How to Write a Good Introduction

Since the dawn of man, writing has been used to communicate ideas. In academic settings, ideas are typically communicated using formal types of writing such as essays. Most academic essays contain an introductory paragraph, which includes a thesis.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an introduction as, “A preliminary explanation prefixed to or included in a book or other writing; the part of a book which leads up to the subject treated, or explains the author’s design or purpose. Also, the corresponding part of a speech, lecture, etc.”

Michigan State University student Sally used to have a lot of difficulty writing introductions. Once she had suffered through writing dozens of painful introductions, she decided to look up some tips on how to introduce your essay, and after that she got a lot better.

Introductions can be tricky. Because the introduction is the first portion of your essay that the reader encounters, the stakes are fairly high for your introduction to be successful. A good introduction presents a broad overview of your topic and your thesis, and should convince the reader that it is worth their time to actually read the rest of your essay. Below are some tips that will make writing an introduction a little less daunting, and help us all to write essays that don’t make our professors want to bang their heads against the wall.

  1. Start your introduction broad, but not too broad. When I first started writing formal essays, I didn’t really know how broad to go with my intros. A brief paragraph on Hamlet would suddenly include irrelevant details about Shakespeare’s childhood, then grow out to be a history of Western literature, and then a history of the universe itself. Do not write an introduction like this; this kind of intro is confusing and makes the reader wonder where exactly you’re going with your essay. Your introduction should provide the reader with a sense of what they should expect out of your essay, not to expound upon every piece of knowledge ever developed by man. Go ahead and start relatively broad, then narrow to your thesis, but make sure you’re still on topic.
  2. Provide relevant background, but don’t begin your true argument. It’s fine to give a bit of context to your essay in the introduction, but the real meat of your argument should be located in your body paragraphs. A good test to see if information should go in a body or introductory paragraph is to ask yourself a few questions. Is this providing context or evidence? Does this introduce my argument, or try to prove it?  True evidence or proof deserves a body paragraph. Context and background most likely belong in your introduction.
  3. Provide a thesis. The majority of the time, your thesis, or main argument, should occur somewhere towards the end of your introduction. It is a typical convention to put your thesis as the last sentence of your first paragraph. My personal opinion is that it can sometimes be awkward to shove your thesis in one specific place if it doesn’t necessarily fit, but if your thesis works in that position, that is the best place for it. That being said, if you absolutely can’t include your thesis in that location, go ahead and stick it somewhere else. Continue reading “How to Write a Good Introduction”

Writing Resource: Fallacy Files

Our new writing resource for this installment is The Taxonomy of Fallacies located at fallacyfiles.org. Let’s jump right in!

For starters, what are fallacies? Simply put, fallacies are arguments with poor reasoning that are often misleading and unsound, logically. Fallacies are incredibly important to avoid when making an argument because they can hurt credibility and jeopardize the reliability of entire ideas. Even a tiny bit of fallacious reasoning within an otherwise sound, well-supported argument can compromise the validity of the whole thing.

Bad news.

Therefore, it is easy to see how important it is to be able to identify and avoid committing a fallacy.


The Taxonomy of Fallacies is an incredibly useful resource for learning about fallacies. However, to unlock its full potential, it must be used correctly. This is not a resource that one can use to diagnose whether an argument is fallacious or not and it does not immediately provide clear answers. However, you should find it helpful when used in one of the following ways:

  • Simply read it! Browsing through it and looking at the examples can be a very easy way to quickly learn about each fallacy. Also, if you’re still having troubling understanding exactly what something means after reading what is provided, try clicking on another point that is connected to it in the giant web; this can provide contextual information that might clear everything up.
  • You can use this resource sort of like you would a dictionary, referencing it whenever you run across a word (or in this case, a logical fallacy) that you’ve never encountered before.

The sheer amount of information can be intimidating at first, but knowing all of this it you should find it to be a very useful tool.

