Last updated on October 27, 2021
Sometimes starting a paper feels like the hardest part, especially you when have a lot of information in your head you just want to get down on paper. To simplify the process, I almost always give my students the following template for writing a basic introduction to any research paper:
Paragraph 1: Contextualize the issue, end with the last sentence giving the research question and/or thesis statement
Paragraph 2: Explain how you’re going to answer this question, give some details about what method you’ll be using
Paragraph 3: Explain why the reader should care. What are the implications in terms of knowledge development, theory, and/or policy
Here’s an example from my first publication ever (Rippeyoung 2007)*:
“The image that comes to mind when one thinks of the radical right wing can be off-putting. Oftentimes people envisage angry and violent skinheads beating up ethnic minorities in Germany or Klansmen burning crosses on the lawns of African American families. However unsettling to examine, understanding the far right is essential in ending the racially motivated violence that comes out of these political movements. Because the angry, young male is the salient image of these movements, one wonders if women are truly less likely to join them and if so, why. Understanding why there is a gendered gap in far-right support is important if we want to fully understand what motivates people to support these groups. My research attempts to add to the growing body of literature on far-right women by assessing the ways in which women’s values and their occupational location influence their support of the far right relative to men. I bring together two main streams of research examining gender differences in support of far right political parties to argue that the gender gap in voting has less to do with values than with occupational sector.
“To do this, I have chosen to look specifically at women who support far right-wing populist political parties in Western Europe.1 Gaining access to radical right-wing supporters is particularly difficult in North America as one often needs to gain direct access to the rather private people involved in the movements. In Europe, because there are viable political parties that represent these views, these supporters are somewhat easier to access through survey data based on questions regarding who the subjects plan to vote for. However, the party platforms in Western Europe have many similarities to the views advocated by the right wing in North America and can, therefore, provide more general insights into why women support the far right.
“Should women support the far right for the same reasons as men do, our current theoretical explanations for mobilization in general will apply to women. The implications of this will be that theorizing on women should shift away from difference approaches in the study of gender. In this case, then, we would need to see that the appeals to family are just as significant for men as they are for women, and that women are as concerned about economic issues as are their male peers. However, if men and women differ in what draws them to these movements, the gender theories of women’s involvement will continue to apply and the general explanations should then acknowledge the gender differences when discussing all group members. Further, if there is an interest in ameliorating some of the destabilizing consequences of far-right extremism, as discussed by Blee (1996), appeals that would draw people away from these groups will differ for men and women.”
* note: I cheated and lumped the first two paragraphs in the actual published version into the first paragraph here… you live, you learn.
This can also be shrunk into one paragraph if necessary per journal requirements or if you’re short on space, as my co-author Laurel Falconi and I did here in our paper on lesbian moms’ experiences of breastfeeding (Rippey & Falconi 2016):
“The medical literature is rich with studies documenting the benefits of breastfeeding for infants, families, and society at large, mostly focusing on the health benefits of nursing for infants and mothers and the negative impact of used formula tins and plastic bottles on the environment (for a review, see American Academy of Pediatrics, 2012). However, there is far less social science research and theory examining the ways in which breastfeeding is related to constructions of gender and sexual orientation. Breastfeeding is deemed “natural” because this form of nurturing is carried out through women’s bodies, therefore, rarely is it problematized as gendered or related to heteronormative institutions. However, we argue that breastfeeding has an underexamined yet complex role to play within the construction of one’s gender, sexual, and motherhood identities. Through qualitative interviews and a brief survey with mothers and their partners in six self-identified lesbian-parent families (defined here as families in which there are parents who identify as women who love women), we explore the ways in which breastfeeding shapes and is shaped by identity and challenges assumptions about what is inherently natural.”
See how we squeezed into one short paragraph? We got in the context (sentence 1), the gap in the literature (sentence 2), summary of the arguments in the literature (sentence 3), our argument (sentence 4), how we’re going to answer it and our research question (sentence 5). Sweet!
Note too, that each of these examples doesn’t perfectly match the framework I gave at the top. None of the “rules” on this site are hard rules but just a suggestion for where to start. Sometimes the flow of the writing will work better in a slightly different order. But, if you are struggling to know how to begin, just use the formula and you can find your own way to do it as you get more experience writing.
Rippeyoung, Phyllis L. F. 2007. “When Women are Right: The Influence of Gender, Work and Values on European Far-Right Party Support.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 9(3):379-397.
Rippey, Phyllis L. F. and Laurel Falconi. 2016. “A Land of Milk and Honey? Breastfeeding and Identity in Lesbian Families.” 2016. Journal of GLBT Family Studies 13(1):16-39.