Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Second Approximations

The ideal introduction to a paper consists of three paragraphs. With 200 words to a paragraph, that's about 600 words. More importantly, with 6 sentences to a paragraph, that's about 18 sentences. Let's agree that the sentences in the introduction should be true. And let's suppose that you're happy with your introduction at present, i.e., you've done as much work on it as you intend to do for now. What's next?

Well, you could just go straight to he remaining sections of the paper (theory, method, results, etc.). But here's something else you could try. (Remember you said that the sentences in your introduction are true; so you must know why they are true, right?) Decide where each of the 15 sentences that support the 3 key sentences of your introduction are themselves supported in the body of the paper. If you're writing a paper according to my ideal image of one, the five supporting sentences of the first paragraph each need a paragraph of support in the "background" section. The five supporting sentences of the second paragraph need (at least) five paragraphs in the theory section. There will be two or three sentences about your method in the third paragraph, and one or two about about your results. There will also be a sentence about the "implications".

Write the methods sections as support for the claims you make about your method in the introduction. The sentence about the results can now be the key sentence of the opening paragraph of your results sections. Each of the supporting sentences become the key sentences of five or six paragraphs elaborating your results. You can "unfold" them one more time (or just some of them) if you choose. The sentence about the implications can work the same way in your "discussion" or "recommendations" section.

The whole point here is that your introduction really sets up the rhetorical problem of the paper. The paper solves that problem. And the relevant difficulty is always that of supporting your claims. So you should always, as a second approximation (after first approximating your temporal resources), try to articulate 20 or 30 claims to support.

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