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Envision your paper as a sandwich. The introduction and conclusion are the wrap. In a sandwich, you have options (bread, pita, tortillas, lettuce, etc.), but they serve one singular purpose. The same principle works for your paper. If the wrap fails, quite often, the sandwich (aka paper) falls apart.

The singular purpose of an introduction is to prepare the reader for the content to follow.

Even in writing, you have 15 seconds or less to impress (and keep them reading) or depress (and they will stop and put it down).

All the introduction needs to do is summarize the core ideas that you fully develop in the body paragraphs. If we were doing a documentary movie, it could be viewed as the trailer video for it. If we’re hosting a party, the introduction is the invitation and the conclusion a thank you note. Here are the basic elements I look for.

  • Sophisticated and compelling lead-in (1-2 sentences at most).
  • Optional and not always included: Background sentence (* if you need more than one sentence, move this to the second paragraph and expand as needed).
  • Brief preview main points/key ideas you will be developing in the body paragraphs to prove (or defend) your thesis statement.
  • Thesis statement: This is the mission statement for your paper–so reader knows what to expect.

A sandwich tends to have wrap on both sides. A paper is no different. You may have heard that an effective conclusion is a mirror image of the introduction. In sandwich metaphor, you simply take that first piece and turn it upside down. Here’s what that would look like.

  • Rephrased thesis: topic boundary and position/perspective.
  • Brief review of the main points/key ideas used with appropriate ending emphasis.
  • Sophisticated lead-out that provides closure and satisfactorily wraps up the paper.

See Part II: Introduction—Wraps to Avoid! where we’ll view common introduction types to avoid with a lighthearted look using this sandwich metaphor.