- 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…”
For years your teachers have told you that if you borrow someone else’s exact words, you need to put quotations marks around those words. They also told you that you need to use quotations (as well as paraphrases and summaries) to support your research essay.
That’s all well and good. And it doesn’t seem too terribly hard to put quotation marks around a sentence or two and paste the quote into your paper, but it actually takes some skill to effectively use quotations.
But that’s why you’re here, right? To learn how to put a quote in your essay like a pro.
If you’re looking for a few useful tips, here’s what you should and shouldn’t do when quoting.
Don’t Quote Just for the Sake of Quoting
We all know you should use at least a few quotes to support your research essay, but you shouldn’t just throw them in because a research paper needs quotes.
Don’t pick a few random quotes from one of those quote websites (you know which sites I’m talking about).
Those random quotes from famous people—such as, “People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do,” by Isaac Asimov—sound cool, but unless you use them in the perfect context, they’re just filler. They aren’t credible research sources.
FYI: Even though beginning your introduction with a quotation can be an excellent strategy, random celebrity quotes aren’t the best choice for the opening lines of your paper.
Don’t pick random sentences from your sources, either. It can be tempting to quickly paste them in your paper and hope they (sort of) make sense.
Sure, there are times when you’ll get lucky and the quotes will pretty much work, but most times, they’ll be awkward quotes that don’t support your arguments.
How to Put a Quote in Your Essay Like a Pro
Now that you know what you absolutely should not do when quoting, you need to know what you should do. Ready to learn how to put a quote in your essay like a pro? Here are four tips to help you move from amateur to pro status.
Tip #1: Choose quotes wisely
Sure, it’s a heck of a lot quicker to pull any random quote and put it in your paper, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve chosen wisely. Quotes should support your arguments, so you need to find information from sources that actually do that.
Let’s look at an example. Say you’re writing an argument essay and are arguing that teens develop eating disorders because of societal and peer pressure.
To support this argument, you use the following quote: “10-15% of all Americans suffer from some type of serious eating disorder” (www.mirasol.net).
There are two reasons this quote doesn’t work.
Reason #1: The source isn’t the best choice for an academic research paper. This quote is taken from an eating disorder recovery center’s website. I’m not saying that the source isn’t accurate or credible. This may be a very well-respected and reputable center.
What I am saying is that this source isn’t the best choice for a research paper. When writing a research paper, you should use scholarly resources and look for quotes and statistics from research studies (rather than random websites).
Read 5 Best Resources to Help With Writing a Research Paper to learn more about selecting appropriate resources.
Reason #2: The quote doesn’t actually provide evidence to support the argument. In this example, the argument is that teens develop eating disorders due to societal and peer pressure. Thus, the quote should provide evidence of that.
Using a statistic to illustrate how many people suffer from eating disorders might be appropriate for general background information, but it doesn’t help explain why teens develop eating disorders.
Tip #2: Use signal phrases
One strategy you might consider when adding quotes in your paper is to use signal phrases. Signal phrases let readers know to expect a quote. They introduce the quote and provide context.
Think of them like traffic signals. Traffic lights signal drivers to stop, go, or slow down. They keep traffic moving.
Signal phrases in writing do the same thing. They tell readers to slow down and pay attention to the information that is to follow and keep the writing cohesive.
Here’s an example from a paper about distracted driving to help clarify. This writer uses “according to” as the signal phrase to introduce the quote:
Texting messaging has been around for dozen of years, but there was never a point where it was considered to physically provide harm to someone. However, as of today it has exceeded to a point where it is considered to be more dangerous than drinking and driving. According to the Department of Transportation, “approximately 3,092 people were killed in an additional 416,000 were injured due to distracted drivers in the year of 2010 alone” (Copeland, 2012).
In this example, the signal phrase lets readers know to expect a quote and provides context by stating that the information is taken from the Department of Transportation.
Tip #3: Seamlessly integrate quotes
Another strategy you might consider when adding quotes in your paper is to seamlessly integrate them in the middle of a sentence, much like you would a paraphrase.
In this case, the quote isn’t introduced by a signal phrase but is part of the sentence. Here’s an example from a paper about mandatory physical education in schools:
If a child spends at least five hours at school most of the week, isn’t P.E. the perfect time for students to get time for physical activity? However, when P.E. is given as an optional course or elective and not a required class, most students choose not to do it to avoid physical activity. Very few people know that “only six states—Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Illinois and Iowa—adhere to standards from the National Association of Sports and Physical Education that schoolchildren participate in 150 minutes a week of physical education. And just three states Delaware, Virginia and Nebraska have 20 minutes of mandatory elementary-school recess a day” (TIME.com).
In this example, the writer uses the phrase “very few people know that” to begin the sentence. The quote simply becomes part of the writer’s sentence.
Tip #4: Cite appropriately
Whenever you use information from a source, you need to cite it appropriately in order to avoid plagiarism.
In other words, all paraphrases, summaries, and quotes from your research need both an in-text citation and a Works Cited (if you’re citing in MLA format) or a References page (if you’re citing in APA format).
Remember, in-text citations have different requirements depending on citation style, so make sure you’re using the correct format.
Here are two quick examples:
MLA citation: In-text citations should contain the author’s last name and page number where quote or information appears. Example: (Smith 450).
APA citation: In-text citations should contain the author’s last name and year of publication, with a comma between the two, and page number if a direct quote. Example: (Smith, 2016, p. 450). Not a direct quote? Use (Smith, 2016).
If you need a little more help with citation styles, check out these resources:
Now that you’ve mastered how to put a quote in your essay, you’re officially a pro. Keep in mind, though, that being a professional takes lots of hard work and practice, so here’s another resource to help keep your skills sharp: how to punctuate quotes correctly.
I’ll leave you with an inspirational quote from one of those quote websites I mentioned earlier:
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” —Benjamin Franklin
You’ve already taken the first step in preparing by reading about and (hopefully) practicing how to put a quote in your essay.
Now, take the next step: send your paper to a Kibin editor to make sure your paper makes the grade.
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