Demystifying the Abstract/Introduction Divide: On Writing Introductions
Abstracts and introductions are integral to providing your reader with helpful context at the start of a paper, but these different components have varied expectations and requirements that are sometimes unclear. Although various Walden programs may have different requirements for abstracts and introductions, the heart of the matter is this: an abstract is a summary while an introduction is the beginning, or the opening, to your paper. Today, I’ll focus on writing introductions, and next week, you’ll hear more about writing abstracts and the unique functions that these types of text provide.
APA is often thought of as a guide for citation and format, but it also offers helpful guidelines for writing different areas of your manuscript, including introductions. The APA manual suggests that your introduction contain these components: an introduction to the problem, an exploration of the importance of the problem, a description of relevant scholarship, and a clearly stated hypothesis with correspondence to research design.
Luckily for you Walden writers out there, elements of APA's guide to introductions can be isolated and used for course writing as well. Though each assignment and program may have unique requirements to follow, the essence of this APA guideline for manuscripts is that introductions should include the following:
- Background information, including (1) what the problem/issue/topic is, (2) why that problem/issue/topic is important, and (3) what other researchers have said or shown about this problem/issue/topic.
- Your argument and purpose for the paper, including (1) the purpose of the paper, (2) your main argument for the paper, otherwise known as a thesis statement, and (3) what you’ll do in the paper.
Therefore, when you are writing a paper, be sure to include an introduction for the reader that offers this relevant background information and that lets the reader know your overall argument and purpose for the paper. The introduction is your chance to ease the reader into the topic with some context and a clear statement of purpose.
Let’s take a look at a hypothetical assignment prompt (we’ll also use this prompt in next week’s post about abstracts) and use it to as we practice these methods to help your reader get the information needed to read your paper with ease. Here’s an example of how you might start incorporating these two elements, background information and argument/purpose, in to your writing.
Sample Assignment Prompt: Writers go through a process when composing papers. However, not all writers practice the full writing process. Today’s assignment asks you to reflect on your writing process and what you can do to improve it. To prepare, reflect on your own writing practices and then review the provided course materials from the Writing Center about the writing process, specifically the content on prewriting, drafting, revising, and proofreading. Then, write a 2 page reflection paper where you discuss what your writing process looks like and how you might want to change or improve your writing process to more fully embrace the practices and tips provided in the course materials.
Now that you know what the assignment is, you can use the techniques provided in the Walden Assignment Prompts: Learn the Writing Requirements webinar to break down the prompt. In this case, students are being asked to reflect and discuss their writing processes and ways to improve, citing the course materials from the Writing Center website. In writing an introduction, writers must then decide what information is relevant for background information and what kind of a thesis or purpose statement needs to be provided. Here is a sample introduction for our prompt that provides both the elements of a strong introduction
Sample Introduction: [Background information] The writing process is a circular and recursive process that writers go through when composing a piece of text (Laureate, 2016). When writers take the time to prepare for writing, it can help to make the process easier (Laureate, 2015). However, sometimes writers are short on time, and it’s challenging to complete the full writing process. This has certainly been true for me. [Purpose statement] In this paper, I will discuss the bad habits of my writing process and ways that I plan to change this process per the suggestions on the Walden University Writing Center website. [Thesis statement] My current writing process is focused solely on drafting and proofreading and this process could be significantly improved by embracing the full writing process and focusing on better time management.
Here are some things to note about this sample:
- It starts with context and background information about the topic, specifically about the topic of the writing process. This context offers the reader some information to help understand the paper to come.
- It brings in paraphrase to offer more background information and to show what others have said about this topic. This helps to build the author’s authority as well.
- It provides a purpose statement that directly relates back to the prompt so that it’s clear what the writer is doing in the paper.
- It provides a thesis statement that outlines the argument so that the reader knows the author’s specific take and perspective on this topic.
You can use these same techniques of offering relevant background information and then clearly stating your argument and purpose when you write introductions to prepare your reader for the paper to come.
Here are some advanced tips for when writing your own strong introduction paragraph:
- Consider your audience when presenting context
- Provide a clear and argumentative thesis statement
- Provide the preview or purpose statement, but don’t only rely on it
- Consider writing your introduction last
For a robust explanation of how to write a successful introduction paragraph, I recommend watching this webinar, “Beginnings and Endings: Introduce and Conclude Your Writing. In addition, be sure to tune in next week to read the follow up post on writing abstracts.
Jes Philbrook is a Writing Instructor in the Walden University Writing Center, and one of her favorite things to teach is introductions. A well-written introduction can be inspiring and engaging and draw a reader into the rest of the paper, and she's eager to help Walden students develop this skill of bringing readers in. In her free time, Jes likes to go on walks, canoe in rivers and lakes, and play with her adorable nieces and nephews.
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