The Art of First Impressions: Why the First Paragraph Matters

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Transcript The Art of First Impressions: Why the First Paragraph Matters

Hello & Goodbye:
Becoming a Master of Writing
Opening and Closing Paragraphs
With Kevin Schwandt, M.M.
Dissertation Editor
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Opening & Closing:
Why Do They Matter?
It’s the research that counts, right?
“They are significant and form a general impression upon your essay, they can even
show your reader what kind of person you are…it [the introduction] is said to be to
most read section of any paper or a document….it determines your reader’s attitude
towards the whole work... a conclusion should be the best part of your essay because
this what your reader reads and remembers last” (“The Importance of the Introduction
and Conclusion,” 2007, para. 1-4).
Your introduction and conclusion form the frame around the body of your paper –
all the hard work you have done reading and conducting research – and are your
chance to establish how the reader views your work.
Unscholarly Data Collection Quiz
Instructions: Close your eyes. Be honest.
Raise you hand if you have ever:
1. Compared yourself to a classmate based
on what he or she wrote in a discussion
2. Made an assumption about a classmate
based on what he or she wrote in a
discussion post;
3. Discredited a classmate’s discussion
post because of the quality of the writing
This is Why They Matter
The Introduction
The Conclusion
Establishes your voice
Summarizes your point of view
Establishes your credibility as a
Reminds the reader you are a
credible researcher
Establishes your expertise
Reminds the reader you are an
Engages the reader in your writing
Reengages the reader with the
importance of your topic
Draws the reader in and makes the
reader care about your topic
Reminds the reader to care
about your topic
The Introduction
Simple, right?
It seems simple enough, but all to often we see something like this:
The Introduction
Here within the pages of the study the
researcher endeavors to elucidate the
quandary between what has been
perceived by the
esteemed researchers
within this outstanding
field to be not an
increase, but a decrease, in the interest of
a younger generation of aspiring
professionals in the field nursing.
Don’t Let it Happen to You!
How to Start Off Right
Economy of Expression
According to APA (2001, 2010), “the author who is frugal with
words not only writes a more readable manuscript but also
increases the chances that the manuscript will be accepted
for publication…You can tighten long papers by eliminating
redundancy, wordiness, jargon, evasiveness, overuse of the
passive voice, circumlocution, and clumsy prose.”
In other words, write in clear, concise
statements and aim for logical communication.
The simpler the better.
How to Start Off Right
Smoothness of Expression
According to APA(2001, 2010), “Devices that are often
found in creative writing – for example: setting up
ambiguity, inserting the unexpected, omitting the
expected, and suddenly shifting the topic, tense, or
person – can confuse or disturb readers of scientific
In other words, do not dress up your writing. Be
straightforward and stick to the point; organize your
content in a logical manner; and make sure the reader
can follow your train of thought.
How to Start Off Right
Avoid wordiness
Avoid repeating words
Use pronouns discretely
Use transitional words and phrases
Make sure your verb tenses agree
Don’t switch back and forth from first to third person
Avoid clichés and colloquialisms
Avoid adverbs (very, really) and unnecessary
adjectives (descriptive language such as pretty, great,
– Don’t embellish, but do be specific
– Do not use epigraphs no matter how brilliant,
insightful, or emotive
Avoid Wordiness
Use this:
Not this:
Based on the fact that
At the present time
For the purposes of
This study
The present study
Avoid Redundancy
Use this:
Not this:
They were alike
They were both alike
The same
one and the same
68 participants
a total of 68 participants
In proximity
in close proximity
Four groups
four different groups
Has been found
has been previously found
But, use Pronouns Discretely
Although you do not want to have to repeat
words or phrases over and over, you also
do not want so many pronouns that your
reader is not able follow to whom or to
what you are referring.
The reader should not have to search
previous sentences or paragraphs to
figure out what you are talking about
Use Transitions
Connect your ideas:
“Readers will better understand you if you
aim for continuity in words, concepts, and
thematic development from the opening
statement to the conclusion” (APA, 2010,
p. 65).
This applies to each sentence, paragraph,
section, and the overall paper.
• Time links:
then, next, after, while, since
• Cause-effect links:
therefore, consequently, as a result
• Addition links:
in addition, moreover, furthermore, similarly
• Contrast links:
but, conversely, nevertheless, however,
Pay Attention to Verb tense
• Past tense: when things occurred at a
specific, definite time in the past
– The researchers studied 15 subjects in 1999.
• Present perfect tense: when things did
not occur at specific, definite time OR
occurred in the past and are still
– The researchers have been studying 15
subjects since 1999.
Use Consistent Point of View
First Person
I completed a meta-analysis of infectious disease trends in
Thailand. I found…
Third Person
The researchers discussed the outcomes of their study
Do NOT combine
The researchers discussed the outcomes of the study. We
concluded that…
APA says: “To avoid ambiguity, use a personal pronoun rather than the third
person when describing steps taken in your experiment” (APA, 2010, p. 69).
