Elements of an Effective Introduction

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Elements of an Effective Introduction

After the executive summary (which we will study in another lesson), the introduction is probably the most important part of the report. Busy readers may only read this section. The introduction must do five things: (1) it provides background to the situation; (2) it identifies the problem; (3) it argues that the problem needs to be solved; (4) it summarizes the solution; (5) it establishes the writer’s credibility. It must demonstrate that the writer has good will, knowledge of the scope and complexity of the issue, and a thoughtful solution to it.

You might consider using all or some of the following eight elements. (From Joseph Williams, personal communication, spring 1992):

• Definition of the topic – Let the reader know the paper is about and define key terms.
• Historical understanding of the topic – Let the reader know the background and what people have wrongly believed about the topic in the past.
• Current understanding of the topic – Let the reader know what people wrongly believe now about the topic.
• Refutation of any of the above – Hint at the reasons these understandings are wrong.
• A statement of the problem – State the problem in a clear thesis.
• Negative consequence(s) if is not solved – What bad things will happen if the problem isn’t solved?
• Positive consequence(s) if it is solved – What good things will happen if the problem is solved?
• A hint at the solution(s) – Very briefly tell the reader how the problem can be solved.

Which of the eight elements is in the following introduction? If some are missing, where might they be added? Would they be necessary? Why or why not?

Nitrates are salts of nitric acid that can cause a disease called methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome) in infants. Excessive consumption of nitrates can cause hemoglobin problems in adults.
Nitrates are filtering through the ground and contaminating local wells and drinking water systems. Sources of nitrates include nitrogen fertilizers (commercial and residential), breakdown of manure, and human wastes in septic effluent.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a mandatory standard level of 10 parts per million (ppm) under the Safe Water Drinking Act passed by Congress. Presently, several are wells have been shut down or are very near to exceeding EPA limits. Consequently, the surrounding communities of Whiting and Plover are left with the problem of finding a new adequate water supply.
After examining three alternative solutions, we feel that the most economical solution to this serious health problem, the solution that would benefit both the city of Stevens Point and the villages of Whiting and Plover, would be for the city to annex the villages.

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