The Joy of Writing an Introduction

Hi, I’m Meredith Rose, and for the next several paragraphs, I’ll be your host as we discover the joy of writing an introduction. Composing an introduction can be intimidating, sometimes even more so than writing the body of the paper! However, my good friend Bob Ross and I are here to tell you that fretting over your introduction is not necessary. As this wise old artist once said, “All you need to paint is a few tools, a little instruction, and a vision in your mind.” The same rings true for introductions: “All you need to write an introduction is a few tools, a little instruction, and a vision in your mind.” So… let’s write a happy little introduction together!

The Almighty Introduction

Look no further than the first season, first episode of The Joy of Painting to find Bob’s greatest lesson on writing an introduction. In the first two minutes of this episode, Bob lays out a simple yet almighty example for how to introduce any essay. Click on this link and watch from 0:00-2:10 before we discuss Bob’s technique.

inverse pyramid of introductionWelcome back! Let’s break this down a little. Bob uses what I like to call the Inverse Pyramid of Introduction in this first episode. As the graphic depicts, the four sections of an introduction are: topic, attention, background, and thesis. In addition, the inverse pyramid demonstrates how each section of an introduction becomes more and more specific to the central discussion of the essay. If you follow Bob’s example and use the inverse pyramid technique, you are sure to write an almighty introduction every time!

Now, time to drag out your old #2 pencils and composition books as we discuss the four sections of an introduction.

Topic

As you saw, Bob begins his introduction by stating, “Hi, I’m Bob Ross, and for the next thirteen weeks, I’ll be your host as we experience the joy of painting.” Before going any further, I would like to extend a warning that Bob Ross is undoubtedly a friend of Tony Stark (aka Iron Man). By this, I mean that he too is a fan of non-academic language. (If you have no idea what I am referring to, please click on the following link to familiarize yourself with our last Writing Process blog entitled “Academic Writing: A Time to be Thor, not Iron Man.”) With this in mind, it is still possible to learn from Bob’s example, if not his actual word choice. You’ll notice that Bob’s first sentence is broad. He does not include any details about how or what he will be painting. He simply introduces the topic.

So, tell me, what is it that you’re writing about? Have you been asked to discuss the cause and effects of the Great Depression? Or maybe your assignment is to analyze the poetic devices of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18”? How about a prompt to examine the marketing mix used by Dollar Shave Club to reach its target market? Whether you’re writing a cause and effect essay for history, a literary analysis essay for English, or a research essay in marketing, you should always begin by introducing the topic, the work, the event, or the person you’ll be discussing.

Take my example italicized above. The first sentence of this essay’s introduction might read, “The marketing mix includes product, price, distribution, and promotion, and it is integral to the success of all businesses.” Notice that this sentence, just like Bob’s, is broad. It does not specifically mention Dollar Shave Club or how they utilize the marketing mix. Rather, it simply introduces the topic and leaves specifics for later sentences.

Attention

The most versatile section of the Inverse Pyramid of Introduction is attention. There are countless ways to grab your audience’s attention, but the method that Bob used in his almighty introduction is making a claim. A claim is asserting a statement as fact, preferably something unexpected. While Bob rambles on and on in the attention section of his introduction (there’s that non-academic language again), it can be summed up effectively by one of his statements: “I think there’s an artist hid in the bottom of every single one of us. And here, we will try to show you how to bring that artist out to put it on canvas, because you too can paint almighty pictures.” Did you hear that unexpected assertion? You too can paint almighty pictures! I don’t know about you, but that’s quite a claim given my prior artistic endeavors, and it sure does grab my attention!

So how can we follow Bob’s example in our own academic writing? Let’s return to my marketing essay example. Perhaps the next two sentences of the introduction would read, “Dollar Shave Club, a subscription-based shaving service founded in 2011, created a marketing mix that satisfied its target market. This strategy resulted in the company selling out of inventory and acquiring 12,000 subscriptions just six hours after its first promotional video was posted on YouTube.” Notice that this sentence both grabs the reader’s attention by making a startling statement and further narrows the topic of discussion. While the first sentence of the example introduction mentioned only the marketing mix and its components, I have now named Dollar Shave Club as the company whose marketing mix I will discuss.

