Just the plain facts! PRESENTATION SERIES How to write an introduction © Nicholas G. Ashby 2004 - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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Bethune Writing Centre. Just the plain facts! PRESENTATION SERIES How to write an introduction © Nicholas G. Ashby 2004. General The purpose of an introduction is to prepare the reader for the body of writing that comes after it.

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Just the plain facts! PRESENTATION SERIES How to write an introduction © Nicholas G. Ashby 2004

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Bethune Writing Centre

Just the plain facts!

PRESENTATION SERIES

How to write an introduction

© Nicholas G. Ashby 2004


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General

The purpose of an introduction is to prepare

the reader for the body of writing that comes

after it.

You know what you are writing about and why. But unless you inform your readers of this in an introduction, they will feel lost and judge your essay to be an unclear piece of work!


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A good introduction:

  • indicates the topic that the essay is about

  • describes how the body of the essay is organized

  • explains the point of writing the essay;

    the point of writing an essay is usually to argue for a thesis, so you will need to explain what thesis you argue for and how you argue for it – this is called a

    thesis-statement, and most essay introductions include one.


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First example

Suppose you had to write a ten page essay

on the topic of whether body-checking

should be banned in junior ice-hockey. You

did your research and found that there are

several main arguments for and against a

ban. In the body of your essay you

described and evaluated these arguments,

and determined that arguments for a ban

are stronger than arguments against a ban.

Now you must write your introduction!


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First example

Here is how someone new to academic

essays may write the introduction (the

topic-sentence is in red, essay structure in

blue, thesis in yellow):

This essay is about the issue of body-checking in

junior ice-hockey.First, arguments for a ban on

body-checking are examined. Second, arguments

against a ban are discussed.It is shown that pro-

ban arguments are stronger than anti-ban

arguments. Therefore, the thesis of this essay is

that body-checking in junior ice-hockey should be

banned.


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Discussion of first example

This introduction is all right so far as it goes.

It is better to have an introduction that

includes the three important elements

(topic, structure, thesis) than to have one

that does not. Many people start out by

writing essays with introductions like this

one.It does have the virtue of being clear,

and clarity is essential. But let us review it

to see if it can be improved.


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Discussion of first example

The structure-sentences are fine.

Notice that words such as first and second

are useful in helping to describe how the

body of an essay is organized.

However, if you can convey the structure of

your essay without using too many

organizational words, that is even better.


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Discussion of first example

The topic-sentence could be improved.

Rather than writing: “This essay is about…”

it would be better to write a few topic-

sentences that convey a sense of the

current state of the topic. This not only

tells the reader what the topic is but it also

gives the impression that you are

knowledgeable about the topic and in

command of your research material.


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Discussion of first example

The thesis-sentences could be better.

Instead of writing: “Therefore, the thesis of

this essay is…” simply give a bold, factual

sentence that expresses your position on

the issue. This conveys an air of confidence,

unlike the phrase “…the thesis of this

essay…” which is timid and non-committal.


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Second example

The introduction on the next slide takes

these points into account. Compare it with

the previous introduction and note how

wording the three main elements differently

can improve the impact that the introduction

has on the reader.


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Second example

Body-checking has always been a controversial issue. However, the recent decision of Hockey Canada to allow some hockey associations to permit body-checking among players as young as nine years of age, on an experimental basis, has aggravated the controversy quite considerably in recent months.Perspectives fall into three main categories: viewpoints of fans, the official standpointof Hockey Canada, and positions held by the scientific community.Evaluation of the main arguments shows quite clearly that Hockey Canada’s decision to allow body-checking in some junior games, even on an experimental basis, is a serious mistake.


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Discussion of second example

In this second introduction, the topic-

sentences give an impression of the current

state of the topic (and, so, convey the topic

of the essay to the reader) without using

the words essay or topic. The structure-

sentences inform the reader of the main

parts of the body of the essay and their

order of discussion (views of fans,

Hockey Canada, and scientific community)

without using many organizational words.


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Discussion of second example

The thesis-sentences tell the reader where

you stand on the issue and how you arrived

at your position (through evaluation of the

main arguments for and against a ban),

without including words such as essay or

thesis.


