Dominique Battles, English
There are a number of ways to introduce a topic, depending on the level of formality of the paper you are writing, and also on the academic discipline for which you are writing. Below, are four basic types of Introduction that can serve a variety of papers, depending on the topic and the course for which you are writing.
- The Anecdote: The introduction consists of an anecdote (a story) illustrating some key point about the topic or some stage in the author's experience with the topic (e.g. how he/she became interested in the topic; a key discovery; an odd turn of events).
Ex. A little while ago I heard that the future of music was being decided in a nondescript office suite above a bank in San Mateo, California. I couldn't get there in time, so I asked a friend to check it out. A crowd was milling in front of the entrance when he arrived. My friend parked illegally and called me on his cell phone. There are twenty or thirty television cameras, he said, and a lectern with a dozen microphones. Also lots of police officers. I asked about the loud noise in the background. "That," he said, "is people smashing compact discs with sledgehammers." The people with the sledgehammers were protesting the Internet company Napster for facilitating the distribution of recorded music without the permission of the artists. However, rampant music piracy may hurt musicians less than they fear. The real threat, to listeners and, conceivably, to democracy itself, is the music industry's reaction to it.
[The article discusses the issue of music piracy by organizations such as Napster.]
- A Summary of Events leading up to the issue at hand:
Ex. This could have been Peter Westerbrook's whole story: A young black man born into vicious poverty discovers fencing, a sport typically the domain of upper-class whites. He masters the saber, wins an athletic scholarship to New York University, gains a spot on the U.S. Olympic team for the first time in 1976, and takes a bronze medal in the Los Angeles Games in 1984, becoming only the second American sabreur ever to earn an Olympic medal. By the time he retires from competition, in 1996, he has dominated American fencing for twenty years, qualifying for six U.S. Olympic teams - an achievement only three other fencers can claim. His would be a remarkable story - a classic American sports tale - even if it ended there.
[The author spends the rest of the article discussing the amazing successes of Westerbrook fencing program for inner city youth.]
- Summary of a Debate: this type of introduction sets the stage for the author's particular focus on the issue at hand. In the following example, an article dealing with the latest theory on the origin of the AIDS virus summarizes the various theories that have been put forth thus far.
Ex. Theories about the origin of the AIDS epidemic have abounded ever since doctors first noticed the disease in five gay men in Los Angeles in 1981. Some were entirely unscientific: most famously, God was punishing homosexuals [theory #1]. Others were grounded to various degrees in science: A contaminated hepatitis B vaccine tested in gay men was to blame [theory #2]. A campaign by the World Health Organization to eradicate smallpox had somehow awakened dormant HIV's that had long infected human beings harmlessly [theory #3]. The CIA had concocted the virus in a lab, or it came from space, or from a distantly related cow virus that had contaminated all sorts of vaccines [theories #4, 5 and 6]. Even the more plausible of these theories failed to attract serious scientific support. Indeed, on the whole the origin-of-AIDS question received relatively little public attention until last fall, when the British writer Edward Hooper published The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS. A hefty book, The River makes the case for the polio-vaccine theory in great detail [the theory that forms the subject of this essay]. It has riled many AIDS researchers, but it has also brought a new sense of urgency to solving the riddle.
- General Statement Introduction: This type of introduction begins with a general statement about the subject, then presents the opposition (or at least the flavor of it). It then presents a "mini-thesis" (as a transition between the opposition and the thesis) which indicates how the author intends to explore the topic. The paragraph then ends with the thesis.
Ex. P.B. Shelley's sonnet "Ozymandias" describes an ancient, decayed, half-eroded statue of Ramses II standing in the Egyptian desert [general statement]. Though the poem at first glance appears to be an objective report, cast as a story told to the speaker by "a traveler from an antique land" (l.1) [opposition], it in fact shows the poet's condemnation for the arrogance of those who attempt to achieve fame and immortality through their achievements. By showing the reader a series of images of ruin and destruction, and by contrasting those images with the grandiose claims of Ozymandias's statue, the poem creates a powerful sense of irony [mini-thesis indicating that the author will explore specifically the imagery of the poem]. The poem serves as a warning against overweening pride, and insists on the transience of human accomplishments [thesis].