Background

The next section of an introduction further explains the topic before the thesis is stated. As you watched, Bob includes some pertinent background information with his audience before the show begins. “I’d like to go over some of the equipment we’ll use before we start,” he says. Bob then informs his audience about the types of brushes he’ll use, describes important aspects of the pallet knife, and names the colors that he’ll paint with. He also informs the audience that they will paint freely without tracing patterns. All of this information serves to explain the topic of painting before Bob states his thesis for The Joy of Painting series.

I can follow Bob’s example by adding these two sentences to my marketing essay introduction: “Michael Dubin and Mark Levine, co-founders of this revolutionary shaving service, clearly understand the importance of the marketing mix and know how to manipulate it to make a profit. Today, the firm estimates $140 million in sales, has two million online subscribers, and ships fifty million shaving packages every year.” These background details about Dollar Shave Club give my readers a clearer understanding of the company and demonstrate why the firm is a good example from which to learn.

Thesis

There are many important things to remember about the last section of the Inverse Pyramid of Introduction. First, every good essay has a thesis. Without one, readers have no idea where specifically the paper is heading. Second, every good thesis guides the reader through the points that the body paragraphs will discuss. A thesis that does not do so… well, is not really a thesis! Lastly, in every good introduction, the thesis statement is the last sentence of the paragraph. While we can debate what order topic, attention, and background should come, the thesis always concludes the introduction.

Now, take a look at Bob’s thesis: “We start with a vision in our heart, and we put it on canvas. And we’re here to teach you to be able to do this too. So let’s do it! Let’s paint a picture.” Bob is an excellent example to follow when writing an introduction, but not so much when it comes to constructing a thesis. In the true spirit of his show, Bob fashions an ambiguous thesis statement full of non-academic language. After all, “We don’t make mistakes, just happy accidents!” Oh, that this famous Bob Ross quote was true for essay writing too. Unfortunately, we students must write and revise our work with a more critical eye than Bob used to paint. For more information on how to properly structure your thesis, I encourage you to stay tuned for next week’s blog, “The Fulcrum of Academic Writing.” Michelle’s expertise will guide you far better than Bob can!

In addition to reading our next Writing Process blog, consider this example thesis, which concludes my marketing essay introduction: “This success is fully credited to Dollar Shave Club’s use of an innovative marketing mix that includes differentiated products, low prices, online distribution, and unique promotion.” Do you see how this sentence completely narrows the topic and identifies the four points that the essay’s body paragraphs will discuss? While Bob’s thesis is general and vague, it does capture what The Joy of Painting series will be all about. Likewise, this specific and direct thesis provides a snapshot of what the rest of the marketing-mix essay will discuss.

Time for the moment of truth. Did following Bob’s example aid me in writing a happy little introduction? You judge for yourself. After putting together each of the sentences I wrote, what I have is the following:

The marketing mix includes product, price, distribution, and promotion, and it is integral to the success of all businesses. Dollar Shave Club, a subscription-based shaving service founded in 2011, created a marketing mix that satisfied its target market. This strategy resulted in the company selling out of inventory and acquiring 12,000 subscriptions just six hours after its first promotional video was posted on YouTube. Michael Dubin and Mark Levine, co-founders of this revolutionary shaving service, clearly understand the importance of the marketing mix and know how to manipulate it to make a profit. Today, the firm estimates $140 million in sales, has two million online subscribers, and ships fifty million shaving packages every year. This success is fully credited to Dollar Shave Club’s use of an innovative marketing mix that includes differentiated products, low prices, online distribution, and unique promotion.

I think it’s safe to say that Bob has done it again; that’s an almighty introduction. So go get crazy! Make a big decision! And always remember Bob’s greatest advice as you begin writing: “Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.”

