How to Write an Introduction for a Research Paper

Research Paper WritingEventually (and with practice) all writers will develop their own strategy for writing the perfect introduction for a research paper. Once you are comfortable with writing, you will probably find your own, but coming up with a good strategy can be tough for beginning writers. Beginning your paper with an introductory paragraph serves two purposes.
It grabs your readers’ attention, and it contains your thesis statement—the main idea of your entire paper. When you wrote your outline, you drafted a rough thesis statement. Now build it into a paragraph that makes your readers want to know what you have to say. Here are some tips for perfecting your introduction:

  • First write your thesis.Your thesis should state the main idea in specific terms.
  • After you have a working thesis, tackle the body of your paper before you write the rest of the introduction. Each paragraph in the body should explore one specific topic that proves, or summarizes your thesis. Writing is a thinking process. Once you have worked your way through that process by writing the body of the paper, you will have an intimate understanding of how you are supporting your thesis. After you have written the body paragraphs, go back and rewrite your thesis to make it more specific and to connect it to the topics you addressed in the body paragraph.
  • Revise your introduction several times, saving each revision. Be sure your introduction previews the topics you are presenting in your paper. One way of doing this is to use keywords from the topic sentences in each paragraph to introduce, or preview, the topics in your introduction.This “preview” will give your reader a context for understanding how you will make your case.
  • Experiment by taking different approaches to your thesis with every revision you make. Play with the language in the introduction. Strike a new tone. Go back and compare versions. Then pick the one that works most effectively with the body of your research paper.
  • Do not try to pack everything you want to say into your introduction. Just as your introduction should not be too short, it should also not be too long. Your introduction should be about the same length as any other paragraph in your research paper. Let the content—what you have to say—dictate the length.

Your Opening Paragraphs

The first page of your research paper should draw the reader into the text. It is the paper’s most important page and, alas, often the worst written. There are two culprits here and effective ways to cope with both of them.

First, the writer is usually straining too hard to say something terribly BIG and IMPORTANT about the thesis topic. The goal is worthy, but the aim is unrealistically high. The result is often a muddle of vague platitudes rather than a crisp, compelling introduction to the thesis. Want a familiar example? Listen to most graduation speakers. Their goal couldn’t be loftier: to say what education means and to tell an entire football stadium how to live the rest of their lives. The results are usually an avalanche of clichés and sodden prose.

The second culprit is bad timing. The opening and concluding paragraphs are usually written late in the game, after the rest of the thesis is finished and polished. There’s nothing wrong with writing these sections last. It’s usually the right approach since you need to know exactly what you are saying in the substantive middle sections of the thesis before you can introduce them effectively or draw together your findings. But having waited to write the opening and closing sections, you need to review and edit them several times to catch up. Otherwise, you’ll putting the most jagged prose in the most tender spots. Edit and polish your opening paragraphs with extra care. They should draw readers into the paper.

After you’ve done some extra polishing, I suggest a simple test for the introductory section. As an experiment, chop off the first few paragraphs. Let the paper begin on, say, paragraph 2 or even page 2. If you don’t lose much, or actually gain in clarity and pace, then you’ve got a problem.

There are two solutions. One is to start at this new spot, further into the text. After all, that’s where you finally gain traction on your subject. That works best in some cases, and we occasionally suggest it. The alternative, of course, is to write a new opening that doesn’t flop around, saying nothing.

What makes a good opening? Actually, they come in several flavors. One is an intriguing story about your topic. Another is a brief, compelling quote. When you run across them during your reading, set them aside for later use. Don’t be deterred from using them because they “don’t seem academic enough.” They’re fine as long as the rest of the paper doesn’t sound like you did your research in People magazine. The third, and most common, way to begin is by stating your main questions, followed by a brief comment about why they matter.

Whichever opening you choose, it should engage your readers and coax them to continue. Having done that, you should give them a general overview of the project—the main issues you will cover, the material you will use, and your thesis statement (that is, your basic approach to the topic). Finally, at the end of the introductory section, give your readers a brief road map, showing how the paper will unfold. How you do that depends on your topic but here are some general suggestions for phrase choice that may help:

Phrases for Introducing Thesis Statements

Analysis

  • This analysis will provide …
  • This paper analyzes the relationship between …
  • This paper presents an analysis of …

Persuasion

  • This paper will argue that …
  • This topic supports the argument that…
  • Research supports the opinion that …
  • This paper supports the opinion that …

Findings

  • An interpretation of the facts indicates …
  • The results of this experiment show …
  • The results of this research show …

Comparisons/Contrasts

  • A comparison will show that …
  • By contrasting the results,we see that …
  • This paper examines the advantages and disadvantages of …

Definitions/Classifications

  • This paper will provide a guide for categorizing the following:…
  • This paper provides a definition of …
  • This paper explores the meaning of …

Discussion

  • This paper will discuss the implications of …
  • A discussion of this topic reveals …
  • The following discussion will focus on …

Description

  • This report describes…
  • This report will illustrate…
  • This paper provides an illustration of …

Process/Experimentation

  • This paper will identify the reasons behind…
  • The results of the experiment show …
  • The process revealed that …

Hypothesis

  • This paper theorizes…
  • This paper presents the theory that …
  • In theory, this indicates that …

After having written your introduction it’s time to move to the biggest part: body of a research paper.