- A good introductory paragraph 1. gets your reader’s attention, 2. introduces your topic, and 3. presents your stance on the topic (thesis).
Right after your title is the introductory paragraph. Like an appetizer for a meal, the introductory paragraph sets up the reader’s palate and gives him a foretaste of what is to come. You want start your paper on a positive note by putting forth the best writing possible.
Like writing the title, you can wait to write your introductory paragraph until you are done with the body of the paper. Some people prefer to do it this way since they want to know exactly where their paper goes before they make an introduction to it. When you write your introductory paragraph is a matter of personal preference.
Your introductory paragraph needs to accomplish three main things: it must 1. grip your reader, 2. introduce your topic, and 3. present your stance on the topic (in the form of your thesis statement). If you’re writing a large academic paper, you’ll also want to contextualize your paper’s claim by discussing points other writers have made on the topic.
There are a variety of ways this can be achieved. Some writers find it useful to put a quote at the beginning of the introductory paragraph. This is often an effective way of getting the attention of your reader:
“Thomas Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” seems contrary to the way he actually lived his life, bringing into question the difference between the man’s public and private lives…”
Hmm. Interesting…Tell me more. This introduction has set off the paper with an interesting quote and makes the reader want to continue reading. How has Jefferson’s public life differed from his private life? Notice how this introduction also helps frame the paper. Now the reader expects to learn about the duality of Thomas Jefferson’s life.
Another common method of opening a paper is to provide a startling statistic or fact. This approach is most useful in essays that relate to current issues, rather than English or scientific essays.
“The fact that one in every five teenagers between the ages of thirteen and fifteen smokes calls into question the efficacy of laws prohibiting advertising cigarettes to children…”
The reader is given an interesting statistic to chew on (the fact that so many children smoke) while you set up your paper. Now your reader is expecting to read an essay on cigarette advertising laws.
When writing English papers, introducing your topic includes introducing your author and the aspect of the text that you’ll be analyzing.
“Love is a widely felt emotion. In The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas uses the universality of love to develop a connection with his reader…”
Here, the reader is introduced to the piece of text that will be analyzed, the author, and the essay topic. Nice.
The previous sample introduction contains a general sentence at the beginning that bring up a very broad topic: love. From there, the introductory paragraph whittles down to something more specific:
how Dumas uses love in his novel to develop a connection with the reader. You’d expect this paragraph to march right on down to the thesis statement,
which belongs at the end of the introductory paragraph. Good introductory paragraphs often have this ‘funnel’ sort of format–going from something broad (such as love) to something more specific until the thesis is presented.
Try to avoid the some of the more hackneyed openers:
- “Have you ever wondered why…”
- “Webster’s dictionary defines…”
- “X is a very important issue facing America today…”
MLA examples focusing on format and style
Your instructor has asked you to format your term paper using Modern Language Association (MLA)1 style. You feel confident enough to produce the paper, but you have never heard of MLA style—do you panic or do you research MLA style and MLA formatting?
This article will explain MLA style, give examples of MLA formatting, and offer a list of tips that our editors have learned over the years. If you have a general understanding of what MLA style is and are just looking for examples of MLA citations, we can help with that too!
A simplistic definition of MLA format
MLA style is an accepted way to document source material for many types of humanities documents. It is simpler than some other style guides, such as the APA Style Guide or the Chicago Manual of Style, and has two basic requirements:
- Brief parenthetical citations in the text
- An alphabetical list of works cited that corresponds to the in-text citations and appears at the end of the research paper
In simple terms, you put a reference to your source material in parentheses in the text and you list all the sources to which you have referred in alphabetical order at the end of the paper.
Of course, there is so much more to MLA style and MLA formatting than just that. Indeed, the current version of The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers 7th Edition runs to 292 pages! But here are the most commonly encountered style and formatting points.
To emphasize or not?
Sometimes, it is appropriate to draw attention to particular words in your paper, but using italics for emphasis (He really ate a lot…) is inappropriate in research writing and inconsistent with MLA style. Generally, in MLA format, foreign words used in an English text are to be italicized, as are words and letters referred to as words and letters (He spelled argument with an e).
MLA research paper format tips
Your instructor may issue particular instructions; if so, follow them. Otherwise, the following will help you set out your research paper in MLA style.
- Use a clear typeface (Arial or Times New Roman) in a readable size (at least 11 point).
- Justify the text to the left margin, leaving the right margin ragged.
- Leave 1" margins on the top, bottom, left, and right.
- Indent the first word in a paragraph by 0.5". Indent set-off quotations by 1".
- Use double spacing throughout.
- Use single spaces after full stops, commas, exclamation marks, etc.
- There is no need for a title page; at the top of the first page (1" margin, flush left), type your name, your instructor's name, the course number, and the date on separate, double-spaced lines.
- The title of your research paper should then be centered on the first page. There is no need for it to be highlighted in bold or italics or for it to appear in capitals.
- Page numbers appear in the top, right-hand corner with a 0.5" margin from the top and with a flush right margin. It is good practice to include your last name before the page number in the event that pages go astray. Do not use the abbreviation p. before the page number or add any other mark or symbol. You may not need to include a page number on the front page—check with your instructor.
Good grammar, punctuation, and spelling are essential parts of your research paper. There is no room for basic typos at this level. Our advice is to check and check again, and don't just rely on your word processor's spell checker. Get a second pair of eyes to look over your paper; try our essay editors to ensure that MLA style is consistent throughout your paper and there are no grammatical errors.
1Please note that this article refers to the 7th edition of the The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.
Image source: Davide Cantelli/Stocksnap.io
Your professor has assigned you a paper and requested it be done using the Chicago Manual of Style. All well and good, you think; except, what is the Chicago Manual of Style? Our editors help make sense of this style guide.
APA style is a widely accepted editorial style used for social science papers. APA rules and guidelines are published in the reference book The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. This article looks at what is involved in ensuring your writing adheres to APA style.
Are you confused by MLA citations? This article discusses everything you should know about MLA and offers helpful examples.
Back to Advice and Articles