Written by Meredith

For more information on writing an introduction and other writing subjects, check out our Writing an Introduction handout and the Quick Reference Flyers page of our website!

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How to Write an Outline

I’m not going to lie; writing is hard. Even as an English major who works in the Writing Center, I find writing difficult. I love writing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I outlinethink the toughest part about writing is actually starting the writing process. I can have my topic picked out and all of my research done but still have absolutely no idea where to go from there. Maybe you’ve been in that boat, too. You might have a great idea for a written composition in mind but not know exactly what to start writing about. This is where an outline can truly save the day. An outline can be the most helpful method in the writing process. It can help to break down broad ideas and organize them in an understandable way. By creating an outline, the writer gives form to his or her thoughts and to the paper itself.

I find it helpful to simply jot a few points down first. What are some of the major issues that need to be addressed throughout the essay? How do they relate to each other? What evidence is there to support the claim? Think about these questions pertaining to the topic and write down at least three ideas you would like to discuss in the paper. If there are more than three points, that’s good. Longer papers require more content. And sometimes, smaller points can be included within the larger points if they are closely related. Ever heard of the expression “it’s better to have too much than not enough?” Well, it is always better to have more ideas to work with than fewer.

Now, it is time to take on the thesis. The thesis will include the main points previously mentioned. Remember not to include too many details in the thesis, but give enough information so that the reader has a sense of the purpose and structure of the essay. Think about it like this: if you were to summarize your entire paper into one sentence, then that would be your thesis.

For example, I wrote a paper about digital technology and its impacts on society. I knew there were at least three areas of impact I wanted to thoroughly address, so I put those in my thesis. My working thesis statement became something like “The long-term effects of the digital age can hinder the health, education, and even character of the current and future generations of society.” My thesis clearly states my essay’s topic, the negative effects of digital technology, and gives a general overview on the types of problems my paper addresses, which are the impacts in the health, education, and character of current and future members of society. Notice there are no specific examples or evidence in my thesis, but simply a general idea and some organized points. The thesis doesn’t have to be perfect yet; you can always work on the grammar of your thesis later when you start writing your paper. You simply need to get the main ideas of your paper down into one sentence. This is the most important part of the essay because it gives the reader a preview of what is to come.

The thesis and the main points are the core of the paper, so once those have been solidified, you can start working on the details. For the main points, research and support will be needed. Under each point, write down some examples that can support that point. These may consist of examples from a literary work, a fact quoted from a science textbook, or a statistic from an internet article. List everything that supports your point and be sure to cite your sources when it comes to putting quotes and paraphrases into your paper.

If you’ve made it this far, then congratulations! You’ve outlined most of your paper. The only things left are the introduction and conclusion. For the introduction, list some things that would be helpful information for the reader to know in order to understand the subject of the paper. Are there any terms that need defining? Would giving a brief plot summary help? Basically, list any background information that you consider necessary in order to understand the topic.

As for the conclusion, three things should be included: thesis, summary, concluding last statement. I’ve found it helpful to list these things out so that I remember what I want to write in the conclusion by the time I finish my paper. It is best to restate, but also reword, your thesis in order for the paper to appear cohesive. Then, summarize the main points of your paper. You can even refer to the bullet points you wrote in the beginning of the outline. Lastly, you’ll want a concluding sentence or two. It might be a call to action or statement of importance. It needs to be something that ties the paragraph together.

This outline technique has benefited me many times in the past, and I hope it benefits other writers, too. If this method doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. There are several different ways to outline a paper. This is simply one of them. I know writing is hard, and starting the writing process can be quite the challenge. That 8-10 page research paper can seem like a beast that might bite your head off, but don’t worry. It is best to simplify your thoughts. Break them down to organize them, and you’ll be able to build them up again to write that essay.

Written by Taylor C.

For more information on outlining and other writing subjects, check out our Outlining: Structuring a Paper handout and the Quick Reference Flyers page of our website!

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