Sunday, July 26, 2009

Thoughts on academic intros

I have a question I thought I'd ask - what do you think makes a good academic introduction? Obviously clarity, ability to convey what the book is about, etc., but I'm wondering what intros any of you thought particularly worked well. Short and sweet? A little meatier? To anecdote or not to anecdote? I've been reading around a lot in intros of books I particularly like (not necessarily in my topic, but just well-written) and I've begun to formulate a sense of what I like in an intro. And given the fact that most people will just be reading the intro to my book (or glancing through it to see if what I'm saying will be helpful to them) and maybe a chapter or two I've written on a text that interests them, I think this is a critical, though woefully unsung, part of the project. It also might be the section that the readers end up giving me the most help on...

For example, I tend to be a fan of the short anecdote or illustrative example at the beginning of books. I've reviewed books - one in particular - that drew the reader in with a very salient, interesting reading of a specific historical example/phenomenon and then opened it up from there. I found this to be very effective. I'm thinking of beginning with two textual examples from completely unrelated sources (and centuries for that matter) because they illustrate different facets of my argument - juxtaposing them seems to do an interesting kind of work and I think it will provide a nice entree into the book proper. What are your thoughts on this?

By the way, somehow I've ended up with two pristine copies of Helen Cooper's "The English Romance in Time" (Oxford UP 2004) - if anyone wants it, I'm happy to give you my extra copy! Just shoot me an email...

8 comments:

squadratomagico said...

I use the provocative anecdote strategy quite frequently as well, though in my book I ended up not doing that in the intro (though I did for several chapters). I did, however, have what I thought was a dynamite first line. The sentence had occurred to me years earlier, and at first I wasn't entirely sure how to build on it --- but I KNEW immediately that I would begin the book with it.
In general, I think it's really important to have an introduction that draws the reader in. Perhaps this is because when I assess whether or not I want to purchase a book I'm not sure about, I usually do read the first few pages in order to see what the author's style is like, whether I like the voice, whether the person seems to approach things in a way I enjoy. Others may do the same thing from a different starting point, I suppose, but I look at the beginnings of books. So, I think it pays off to make them compelling.

Audie said...

Ohhh...I would totally paypal you some moolah for that book! :-)

medieval woman said...

Sq, I can totally see you doing the awesome opening line and/or the interesting anecdote!

Audie, I'm happy to send it along - just shoot me an email (medievalwoman1@gmail.com)!

Notorious Ph.D. said...

"Since the beginning of history..."

(sorry: couldn't resist)

Susan said...

Anecdote if you can, great opening line, something that makes the subject alive to someone who hasn't lived with it as long as you have. You want them to want to read.

Flavia said...

Yep: I like the anecdote, or provocative example, or bold statement, or something otherwise hook-y. I do NOT like the "Scholars have long debated the importance of. . . ", which I think is basically our version of "Since time began. . ."

(And hey: am looking forward to seeing you in a few days! we can commiserate then.)

Bavardess said...

"It was a dark and stormy night"?

I am a fan of the anecdote - something with a bit of drama to hook the reader, and which illustrates in miniature some of the major themes in the book. I like your idea of two examples from different periods.

I also like an introduction that helps me visual the structure of the book's overall argument.

Shamoosh said...
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