You sit down at the computer, place your fingertips right above the keys, and close your eyes. Inspiration hits, and you rapidly punch out: “It was a dark and stormy night, too dark and too stormy…” Your eyes flick open, your hands drop to your sides, and you mutter to yourself, “Dark, stormy, what’s this got to do with my paper? How can I start my paper? What should I do? Who cares?”

Starting a paper is one of the hardest steps to take–it’s like jumping off a cliff and not knowing where you are going to land. Should I start with a quote? Should I start by restating the question topic? Should I give background information first? There’s no set answer to these questions (and I’m sure there are many more of them). Basically, there’s no right or wrong way to write an introduction.

Here are some helpful hints though:

* If you want to start with a quote, be sure it’s completely and totally relevant to your thesis and dive right in. Don’t use a quote because you don’t know what else to do. Use a quote if and only if it leads directly into your thesis–make sure it captures the reader’s attention immediately and directs that attention to your main point. If the quote doesn’t relate, bag it.

* Never start with a definition from the dictionary if you can help it.

* If you’re really stuck for a starting point, just pull out a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and start writing about what you think the topic is. Write for 5-10 minutes without stopping and then reread it. Underline what you feel are the key points. If you can’t start writing the paper from those key points, do another freewrite about one of the points you underlined. This will narrow down your ideas even more.

* If you’re writing a really long paper, say 10 pages or more, sometimes it’s easier to give the reader a road map in your first paragraph explaining what you are going to do. By road map I mean telling the reader what your topic is and how you are going to approach that topic in your paper. Never say “I’m going to prove” because this is too big a task–be a little more modest and say “I’m going to discuss.” Proving and discussing are two different things and discussing is much better! Doing this sort of thing helps you with the focus of your paper and lets your reader know what you’re going to do.

* For some people it’s easier to write the body of the paper and then go back to write the introduction. Whatever works best for you is what you should do. Write in a manner that is comfortable for you. You can always rewrite it if you don’t like it!