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Discussion of second example

This second introduction gives the reader the

impression that you are knowledgeable on the

topic, and that doing the research has led you

to an intelligent, informed thesis. Why didn’t

the first introduction have the same effect?


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Discussion of second example

The reason is that within the context of an

essay introduction, words like essay,

topic and thesis make it seem as if there

is a gap between you, the writer, and the

essay. This gives the impression that the

concerns about and position on the issue

may not be your concerns and position (only

the essay’s!). Notice that the second

introduction gives the impression that there

is no gap, and that you are expressing

yourself through the essay.


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Practice!

Practice writing introductions without using

phrases such as “the topic of this essay…”

or “the thesis argued for is…” Expressing

the topic without using words like topic or

subject may be particularly challenging

because it is easy to include too much detail

and end up with an unintended body-

paragraph. But with practice, you will be

able to write more effective introductions.


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Frequently asked questions

1. How long should my introduction be?

One common mistake is to write an

introduction that is too long; the introduction

is so detailed that it is indistinguishable from

the body of the essay! As a rule, an

introduction should not be longer than about

8% of the length of the essay.Forexample,

the introduction of a ten, fifteen, and twenty-

page essay should be a maximum of about a

page, apage and a quarter, and one and a

half pages respectively.


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Frequently asked questions

2. How detailed should the introduction

be?

Another common mistake is that the

introduction is so detailed that it fails to

indicate the topic of the essay in a clear

way! The introduction only needs to state

the topic, general structure, and thesis of the

essay. The longer the essay is supposed to

be, the more detailed your topic, structure

and thesis-sentences can be.


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Frequently asked questions

3. Why am I finding it hard to write the

introduction?

The introduction must indicate the topic,

structure and thesis of the essay. If you are

not completely sure about any of these

things, you will find it hard or even

impossible to write an introduction. Writer’s

block can happen when you try to write the

introduction before you have done sufficient

reading and research on the topic.


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Frequently asked questions

3. Why am I finding it hard to write the

introduction (continued)?

How can you know what the structure of

your essay will be until you have written at

least a draft of the body? How can you

know what your thesis will be until you have

done the reading and research?! To save

time, always write the introduction last.


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Frequently asked questions

4. What is an introduction for? Is it a

summary?

An introduction is not a summary. A

summary repeats the main ideas of an

essay. An introduction introduces the reader

to the topic of the essay, describes the

organizational structure of the essay, and

explains the point of the essay (the thesis

argued for).


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Frequently asked questions

5. What should I put in my introduction?

Do not try to pack everything into the

introduction. It would then not be an

introduction at all! An essay introduction

does not need to do more than tell the

reader the topic of the essay, describe how

the body of the essay is organized, and

explain the thesis that you argue for in the

essay.


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Frequently asked questions

6. How many paragraphs should I use

for the introduction?

The introduction needs to indicate the topic,

structure, and thesis of the essay for the

reader. In a short ten page essay, all of

these things should be easy to include in one

or two paragraphs. In longer essays, your

topic, structure, and thesis-sentences will be

more detailed, and so more paragraphs may

be required to complete the introduction.


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Other sources and resources

  • Make an appointment for the Bethune Writing Centre

    (go to Master’s office at 205 Bethune to book a slot,

    or call 416 736 2100 ext. 22035)

  • Visit York Centre for Academic Writing online resources at: http://www.arts.yorku.ca/caw/resources.html

  • The following books may be useful:

    Hacker, D. (2003). A Canadian writer’s reference

    (2nd ed.). Scarborough, Ont.: Nelson Thomson

    Learning. Call number: PE 1408 H293

    Finbogason, J., & Valleau, Al (2002). A Canadian

    writer’s pocket guide (2nd ed.). Scarborough, Ont.:

    Thomson/Nelson. Call number: PE 1408 F45


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Other sources and resources

Troyka, Lynn Quitman (2002). Simon & Schuster handbook

for writers (3rd ed.). Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice-Hall.

Call number: PE 1408 T697

  • For science students writing a scientific report, the requirements of the introduction are slightly different from those stated here. The following book will be particularly useful:

    Day, Robert A. (1998). How to write & publish a scientific

    paper (5th ed.). Phoenix, Arizona: The Oryx Press.

    Call number: T11 D33


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