Doyle Online Writing Lab


A strong writer is not only aware of what she is saying, but how she is saying it.  Decisions about diction, organization, and focus affect the reader.

Papers are generally more coherent and persuasive when the argument is easy to follow - that is, when the reader knows where the writer is coming from and where he is going. An introduction should do just that: describe what the subject of the paper is and why the reader ought to be concerned about it.

According to Wayne C. Booth et. al. in The Craft of Rhetoric an "explicit" introduction includes three elements: (1) a sketch of a context for the issue to be addressed in the composition, (2) a direct statement of the research problem (especially some aspect of that problem that has been left up to debate), and (3) a statement of your response to that problem (in essence, your thesis statement).

Some Basic Forms for Introductions

A story or anecdote
Recount a story that will somehow shock your audience or that can serve as an analogy for the situation that your paper addresses. Be sure to explain how the story is related to the thesis of your paper.

Use a quotation
Quote an article, a literary work, an interview, etc. and explain how that quotation is related to the thesis of your paper. Sometimes you can really surprise the reader by quoting an unlikely source and proceeding to evaluate it in terms of your argument. For example:

"What a dull and dreary trade is that of critic," wrote Diderot. "It is so difficult to create a thing, even a mediocre thing; it is so easy to detect mediocrity." Either the great philosopher was deliberately exaggerating or else Americans have always lived in an entirely different continuum from Europe. For us the making of mediocre things is the rule while the ability to detect mediocrity or anything else is rare (Horton, 66).

A simple statement (or series of simple statements)
So many important academic, political, and social issues become obscured in the course of discussion that introducing your argument by stating it in the simplest manner possible may make it seem like a revelation to your reader. For example:

He killed his brother. He married his brother's wife. He stole his brother's crown. A cold-hearted murderer, he is described by his brother's ghost as "that incestuous, that adulterate beast" (I.v.42). The bare facts appear to stamp him an utter moral outlaw. Nonetheless, as his soliloquies and anguished asides reveal, no person in Hamlet demonstrates so mixed a true nature as Claudius, the newly-made King of Denmark (Trimble, 34).

Posing a question
Pose the reader with a question, evaluate that question, and propose an answer to it in your thesis.

Sample Introduction

This First Draft of an Introduction uses cliché, communicates nothing about the source of the writer’s interest in his topic, and seems to provide a synopsis of the text rather than an argument about it.

From the beginning of time, men have worried about the true nature of death. Lucretius believes that humans necessarily fear death because they perceive it as a state of grief that doesn’t contain mortal possessions and brings with it eternal damnation. However, Lucretius sees death as something not to be feared because he believes that mind terminates at the point of death and so death a state of nothingness that allows for eternal repose from mortal woes.

This Revision of the Same Introduction reveals the writer’s source of interest in his topic in an original and interdisciplinary way and provides fuller and more logical analysis in the presentation of his argument.

In the 1950s, in order to investigate the extent of depth perception, the psychologist Eleanor J. Gibson developed a “visual cliff” or table apparatus that was able to produce the visual perception of a cliff’s edge.  She then observed how babies as old as a year reacted to this illusion.  Of the babies tested, the vast majority halted before the visual cliff and refused to proceed over it.  Why bring up this experiment in an essay on a Roman philosopher’s conception of death?  Because it seems that Gibson’s and Lucretius’s projects engage similar problems. Gibson argues that even before we are able to walk or talk, to identify sexually or sexually, or to consciously perceive our own mortality, we are able--as young as three months old--to perceive the risk of injury, pain, or death that might accompany falling.  In On the Nature of Things, Lucretius, like Gibson, investigates the nature of the universe in relationship to the nature of the human mind and body’s capacity for perception. Unlike Gibson, Lucretius concludes that humans fear death because they ignore true perception in favor of illusions fostered through culture. The first cultural illusion is that death is a state of loss of mortal possessions; the second is that death brings with it eternal damnation as punishment for evil actions.  However, Lucretius sees death as something not to be feared because he believes that mind, soul, and body terminate at the point of death. Consequently, death is best understood as a state of nothingness that allows for eternal repose from mortal woes.      


(check out these sources for more information on how to write an effective introduction):

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. 234-54.
Horton, Susan R. Thinking Through Writing. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1982. 12-40.
Trimble, John R. Writing With Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1975.30-6.
Zinnser, William. On Writing Well. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. 142-55.