Introductory Paragraphs

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Your introductory paragraph is extremely important. It sets the tone for the entire paper and introduces your reader to your argument. In almost all cases, you want to be sure the paragraph has the following components: a thesis statement and a preview of how you will make your argument.

Some of the most common problems with introductory paragraphs are:

1) No thesis statement. Remember that your thesis statement needs to be an argument, not simply a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response to the question. What will you argue? Within the thesis statement or in the next sentence you must say something about why you are making that argument. Also, be bold and direct about your thesis. OWN it. Don’t beat around the bush with lots of qualifying statements.

2) No indication to the reader how the argument will be made. In addition to the WHAT question (what will you argue?), there is the HOW question. How will you make your argument? Your introductory paragraph should say something about the logic, evidence or points you will present in support of your thesis.

3) Opening the paper with a discussion of the nature of the universe. Don’t start your paper with huge, sweeping statements about the world. Cut to the chase. What material are you engaging? Who is making what arguments? What do you have to say about those arguments?

4) Sloppy punctuation. Don't frustrate your reader by forgetting to proofread for basic grammar problems. USE THE APOSTROPHE for possessives (i.e., Thompson's book, not Thompsons book). But don’t use apostrophes to say the possessive "its." LEARN HOW TO USE THE COMMA. If you aren’t sure when to use a comma, refer to a style manual or go to the Writing Center technical assistance website.

5) Imprecise word choices. You always want to avoid words that are vague (such as "problematic") but this is particularly true for the introductory paragraph. Your reader will immediately have questions about your meaning. Be as specific as possible. Instead of writing, "Foster’s argument is problematic," (which doesn’t tell your reader very much) think about what aspect of Foster’s argument has a problem and what sort of problem it is. Is it inaccurate? Is it na´ve? inconsistent? incoherent? ridiculous?

6) Overuse of quotations. It is usually best not to begin or end your introductory paragraph with a quotation. You weaken your argument by relying on someone else’s words so early on in the paper. If you do quote in the first paragraph, make sure it is short and to the point.

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