Writing an introduction for a research paper can be one of the hardest parts of the writing process. How do you get started? In this post, we discuss the components of an introduction and explore strategies for writing one successfully.
What is an introduction?
The introduction to a research paper provides background information or context on the topic. It also includes the thesis statement and signposts that let the reader know what you will cover in the rest of the paper.
Depending on the type of research paper that you’re writing, you may also include a brief state of the field in your introduction. You might also put that in a separate section, called a literature review. Before you tackle writing your introduction, be sure to consult the assignment guidelines for your paper.
How to write an introduction
An introduction provides an overview of your topic and any background information that your readers need to know in order to understand the context. It generally concludes with an explicit statement of your position on the topic, which is known as your thesis statement.
The opening section
Many papers begin with a hook: a short anecdote or scenario that draws the reader in and gives a hint of what the paper will cover. A hook allows you to capture your reader’s attention and provides an anchor for the context that you will provide in the bulk of the introduction.
Most of your introduction should be taken up with background information, but this doesn’t mean that you should fill your opening section with overly general statements. Instead, provide key pieces of information (like statistics) that a reader would need to know in order to understand your main argument.
The thesis statement
Towards the end of the introduction, you should state your thesis, preferably in the form of "I argue that..." or "This paper argues that..." or a similar phrase. Although it’s called a “thesis statement,” your thesis can be more than one sentence.
Finally, an introduction contains a brief outline or "signposts" of what the rest of the article will cover (also known as forecasting statements). You can use language like, “in what follows,” or “in the rest of the paper,” to signal that you are describing what you’ll do in the remainder of the paper.
Tips for writing an introduction
1. Don’t rely on generalizations
An introduction is not simply filler. It has a very specific function in a research paper: to provide context that leads up to a thesis statement.
You may be tempted to start your paper with generalizations like, “many people believe that...” or, “in our society...,” or a general dictionary definition, because you’re not sure what kind of context to provide. Instead, use specific facts like statistics or historical anecdotes to open your paper.
2. State your thesis directly
Once you’ve provided the appropriate, and specific, background information on your topic, you can move on to stating your thesis. As a rule of thumb, state your thesis as directly as possible. Use phrases like “I argue that..” to indicate that you are laying out your main argument.
3. Include signposts
A strong introduction includes clear signposts that outline what you will cover in the rest of the paper. You can signal this by using words like, “in what follows,” and by describing the steps that you will take to build your argument.
4. Situate your argument within the scholarly conversation
Some types of research papers require a separate literature review in which you explore what others have written about your topic.
Even if you’re not required to have a formal literature review, you should still include at least a paragraph in which you engage with the scholarly debate on your chosen subject. Be sure to include direct quotes from your sources. You can use BibGuru’s citation generator to create accurate in-text citations for your quotes.
This section can come directly before your thesis statement or directly after it. In the former case, your state of the field will function as additional context for your thesis.
Frequently Asked Questions about how to write an introduction for a research paper
✈️ How do you write a good introduction for a research paper?
A good introduction provides specific background information on your topic, sets up your thesis statement, and includes signposts for what you’ll cover in the rest of the paper.
🚀 What three elements must be included in an introduction?
An introduction should include context, a thesis statement, and signposts.
🛰 What should NOT be included in an introduction?
Do not include generalizations, apologies for not being an expert, or dictionary definitions in your introduction.
🛸 How long is a research introduction?
The length of your introduction depends on the overall length of your paper. For instance, an introduction for an 8-10 page paper will likely be anywhere from 1-3 pages.
🚁 How do you start an introduction?
You can choose to start an introduction with a hook, an important statistic, an historical anecdote, or another specific piece of background information.