Section 1.2

Introductions

The requirements of an introduction are fairly consistent across various types of business documents. The introduction should help the reader understand what will be covered in the body of a document (i.e., everything between the introduction and the conclusion) and should contain your thesis, or main idea. If you can’t express that main idea in a sentence or two, you should keep thinking, writing, and rewriting until you can. This holds true whether you are composing a business letter, a proposal, or any other type of document.

Many people are diligent about trying to convey their main point, but then neglect a critical second purpose of an introduction: to engage the reader. Upon finishing your introduction, your reader should want to continue reading! Now, engaging readers is not an easy task, and your success at it depends on a number of factors: clear, dynamic word choice; streamlined, readable sentences; a logical flow of ideas; and careful consideration of what your reader already knows or wants to know. These issues will be addressed in more detail as you continue through this book.

How long is a good introduction? There is no official minimum or maximum, though the typical introduction consists of no more than a paragraph. In some cases — for example, in complex reports — the introduction may extend to a few paragraphs, but the vast majority of openings can be confined to a single paragraph consisting of roughly two to five sentences. The precise length depends in part on the projected length of the entire document and on the nature and complexity of the content you need to introduce.

Some people write their introduction last, after they have completed a draft of their document. Other people find it more productive to write a working introduction first. Then, once they have finished a full draft, they return to the introduction and revise it. Regardless of your approach, you will probably find it necessary to revise your introduction multiple times before it describes the point of your document in a concise, clear, and interesting way.

Below are some of the most common weaknesses afflicting introductions. Look for them as you revise.

  • The introduction is too broad.

If an introduction is too general, it won’t be useful to the reader. Make sure your introduction is specific enough (though not excessively so) that your reader will understand what you are trying to say. Your opening shouldn’t be broader in its scope than the content covered in the body.

  • The introduction is too narrow.

The introduction should act as a kind of thematic umbrella for the body of your document. If the body includes ideas that do not truly fit under this thematic umbrella, then you will need to keep rewriting until there is a match. That doesn’t mean your introduction has to list every topic you will be discussing; it just means that those topics should fit inside the larger theme or themes you present in that opening.

  • The introduction consists primarily or entirely of details.

For example, if you were writing a memo about why your company needed to change stationery vendors, your introduction could not consist solely of an anecdote regarding a recent problem you had with a paper-clip order. That example could perhaps serve as an interesting hook to begin your introduction, but you would still need to include a thesis that clarified your document’s larger purpose.