Make Your Writing Interesting
Syntax: the rules that govern sentence
structure in any given language; the way
words are put together to form a sentence
Mix it up!
Vary Syntax
The subjects had 15 minutes to take the
test. The subjects then had to seal the test
in an envelope. The subjects did this to
protect their anonymity. The subjects then
handed the envelope to the moderator.
No question about
what the subjects did
Not simple; simplistic.
Vary Syntax
The subjects had 15 minutes to take the
test. Once completed, the subjects sealed
their test in an envelope to protect their
anonymity and then handed the envelope
to the moderator.
It’s all about the variation:
Avoid several consecutive sentences that are
about the same length and structured in the
same way.
Love Your Verbs
A verb is active, vibrant, and full of meaning
Do not give your verb anything it does not need. Do not make it a noun. Do not hedge.
Does not have to be this:
The authors investigated
The authors conducted an investigation
It appears
It would appear
Do not dress up your verb.
Does not have to be this:
The model includes
The model does a well rounded job of including
The authors studied
The authors thoroughly studied
Love Your Verbs
Active Voice
According to APA (2010), “use the active rather
than the passive voice” (p. 77).
The passive voice is when you emphasize the object,
rather than the subject, of your sentence. Putting the
emphasis on the object is beneficial at times (like in
your Methods section) but too much use of the
passive voice can weaken your scholarly voice.
Use the Active Voice
Use lively, active sentences where the subject initiates
an action that affects the direct object. In other
words, put the subject of the sentence at the
beginning, immediately followed by an action verb.
Flip your sentences around.
Avoid linking verbs (“to be” verbs)
Passive Voice:
The apple was despised by William Tell.
Active Voice:
William Tell despised the apple.
Passive Voice:
The survey was conducted after school.
Active Voice:
The researchers conducted the survey
after school.
Keep it Simple
Circumlocution is basically a roundabout way
of saying what you want to say; using
several words to say something simple.
Instead of saying it like this:
“The participants in the study were 6 young people who have completed
three years of elementary education and are not living in an urban
Say it like this:
“The study will include 6 fourth grade students from a rural elementary
The Introduction
• Quick technical point:
“Because the introduction is clearly identified
by its position in the manuscript, it does
not carry a heading labeling it the
introduction” (APA, 2010, p. 27).
The Introduction
• The introduction DOES NOT have to be the first
thing you write.
• BUT, before you write it, know the answers to
the following:
– Why is your problem important?
– How does your research differ from what has already
been studied on your topic?
– What are the practical implications of your research?
– What are the theoretical implications of your
The First Paragraph
• Unless writing a short course paper, your
introduction will most likely be more than
one page.
• So what should come first?
The First Paragraph
We can’t use clichés and expressions
We can’t use metaphors and analogies
We can’t use adverbs and embellishment
We need to be concise
We need to be straightforward
How the heck are we supposed to write
anything worth reading?!
The First Paragraph
“Although scientific writing differs in form
from literary writing, it need not lack style
or be dull” (APA, 2010, p. 66).
Aim for interesting and compelling style
Aim for a tone that reflects your connection
to the social problem
As Your Reader
I want to care about what you wrote
I want to think you are smart
I want to enjoy reading what you wrote
I want to understand you
I want to agree with you
Who is Your Muse?
How do you satisfy all the picky demands of
a scientific reader?
Know Your Audience!
Be it your chair, your Form and Style Editor,
your peers, your grandmother, your pet cat
Who is Your Muse?
• Pick someone for whom you write:
– Visualize talking to that person about your
research and really wanting to impress him or
– Visualize that person reading your paper
– Write to impress
The Conclusion
Follow the same guidelines we established
for writing a strong introduction.
Remember your frame.
The Introduction
Here within the pages of the study the
researcher endeavored to elucidate the
quandary between what has been
perceived by the esteemed researchers
within this
outstanding field to be not an
increase, but a decrease, in the interest of
a younger generation of aspiring
professionals in the field nursing.
You Have the Final Say
• Your paper is meant to persuade the
reader of your point of view on your topic
– You have the final say
– You get to make the connections and expand
your reader’s view on the research
You Have the Final Say
• After every assertion that you make in
your conclusion, ask the “So What?”
• Synthesize; do not summarize
• Bring the reader back to the introduction,
but don’t re-state what you already said
• Indicate where the reader –and research–
should go from here
Helpful Resources
American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American
Psychological Association (6th edition). Washington, DC: Author.
Purdue University. (2009). Introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions for argument
papers. Retrieved November 10, 2009, from
The importance of the introduction and conclusion. (2007). Retrieved November 10,
2009, from
The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (2007). Conclusions.
Retrieved November 10, 2009, from