Building a Strong Introduction: Engaging the Reader and Advancing Your Argument

Let’s stop using the word “introduction,” which is bland and doesn’t really cue us as writers to take action on accomplishing a communicative goal. The word “orientation” works better for me. So, this post will provide tips for crafting a strong ORIENTATION for readers of your research.

Orienting the reader involves three main goals, which contribute to establishing a broad and general overview before progressively narrowing down to a specific problem and proposed solution.

These goals are:

  1. Establish a research territory:

    Begin your introduction by providing an overview of the existing literature and research related to your topic. This helps set the context and demonstrates your familiarity with the subject. By establishing a research territory, you show how your work fits into the larger body of knowledge.

  2. Identify a niche in the literature:

    Within the established research territory, identify a gap or problem that has not been fully addressed or explored. This niche represents an opportunity for your study to contribute something new or offer a fresh perspective. Highlight the importance of addressing this particular gap to generate interest and demonstrate the relevance of your research.

  3. Address the niche by filling the “gap” in the literature:

    After identifying the specific problem or gap, present your study as a solution or a means to address that gap. Clearly state your main argument or thesis, emphasizing how your research aims to fill the identified niche and contribute to the existing knowledge. This demonstrates the significance of your work and its potential impact.

Following these goals, your introduction progressively becomes more focused and specific, moving from the broader research territory to the specific problem and proposed solution.

Building a Strong Introduction: Engaging the Reader and Advancing Your Argument

Source: Huffman, S., Cotos, E., & Becker, K. (2023). Preparing to Publish. Iowa State University Digital Press.

The concentric circles in the visual representation illustrate this narrowing of content as the introduction unfolds. While the introduction provides a broad overview and addresses the bigger picture, it should also create a sense of anticipation and curiosity for the reader. By establishing the research territory, identifying a niche, and addressing it, you can engage the reader and motivate them to continue reading to learn more about your study and its unique contribution to the field.

HOWEVER …

There are some important caveats (come learn more about them in our “Unlock your publishing potential” workshop series!):

  • Multiple strategies can accomplish these goals.

  • Goals aren’t necessarily accomplished in a linear order.

  • Different strategies can be combined to achieve a stronger communicative effect.

  • The use of strategies varies depending on disciplinary conventions.

Many academic writers are frustrated by the need to evaluate their writing: How can we assess the degree to which we have accomplished our goals?

Here are a few strategies:

  1. Read before you write: As you are perusing the literature, be critical and look for specific words, phrases, and sentences when you see the writer accomplishing those three goals.

  2. Notice movement from general to specific: In others’ writing or your own, locate specific areas where the subject moves from general to specific.

  3. Evaluate the quality of the claims: Don’t just focus on WHAT is being said; rather, examine HOW it is being said.

These tips allow you to set the stage for your research, engage readership, establish context, and present an argument. When you start thinking of ‘orientation’ instead of ‘introduction,’ your writing will become more compelling for your readers.

About the Author

Academic Insight Lab, Kimberly Becker

Kimberly Becker, Ph.D.

Applied Linguist Specializing in Disciplinary Academic Writing

Kimberly is a lecturer in the English department at Iowa State University (ISU). She has a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics and Technology (ISU, 2022) and an M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language (Northern Arizona University, 2004). Kimberly’s research and teaching experience in disciplinary academic writing has equipped her to support native and non-native English speakers in written, oral, visual, and electronic communication. Her most recent publication is a co-authored e-book for graduate students titled Preparing to Publish, which provides information about composing academic research articles. In her spare time, she enjoys practicing yoga, gardening, and walking with her two poodles.

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