 H293 Finbogason, J., & Valleau, Al (2002).Finbogason, J., & Valleau, Al (2002). A CanadianA Canadian writer’s pocket guidewriter’s pocket guide (2(2ndnd ed.). Scarborough, Ont.:ed.). Scarborough, Ont.: Thomson/Nelson.Thomson/Nelson. Call number: PE 1408 F45Call number: PE 1408 F45
  • Other sources and resourcesOther sources and resources Troyka, Lynn Quitman (2002).Troyka, Lynn Quitman (2002). Simon & Schuster handbookSimon & Schuster handbook for writersfor writers (3(3rdrd ed.). Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice-Hall.ed.). Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice-Hall. Call number:Call number: PE 1408 T697PE 1408 T697  For science students writing a scientific report, theFor science students writing a scientific report, the requirements of the introduction are slightly different fromrequirements of the introduction are slightly different from those stated here. The following book will be particularlythose stated here. The following book will be particularly useful:useful: Day, Robert A. (1998).Day, Robert A. (1998). How to write & publish a scientificHow to write & publish a scientific paperpaper (5(5thth ed.). Phoenix, Arizona: The Oryx Press.ed.). Phoenix, Arizona: The Oryx Press. Call number:Call number: T11 D33T11 D33