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The Art of Introductions

An Introduction Identifies The Topic, But A Strategic Introduction Can Do Much More Than That.

Whether writing a poem, a report or an email, a writer needs to start by signaling what is to come. This helps the reader anticipate and better understand the text, and more importantly, it helps the author stay on track and develop a message. Most writers and speakers know they should begin with an introduction that identifies the topic, but a strategic introduction can do much more than that.

Rhetorical scholars discovered that we really don’t have a lot of options when we write introductions; all introductions fall into about five categories. This is surprising when one considers the infinite number of topics a writer can explore, but introductions are more about our habits of thought than the subjects we consider.

Here is the list:

  • Introduction Inquisitive.
  • Introduction Paradoxical.
  • Introduction Corrective.
  • Introduction Preparatory.
  • Introduction Narrative.

We might add a sixth category for journalistic writing called Introduction Objective. As the names imply, these are ways of organizing information, and they can be applied to any area of human interest.

A writer who wants to point out something odd or interesting that others might have missed would select Introduction Inquisitive. The subject might be an important observation, or it might just be something that tends to go unnoticed. California is the world’s fifth largest economy.

Quarrying stone is older than any other industry including farming. These are interesting propositions. If stated in an introduction, they could motivate a reader to continue, and they also would serve as a guide to the writer.

Introduction Paradoxical is an extreme case of Introduction Inquisitive. The paradoxical thesis, even when it is explained, remains puzzling. Charles Dickens begins his novel about the French Revolution with this sentence: “They were the best of times, they were the worst of times.”

A somewhat less intriguing but more practical application of paradox might be a press release about the quarry industry beginning with a lead that says, “The average American spends an hour a day driving on roads; why do we know so little about their composition and construction?”

Introduction Corrective proclaims that the author will explain something that is misunderstood, misrepresented, or neglected. An employee newspaper article might discuss the job of a safety engineer. Perhaps safety procedures seem like an impediment to some workers, but the author could explain reasons for rules and procedures and give examples of how they actually contribute to the bottom line.

Introduction Preparatory is most useful when an article will take unexpected turns. We are using this device in conversations when we say things like, “this is going to be complicated,” or “you aren’t going to believe this.” An accident report, for instance, might begin with, “the problem was the result of not one but three malfunctions.”

Introduction Narrative is probably the most common and easily understood introduction. When we use narrative, we tell a story in chronological order. Jokes, diaries, novels, accident reports and speeches, all forms of discourse can employ narrative. It is the easiest structure to follow for both the audience and the author.

Narrative and objective news stories are unique in the list of introductions because the other introductive devices tell the reader how to think about the information. Narrative and objective news stories usually present the apparent facts and let the reader decide what they mean.

Writing and public speaking are really situations where we are thinking out loud. We ask others to consider what we have considered and suggest that they come to the conclusions that we have reached.

Sometimes it is useful or necessary that we communicate only the facts that we have considered, and sometimes we need to articulate our thought process. The rhetorical introduction models provide a way of doing that.

Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Calumet since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at tThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..