Introductions for a Term Paper

A term paper is the result of a great deal of research, so once you are ready to begin writing, it can be difficult to know where to start. An introduction should briefly summarize your paper's argument and the information you will be using to prove it. Figuring out what you want your paper to prove is the first step in writing a strong introduction.

Central Argument and Thesis

Before you begin writing your introduction, you should figure out what you want your term paper to say. This will be based on the topic you chose when you began working on your paper, and the information you found in your research. This is your paper's thesis, the central argument you are trying to prove in your writing. You should pick a thesis that is specific and can be supported by your sources.

Your thesis should be expressed in a way that can be proven either true or false. For example, compare the following theses:

"Increasing poverty leads to an increase in crime."

This is too general of a statement, the ideas are too broad to be proved or disproved with specific information.

"In the 1970s, New York City's increasing poverty led to an increase in crime."

By narrowing your thesis to a specific time and place, you have made an argument you can prove or disprove using the information found in your research.

Supporting Details

Once you have figured out your thesis, you can determine which pieces of information you will use in your paper to prove it. Be sure to choose at least three distinct pieces of information that strongly support your argument; you want your paper to be as convincing as possible. Note what this information contributes to your paper and the order in which you want to present it. You should also determine how you will analyze the information you have drawn from your sources. When you have determined your thesis and the general structure of your paper, you are ready to begin writing your introduction.

Topic Sentences and General Introductions

The most important part of your introduction is your topic sentence. The topic sentence is a brief description of what you want to prove in your paper. In other words, it's a sentence that states your thesis. Your topic sentence should be short and direct, so your reader gets the point.

For example, evaluate these:

"The Catholic Church's sale of indulgences factored greatly into the arguments of the Protestant Reformation."

This is a stronger topic sentence than the following approach:

"The Catholic Church, a 1,500-year-old institution, began selling indulgences in the Middle Ages, which factored greatly into the arguments of Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther."

Secondary information can be included elsewhere in your paper; placing it in your topic sentence distracts your reader.

Beginning your introduction with your topic sentence is a strong way to introduce your argument to your reader. However, since your reader may not be familiar with the subject you are covering, it can be helpful to introduce your topic sentence with two or three sentences that provide background information. If you were writing a paper based on the topic sentence above, for example, you might begin your introduction with two or three sentences describing the state of the Catholic Church and the practice of selling indulgences at the time of the Protestant Reformation.

Summarizing Your Argument

In addition to introducing and defining your thesis, use the introduction to summarize the key evidence that supports it. In some cases, you can include an overview in your topic sentence. In more sophisticated arguments, you may wish to add some sentences to indicate to readers what kinds of support they can expect to read ahead.

For example, if your term paper includes Salvador Dali's journals and quotes from art critics to show how his surrealistic paintings were influenced by psychoanalysis, you might include the following sentence in your introduction:

"The influence of psychoanalysis on Dali's work was documented in his personal writings and was discussed in the art circles of his time."

In a more extended introduction, you might even include a brief summary of a significant secondary arguments made in your paper.

For instance, if several paragraphs of your paper center on connecting the symbol of the egg in Dali's work and the writings of Sigmund Freud, mentioning this information in your introduction might be a good idea.

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