The Writing Center

Introductions for Research Papers

If you ever wondered how to lengthen a paper, introductions are one place to start.  Here are some ideas:  check with your professor first, however, as disciplines vary greatly in what is considered an acceptable introduction.

Elements of the First Couple of Paragraphs

Consider that your entire first page (even second page as well) should introduce your subject.  That means that you do not give any facts or information that belong in the body of the paper.  You should, however, wade right into the controversy that you are examining or get right to the most essential ideas you wish to discuss. 

Where students often go wrong is that they begin the body of the paper after they wade into the controversy or issues.  Imagine going into a home: sometimes homes have a small place to hang a coat or umbrella and to take off boots.  That is the purpose an introduction has:  it’s a place to put things before coming into a subject.  Here are some of those things you can discuss for 1-2 pages:

  • why this subject (controversy, issue, question) is important for the community as a whole or important for the academic community
  • who the major scholars are who are researching this area
  • what their motivations are for studying this subject
  • aspects of time concerning your question

A Background Section

After your initial introduction, give readers background items:

  • definitions that need to be fully delineated (use a discipline-specific dictionary that gives rich definitions—check with the Virtual Reference Desk or ask a librarian)
  • history regarding your issue (check with a librarian if you need help or consult an encyclopedia on Virtual Reference Desk)
  • background that the reader may need to make sense of the issue

These items can make a paper solid; they show you are a master of the subject.

An Argument

By the time your reader finishes the introduction and background, your argument should be sparklingly clear.  The reader should follow that argument all the way through each paragraph.  Keep your tone formal.

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