The Start

Sometimes the best way to get started on a paper is to imagine — i.e., draft — your introduction. Don’t overthink this. And don’t spend too much time worrying and working on it. Just do it. You will need to write three paragraphs. For each of them, spend a few minutes at the end of the day deciding what you will say (construct the key sentence) and 27 minutes the next day writing what you know about it (composing the paragraph).

Let the first paragraph evoke a world for your reader. Make it the familiar world in which we live, but focus your paragraph on the processes, practices, or people that your research is about. In the social sciences, our research normal intersects with everyday concerns and in this paragraph you only need to establish that connection, using your knowledge to paint an interesting picture of where we are. Work on it for 27 minutes. Take a three minute break and go with your day.

The next day, write about your discipline, the state of your field. Focus on a the underlying consensus or controversy that constitutes your research community. Make it recognizable to ten or twenty peers whose names you know and whose work your familiar with. Address yourself to a stable, familiar “we”. What do we think about the world you evoked yesterday? What expertise are you going to bring to bear upon it? Invoke that science in 27 minutes and take a three-minute break.

On the third day, write a paragraph that provokes a particular thought in the mind of the reader. State your conclusions. “This paper shows that…” you might begin. Make sure that it’s something that makes a contribution to both the world you have evoked and the science you have invoked. Imagine those ten or twenty peers raising an eyebrow, perking up a little. Then use that attention to explain how you will show it. Summarize your methods, your analysis, and you discussion. “This paper show that … It is based on … The results reveal … This has implications for …” Another 27 minutes of writing. Another three-minute break.

Finally, write a paragraph that asserts your conclusion. You might simply remove the words “This paper shows that” from the key sentence of that previous paragraph, which should leave you with a declarative sentence that states your result. Draw the substance of your paragraph from your analysis. That is, base your assertion on your data. Write the strongest statement of your conclusion you are capable of. Imagine the friendliest and most knowledgeable reader you can. This is how you would say it to yourself or your co-author.

You’re well on your way! These paragraphs will of course need to be written. But it’s time to establish a discipline now, a regular rhythm in which you produce orderly paragraphs, one at a time. Take a moment to consider the journey.

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