Written by Chris Milan
It is the start of a new year! Ironically enough, this is also the end of the semester for many, and that means term papers. Every student paper that I’ve read has an opening paragraph. These are supposed to be the introductions, but they don’t always feel that way. An effective introduction is more than just the start of an essay; it should be a guide that lays out your paper to the reader. In order to do so effectively, there are several components to include.
COMPONENT #1: Thesis Statement
The most important part of any introduction is a thesis statement. It is the main takeaway of your paper. Your thesis could be an argument that you are trying to convince the reader is right and true. For example, “Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency turned the United States into a major world power.” If my thesis is well-supported, you will agree with me that Roosevelt was a brilliant leader by the end of my paper. A thesis can also set up a paper that describes something. Here’s another example: “Chavín style art includes many feline elements.” I can describe dozens of stone sculptures and ceramic vessels that look like jaguars. In both cases, the thesis is a one sentence summary of the rest of the paper.
COMPONENT #2: CONTEXT
While a thesis is important, your take on a subject also matters. Your reader might already know the topic, but you want to provide context that sets up your thesis. Take Teddy Roosevelt. There was a lot to his presidency, and his life was pretty outsized. Before I provide my thesis, I can set my reader’s expectations by focusing on his foreign policy rather than his environmentalism. They will have a sense of where my paper will go, and what points I will use to justify my argument.
COMPONENT #3: ROADMAP EXAMPLES
With your thesis laid out, you may want to jump into the body of your paper. You can. However, you can also take your time and further set up your paper. For example, if I want to talk about Chavín art, there are a number of pieces I can use to discuss feline imagery. After presenting my thesis, I can list a few examples that I will then discuss in the body of my paper. This provides the reader with a roadmap; they will know where the paper is going.
A strong introduction improves the rest of your paper. It not only gets your reader’s attention but also gets them invested in what you have to write about. They should want to read more, not only because they have to grade your work but also because they are interested in your argument. I always tell my students, if they get me excited about their paper topic, then I want to give them a higher grade. That all begins with the opening paragraph.