We all have our favorite beginnings and endings, but for the purpose of our formal academic papers, some make better wraps than others. In Part I: Introduction/Conclusion–It’s a Wrap!, I asked you to envision your paper as a sandwich, and went over the basics of an effective introduction and conclusion.
A well-chosen wrap often indicates whether your paper is worth consuming. In keeping with the paper as a sandwich metaphor, here is a lighthearted look at common introduction varieties (i.e. wraps) to avoid:
- Blaa Buns: aka Clichéd Announcements. “In this paper . . . I’m going to . . .” Really – who would have guessed? Resist the temptation to tell the reader what they already know or expect. Boring!
- Sourdough: aka Apologizing. “I’m not sure about this, but . . .” Never suggest that you don’t know what you’re talking about or that you’re not enough of an expert or that your opinion doesn’t matter. Your reader will take your word for it and quite possibly move on to something more worthy of their time. You just gave them permission to do so. In similar form, avoid what is often seen as bragimony (ex. “in my humble opinion . . .”) It is a very thin disguise – just saying what we’re all thinking.
- Wonder bread: aka Rhetorical Questions. Typically overused and seldom pose anything earth-shattering. One might be ok. Two is annoying. More than that is irritating and invites readers to question if there will ever be a point to this paper.
- Pumpernickel: aka Quoting/Pontificating. Starting off with a quote or wise philosophical saying is a clichéd strategy that may works in the 3D world of public speaking, but typically falls flat (pun intended) in the 2D world. Quite often, there seems to be little to no connection with the content (once we do get to that) or the connection is so loose, we as the reader still don’t get it. But, can I be honest here? It can come off as overused and puffed-up sounding in the 3D world too.
- Basic Toast: aka Quoting the Dictionary. “According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a widget is . . .” Although definitions (or any other common knowledge source) can be useful in content development, it sounds hokey at best or patronizing at worst in the introduction or conclusion.
- Mega-loaf: aka Info-dumping. Diving into those delicious extras – details, illustrations, and examples – help drive a point home in the body paragraphs. In the intro though, it is like greeting your guest at the door with fire-hose.
- Candy Bread: aka String Along a Story Time. A current trend becoming popular in blogs and news media sites is to lead in with an intriguing mini-story. This casual, conversational tone might be compelling in narratives and news items, but is frowned on when used in formal academic papers. Even if it is appropriate, avoid stringing it along (i.e. no more than 3-4 sentences). After that point, the writer appears to be more intrigued with it than the reader is. Honestly, being able to tell good stories in such a short framework is rare and the result of extremely hard work for even the best and brightest writers.
- Cloud Bread: aka Foggy Talk. This type of introduction is a filled with abstractions and coy inferences. You don’t want to reveal too much (mystery is intriguing after all) so you say nothing tangible at all. The reader might keep reading to find out what the heck you’re talking about. Or, they might give up and go on to something else assuming the whole paper will be vague – saying nothing much of anything. Who has time for that these days?
- Fruitcake: aka Stuff Not Digested Anywhere Else. This happens when the writer includes bits of information in the introduction that are left out of the content developed in the body paragraphs. In the introduction, don’t gift the reader with a promise (of content to be developed) you won’t keep. In the conclusion, don’t dump in new ideas/information on the way out the door. It just leaves a mess, and the reader will not always thank you for it.
I hope this was helpful or at least entertaining.