Chapter 9: Towards the Well-Researched Paper
The introduction of a research essay has the same basic purpose as the introduction of a close reading: to explain your initial argument as specifically and with as much complexity as possible, on the understanding that it will be even more complex and nuanced by the essay’s conclusion. However, it is also in your introduction that you will first have a chance to incorporate the most important of your secondary sources: the ones that are key to your argument.
As you outline your introduction, consider the same questions that likely arose when you wrote your close reading:
- Do you get to your argument relatively quickly? You’ll have more room in this essay than you did in your shorter close reading, but perhaps not as much as you think. It may be tempting to start very expansively, with two introductory paragraphs:one in which you discuss the problem behind the essay in detail, another in which you offer the solution to that problem. However, if you do so, you risk beginning with a paragraph in which, argument-wise, nothing happens. Your introduction is a good opportunity to lay the foundations for your argument, quickly taking the reader to a place in which the argument can be complex and specific.
- Do you introduce your argument’s main subject as well as its context? The temptation here is often to start extremely broadly (“Since the dawn of time, humans have communicated with each other”; “Throughout human history, people have formed social groups”). This sort of “universal opener” may feel like a way of putting your argument in context, but it tends to be far too broad. If you are analysing one post on one Facebook page, it is not necessary to begin at the dawn of time.
- On the other hand, contextualizing your argument is a good idea. Begin, perhaps, with the larger problem you are discussing, then move swiftly to your specific body of evidence. Remember that your third storey will acknowledge the connection of your body of evidence to the larger issue it represents. An acknowledgement of the larger issue in your introduction will give you something to circle back to.
- Have you explained the essentials of your complex, specific argument? You will be fleshing out this argument in the body of your essay, and it will appear in its complete form in your conclusion. It may be tempting to begin by “hiding” your argument, saving it for a revelation in your conclusion. However, a clear argument will itself provide a roadmap for the rest of your essay. It won’t tell the reader the exact twists and turns of the discussion, but it will give you something concrete to develop into an even more interesting thesis.
- Research-Related Considerations: Have you incorporated your secondary research into your thesis in such a way that it provides an insight into your unique argument? We’ll return to this concept later on.