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How to Write a Strong Introduction for a College Paper

Updated on June 18, 2013
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Andrea loves to write about the zodiac, Myers Briggs, and texting. She is an expert on romance and relationships. She also has two cats.

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Have no fear! Writing introductions is simple. The following will give you a few nearly bulletproof guidelines on intros. I suggest instead of writing your whole paper and then going back to write the introduction, to start from the top first. This way you can use the introduction paragraph to setup an outline for the body of your paper. Try to have an introduction in 4-5 sentences. Body paragraphs should always be at least 5 sentences long, or else it's running the dangerous risk of being too short.

The classical structure I use is to use the first sentence to introduce the topic in terms that the general audience would already know.

The second sentence should go into more depth about the first sentence; this sentence is helping to connect the first and third sentence together rather than jumping straight to the third.

The third sentence is really what sets the ground. The third challenges the first two sentences and tries to bring a new awareness to the preexisting conversation on a given topic such as: "Though people feel it is necessary to have several dating partners before trying a committed relationship, studies show that living one's life in independence and away from relationships ironically will help a person develop the best relationship skills." This kind of sentence should intrigue the audience while also bringing in concepts they haven't quite come across. We don't read papers that have information we already know -- if we do than we're really not pushing ourselves to learn new information.

At last, the fourth sentence of the introduction should be used to layout what will be happening in the paper such as: "In regards to being single, the following paper hopes to inform the reader on unique lifestyle trends of singles, how the world views celibacy, why might celibacy be a smart option, as well as how abstinence and prolonged independence helps a person to grow into the person he or she wants to be before jumping into the dating world." These subtopics then should be in the body of the paper and in the order they were listed. This helps to keep the reader clear on what is to come while also keeping the writer (yourself) organized.

Here are a few more tips on how to write a strong introduction:

1. Never write an introduction paragraph that goes beyond the first page.

2. It's okay with complicated topics to use two paragraphs to introduce the paper.

3. This isn't the time to be too specific. Relay the topic in a general fashion.

4. Avoid using cutesy narratives to break us into the topic. There's a time for those... but we haven't developed enough credibility with you to ascertain that this is valid.

5. Avoid tangents. Stay on the topic in the beginning.

6. Keep your language as tight as possible. Think concise.

7. Understand what the general theme is before you write. If you are going to focus on dystopian women then ask yourself what is interesting about that to have subtopics.

8. Do your research and works cited page before you write a paper. This will help you to stay organized and not waste time. Having the work cited page handy will keep you on track and also when you hit a lull you can look back at that page and know what you may need to add.

9. Avoid at the beginnings of your sentences words that begin with the letter "T." Many sentences begin with "t" words therefore if you eliminate them, it'll look more edited / polished. (Ex. this, their, there, thus, these, the, then, they, that, though, and therefore.)

10. Integrating short quotes may help bring out the topic. Look for expert opinions rather than run-of-the-mill quotes. Use Shakespeare, not Howard Stern (unless Howard Stern is applicable to the subject matter).

11. Use a variety of sentences from simple, compound, to complex.

12. Check for weak verbs and replace them with stronger, more vivid language. Linking verbs are passive; verbs that are three letters short can generally be replaced.

13. Just say no to contractions. Aren't is kind of weird... and ain't is insulting to your reader.

14. Build credibility. Don't give away really heavy examples just yet. Once you've developed credibility with the reader you can bring in more lewd of examples that you will break down. This should be further in the paper, not at the beginning.

15. Avoid words such as "I" and "You." Don't bring in your personal life in the introduction of an academic paper. It'll 99.99% of the time come off juvenile.

16. Use a checklist like the one you are being given now after you have written your introduction to tweak it to it's best possible version.

17. After you've written your whole paper make sure that your introduction still fits and is presenting what will be in the body of the paper well.

18. Avoid super short sentences in the intro. This isn't a time for fragments or being original in how you present syntax. There is a time for that in writing, but generally not in an academic introduction.

19. Have someone read your paper for you. You probably won't see all the errors yourself so welcome peer review from friends who know English well or even have backgrounds in English writing.

20. Push your paper to be active rather than passive.

21. Be original, do not plagiarize... that just makes you unethical and a bad writer.

22. Most writing formats from MLA to APA use headers, so if you are worried about overall organization, do keep in mind that headers are available to you.

23. Write early, avoid procrastination unless you are a genius writer who can do it in a night. Which is not many people. Write it early, put it in a desk drawer for awhile then come back to it with fresh eyes.

24. Don't write something too outlandish in the beginning. Stay in a credible universe. Witty remarks or creativity have their place, but remember your audience.

25. Avoid the overuse of adjectives.

26. Avoid ending sentences on prepositions or verbs.

27. Do not refer to your friends, family, or situations that arise from your experience unless the paper requires you to do so. Use academic sources from academic journals, books, and films.


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