Of course, if you want to talk more in-depth about fallacies and argument structure, you can come see us at The Writing Center @ MSU!

Writing For Your Audience: IDK SUP BRO

Muppet Most Wanted Commercial Screen Shot

Muppets SuperBowl Commercial

Who is the audience for this commercial?
Would there be some people who don’t understand?
What makes it funny?
What could make it confusing?

Your audience is one of the most important things to remember whenever you write.  Audience determines the tone, person, language use, and the type of authority you use. The point of view can be first person, second person, or third person.  First person uses terms like: me, I, and we.  Second person utilizes: you and yours.  Third person uses words like: he, she, researchers, and they.

Is your assignment a reflection? Then it should be personal, first person. You may bring in other sources if you want to support your argument, but it is your voice speaking.

Is your assignment a research paper? Then it should be objective, mostly third person. Use valid sources and cite correctly.

Is your assignment to write an posting for a blog? Now you can talk to the audience like they are in the room.  Second person works nicely and your tone can be like you are talking to a friend.

Is your assignment multimedia? Again, think of your audience.  Even though you can add elements of visual images and sound it should be appropriate for the situation and convey the message that you want to convey. The images and sound should add to the message and not overwhelm it.

Even when you text or post on Facebook you are sending a message to your audience.  If they are close friends and know what you mean, have fun and txt away to c sup.

BUT if you are writing an assignment, remember to use language your audience understands.

If you aren’t sure about your message connecting with your audience, PLEASE come to the writing center.  We LOVE being your audience and listening to what you have to say.  You can share what you have so far- even if it is just the assignment- and we can talk about how to communicate effectively with your audience.

The Facts About Plagiarism

A section cut out of Wikipedia titled "Plagiarism"
From Boston University

Imagine the following scene-

You get an email from your professor.  He has found that you “were guilty of plagiarism” and therefore receiving a “0” for the course.  Furthermore, this goes in your academic record.  You might lose scholarships, not qualify for student loans, your life will change… and not for the better.  All just because you put off writing that paper until the last minute and slapped it together without checking the citations or watching your quotes.

Some forms of plagiarism are obvious-

DON’T CUT AND PASTE into your papers, especially from Wikipedia! Think about it, if you can use Google so can your professor.  Also, it shows you didn’t even research a decent source…really…. You can do better!

Also, many instructors may use software to check for plagiarism.  Taking a phrase or section and changing a couple words is NOT paraphrasing, that is still considered plagiarism.

If you are writing a complex paper and you want to put in sources and paraphrase them later, go ahead and do it, but make sure you make it very clear to yourself what you have copied so you will remember to rephrase it.  One way you can do this is to highlight the section in a bright color and then when the section is correctly paraphrased and cited take the highlighting away.

The best way is to read your source material and close the book or minimize the screen, think about it and write about it entirely in your own words.  The process of really thinking or synthesizing the thoughts in a paper is where YOU really learn – and learning is what you are here to do, right?

If a source says something  amazingly well go ahead and quote it, just make sure that there are quotes at the beginning and the end of the words you are using and there is a citation.

You should cite everything in your paper that is not –

 1) Your own experience

Example: Gusts of wind almost blew my hat off as I walked the narrow sidewalk spanning the London Bridge.

 2) General knowledge

Example: The winters in Michigan are generally colder than in Kentucky.

3) Your analysis or opinion

Example: The colors in the background of the poster made it hard to read the text.

In many ways, writing is the ultimate function of the learning process.  It is where you personalize and internalize what you have either heard or read.  It is where you develop a voice, where you can show what you have learned, where you can shine.

Sometimes students worry that their grammar isn’t good enough, or they don’t have the vocabulary to express what they want to say—that is where the Writing Center can help.  We can talk about what you want to communicate and look at your organization, structure, word choice, and finally even talk about grammar.

To see MSU’s resources on plagiarism see grad.msu.edu/researchintegrity/resources/plagiarism.aspx