Heard this one? “Start with an introduction….”.... (continued below)
Introducing your Nonfiction Manuscript
By Bruce L. Cook
Heard this one? “Start with an introduction….”
That’s an obvious truth. But is it?
Try this again… When you write a nonfiction article or book, it’s very important to start by introducing the subject.
In recent years I’ve been privileged to review several nonfiction articles and books and I find one surprising problem. Almost all of them fail to introduce what they are about.
Typically, I find articles that begin with something like this.Sentence 1: This article/book explains (acronym, little known terms) …… Sentence 2: The analysis includes ……. (methodology).
Even if the piece includes a preface, the first sentences need to explain what the book or article is about.
For me, it’s not enough to just name the topic in a sentence. In doing this, it’s also essential to explain why the topic is important.
Sentence 1: This article presents three alternative approaches to the study of structuralism.
Such a beginning may pique the interest of some readers. In this case, most readers just “tune out” and find something else to peruse.
A better example…This article presents three alternative approaches to the study of structuralism. Generally speaking, structuralism refers to a search of some overarching principle that explains observed phenomena.
In one case, involving the psychologist Jean Piaget and the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, structuralism has a focus on elements that remain the same during transformation. In this way, the analysis shifts from focus on change itself. Instead, it attempts to explain phenomena in relation to elements that do not change.
Supposedly, the one-sentence introduction saves work for a writer who is convinced that everyone will instantly recognize the value of the work.
However, the one-sentence intro fails in two main areas.
First, it fails to separate the subject from similar subjects. For example, while structuralism is important in psychology and social anthropology, the study in the example above may well have no relationship with other kinds of structuralism – for example, cell structure and function, or mathematical structuralism.
Second, the one-sentence version reduces the readership to just those who have an existing interest in structuralism. However, it’s important for writers (and publishers) to realize that many readers might be interested to know about such an interesting topic. They would be readers (or buyers) of the book.
The requirement to introduce a subject is one of the most basic of guidelines for nonfiction writers. However, it has been surprising to realize that so many new writers tend to ignore this basic truism.
So, here it is again for the record:
In nonfiction, start at the beginning. Introduce what you are about to say.
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