Reversing to the Start

For me personally, the hardest part of writing any paper is writing the first few paragraphs. I get caught up in trying to find a starting place—do I start with an anecdote that somehow displays the significance of my research topic? Do I jump right in to findings of the research, and work my way backwards to how I got there in the rest of the paper? Do I give general background information, and move forward from there? There are a million and one ways to begin a writing piece, which is why, for many, choosing one that is appropriate for any given topic can be difficult.

Finding the right way to start can be especially difficult for independent work. I sat in front of my Junior Paper staring at a blank document, with only a title page and the honor code written out for days before writing a single word. I knew what I wanted the JP to look like as a whole—I’d outlined, researched, and thought about it for months. I could not, however, get more specific than “Intro” on my outline because that was the one area of writing I had not envisioned yet in my head. After a few days of frustration with my lack of progress, I decided to begin writing the bulk of my paper, and return to the introduction after writing as many other parts of the paper as I could. This method, I found, worked well.

After seeing the general shape that the rest of my Junior Paper was going to take, I was able to select a beginning that was appropriate for the tone of the writing piece as a whole. I chose to give an anecdote from my time spent in an HIV clinic in Guatemala, time that formed the basis of much of my JP. I was telling a personal story of being there and doing research, but used a formal, reliable tone because that was similar to how I wrote the rest of the paper: stories and conclusions from personal research, supported with evidence from anthropological literary works and outside sources.

I found this method of working backwards to be very effective, especially in getting the actual process of writing started. I no longer get hung up on writing the perfect introduction before everything else, but rather, write the paper and then choose the perfect introduction. If you, like me, only have your name, your adviser’s name, the due date, and the honor pledge written on your paper and don’t know where to start, I suggest this method. Reversing to the start may be just what you need to begin writing.

— Annie Woehling, Social Sciences Correspondent