Whether you are a high school student or a doctoral candidate, a significant amount of your academic life will be spent penning research papers. The introduction of a research paper has to both attract attention and inform the reader about content to come.
Do It Last
First, don't write your introduction right away. It's much easier to write a strong introduction once the rest of your paper is complete, or at least thoroughly outlined, according to the University of Southern California Libraries. This will make it more likely that the main ideas and structure of your paper align well with the introduction. While it may seem counterintuitive, write your first paragraph last.
Grab Your Reader
Follow Arkansas State University's advice and avoid writing a first sentence that is too dry or direct. Instead of telling your reader about your topic in the first sentence, try leading with a related and unusual fact or quote that will grab the reader's attention. Take the opportunity to draw your reader in while remembering your audience. If you're writing a graduate-level paper to a very specific group within academia, keep an appropriate, authoritative tone and avoid using irrelevant humor.
Hit the Highlights
Arkansas State's research guide recommends using the middle sentences of your introduction to cover the main points of your essay. Since you've already outlined or completed the body of your essay, reword the main ideas from each main section or paragraph to serve as a preview for your reader. Keep it brief since you will elaborate in greater detail later, but be sure that you accurately identify both the topic of your paper as well as its context. For example, in academic papers, briefly distinguish your approach to the topic from that of other researchers.
The last sentence of your introduction should be your thesis statement. The thesis statement is a condensed version of your argument. Your thesis statement should clearly state the conclusion to the question, problem or debate that your paper addresses. One example might be, "A federal law should be written to require school districts to disclose the amount of saturated fats in school lunches." It should be specific and stick to one main idea that will be developed and proven through research as your reader continues. Remember that this sentence is the most important one of your entire essay.
Avoid some common pitfalls that could make your introduction fall short. The University of Southern California recommends that writers forego the common practice of including dictionary definitions of words in their introductions. While semantics are important, dictionaries are often not the most authoritative source for specific research contexts. Also, don't make the introduction too busy. While it's important to grab your reader with something snazzy, choose a quote, fact or anecdote you found in your research, but not all three. Keep the format simple and straightforward or you risk confusing your reader.