Tag Archives: introduction


Tortoise Tuesday: The New York Times’ Morning Briefing

The New York Times’ Morning Briefing succeeds thanks to its writers’ deft skill with the art of introduction. Moreover, the briefing might be best described as a series of introductions, each leading the reader to one or more articles on a particular topic. Each section does what the best introductions do: presents the reader with a roadmap of the most important points in the overall news story. Furthermore, while the thesis is not always explicitly present in the Briefing section, unifying motives for all the links in each section usually are. They can be found in the titles of each section.

As an example, take one section from the Briefing published on Friday, November 3rd. Its title, “A Contradiction on Russia”, presents a contradiction, an excellent motivating move. From there the author hits on a series of key points that further elaborate on the motive. Within this framework the links embedded within the text of that section, read in the order presented, can be thought of as the body of the work.

The Morning Briefing’s tagline is “what you need to start your day.” Writers may find the same inspiration in the Briefing to discern what a reader needs to start their paper.

— Natalie Collina ’19

A contradiction on Russia.

• President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have both said that they didn’t know of anybody in the Trump campaign who had been in contact with Russians. Court documents unsealed this week suggest otherwise.

The documents also mentioned Sam Clovis, a former Trump campaign aide who was in the running for a senior position at the Department of Agriculture. On Thursday, he dropped out.

Today, Mr. Trump renewed his request that the Justice Department investigate the Democrats’ activity during the 2016 campaign, saying the American public “deserves it.”

Spring 2017

Spring 2017: Editor’s Note

Tortoise: A Journal of Writing Pedagogy is an annual journal that publishes excerpts of student scholarship from within the Princeton community. Showcasing writers from all disciplines and levels—both Princeton undergraduate and graduate students—we emphasize the writing process as much as its “finished” product.

Tortoise curates excerpts of exemplary academic writing with reflective commentaries on the research and writing methods underpinning the prose. Tortoise’s ambition is thus not only to share student writing with a wider audience but also to demonstrate how it works and how it was developed.

The Spring 2017 issue focuses on pieces that are “risk-taking”—works of academic writing that engage with the scholarly conversation in unconventional and surprising ways. From essays that consider against-the-grain arguments regarding Alice in Wonderland, to academic considerations of The Great British Bake Off and the video game Assassin’s Creed, Tortoise’s 2017 issue takes the reader on a journey that makes stops across the world map, all while using the analytical framework of a variety of disciplines. Within these digital pages, learn about subjects with contemporary relevance, ranging from the refugee crisis in Greece to local analysis of the inner workings of a Princeton dance troupe. While our range of risk-taking subjects is eclectic, all of our articles are paired with insights into why these pieces are model examples of academic writing. So strap on your harness, jump from the plane, and release your parachute when it’s time to return to Earth. Tortoise is ready for takeoff.


Characterization of the Pathogenicity of the MSH2 P640T Mutation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae

In a Tortoiseshell: The discussion, done as well as it is in Ramie’s Molecular Biology Core Lab paper, is a very exciting part of the scientific manuscript because it weaves together specific results into a model with broad implications and opportunities for future research. A logical structure and informative subheadings make the discussion easy to follow, while grounding in published literature gives credibility to Ramie’s explanations.

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Characterization of the Pathogenicity of the MSH2 P640T Mutation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae

In a Tortoiseshell: Ramie’s introduction, from his Molecular Biology Core Lab final paper, reveals the results of experiments seeking to understand the role of MSH2 protein in DNA Mismatch Repair (MMR). It is notable for Ramie’s careful handling of evidence, as he provides enough information to help the reader understand and appreciate the claims he will make later, when he discusses the results of his experiments, without overwhelming the reader with unnecessary details or leading us to false conclusions.

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“She Preferred it Sunk in the Very Element it Was Meant to Exclude”: Making Sense of Nature and Sisterhood in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping

In a Tortoiseshell: In the introduction to a Junior Paper on Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, the author sets up her argument by defining the subtle difference between Nature (capital N) and nature (lowercase n).  This exploration of key terms allows for a smooth transition into her thesis about existential and social questions and the separation of biological sisters.  

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Writing introductions is hard, and not just because it’s usually a battle against a blank page. In The Sound of Music it’s simple to start at the beginning. But an introduction actually asks a lot of a writer—an exciting hook, background information, introduction of key terms and ideas, one or more motives, and, eventually, a thesis.  The writer has a lot of ground to cover. She also has to capture the reader’s attention and convince her to stick along for the ride.

Students often ask about the conventions of an introduction.  Where should the thesis go?  Where should I put this background information, and how much is necessary?  How long should the introduction be?  Too often, these questions convey a misconception: That the introduction is simply something to get through before the real part of the essay begins. But an introduction isn’t just a dumping ground for background information and a single-line thesis at the end. Rather, it is in many ways the most important part of a paper. It marks the bona fide beginning, where critical elements of the essay are introduced: a motive, key terms, orientation, and a thesis.  Instead of thinking of these elements as distinct, the best introductions tie them together.  Orienting the reader means curating the background information that explains or justifies key terms and motive.  An introduction is a place for analysis and excitement, where every fact points to the future of the paper. It is the hard-boiled, condensed roadmap to the paper.

The essays in this section demonstrate the essence of introduction writing while also showcasing diversity.  In Katherine Raber’s lab report on a mangrove population, for example, the majority of the introduction is background information in the service of motive.  Katherine curates her information elegantly—she does not tell us everything she may know about mangroves; instead, she chooses facts that tie orientation and motive together.  Ramie Fathy’s lab report, “Characterization of the Pathogenicity of the MSH2 P640T Mutation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae,” demonstrates how a short literature review can also function as orientation (to a scholarly discourse) and motive (finding a gap in the conversation).  In his personal reflection on his writing process, Ramie explains how he imagined his introduction as a “pyramid” that gives the reader broad-to-specific background information in order to articulate his experiment.

Often at the Writing Center we read papers that veer towards the far ends of the spectrum:  those that dramatically reveal a thesis in the last few pages of the paper, and those that include the thesis in the first few sentences of the first paragraph.  It seems to us that this reflects an anxiety about the structure of an introduction.  Do you keep some tricks up your sleeve or reveal them right away?  We think, however, that theses should not just be a mic drop at the end of a three-page introduction.  Rather, “soft” references to the thesis can be placed all over the introduction, with each reiteration reflecting progress made in introducing orientation and key terms.

In this section, Lexi Tollefson’s essay demonstrates how to present a thesis two distinct times in an introduction without sounding repetitive.  She first articulates her thesis in her first paragraph, but it is a simple version.  After a few paragraphs in which she introduces key analytical terms and methods, her thesis reappears in a refined and complicated way—in a way that is all the more comprehensible to the reader because of its earlier appearance.  

As demonstrated in this section, an introduction can take many forms.  Between lab reports, classic humanities “close reading”-type papers, and an analytical philosophy paper, our editorial team tried to capture the essence of an introduction while showcasing it in many forms.