Introductions of Technical Documents Video

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  • 0:01 The Purpose of Introductions
  • 2:05 Writing Introductions
  • 2:35 Background Info
  • 4:41 Purpose Statement
  • 6:00 Conclusion Sentence
  • 6:51 Potential Problems in…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Suzanne Sweat

Suzanne has taught 12 years in the NC Public School System and three years at Campbell University. She has a master's degree in English Education.

Introductions are vital to helping your reader understand the context, purpose and structure of your document. This video explains the purpose and content of introductions in technical writing.

The Purpose of Introductions

While watching a morning news show recently, I saw a story that instantly captured my attention. The teaser asked, 'What will we do when there's no meat left to eat?' As a practicing carnivore, my interest was immediately piqued. According to the person being interviewed, we will need to switch our protein source by 2050 in order to avoid a major food shortage. The news story was the first time I had ever heard of this potential problem.

But the story's major news focus was on the alternative food sources, one of which was crickets. Apparently, crickets can be reproduced cheaply and ground up to create flour and other high protein cooking materials.

Now, if anyone had asked me before I had watched this story if I would eat crickets, my answer would be a resounding no! But by understanding that eating crickets may one day be the only way we avoid starvation, my view of the subject changed. Understanding the context of the subject helped me to see the need for new ideas.

In technical writing, the information provided in the introduction is vital to helping the reader see the need for the information being presented. It helps set the context for the topic being discussed in the document. Just as with the news story on potential meat shortages, introductions help the readers open their minds to the ideas you're presenting in your document.

Introductions provide a preview of the document's content, while explaining why the information is needed. Introductions acquaint the audience with the topic by introducing the background and explaining how this specific topic fits into the larger field of study.

Writing Introductions

When brainstorming how to write the introduction, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the purpose of the document?
  • Why should the document be read?
  • What background information does the reader need to know to understand the topic?
  • What makes this report different from other documents on this topic?

Being able to answer these questions will provide a good basis for what you should include in the introduction.

Background Info

The structure of the introduction helps lead the audience to a better understanding of your topic. If a random person came up to you and said crickets taste good in pancakes, would you know what that person was talking about or would you just think the person was crazy? You'd probably think the latter.

Without having any context for a discussion, people don't understand the topic. That's why the first step in writing the introduction is to provide some background information on the topic. This background information should include any of the following:

  • An explanation of why this document is needed
  • Historical information about the topic
  • Current research on the topic
  • Social or economic implications associated with the topic

The background information should provide a context for how your document fits into the larger body of work on the subject matter. This really helps establish the need for the report.

For example, if you are writing a document about the need for the development of a new space suit, you might write the following background information:

Space exploration is entering a new age. With the grounding of NASA flights, private companies are beginning to test space flights that will allow the general public to be passengers on space shuttles. There are already over 700 people who have purchased tickets for a space flight. The smaller shuttles and different clientele demand space suits that are less expensive and less bulky than those of the past.

Notice that the background information explains how the specific subject of space suits relates to the larger topic of space flights. Understanding the changing space flights helps explain the need for the new suits, thus introducing the context for the document's subject.

Purpose Statement

Once you've set the context, you need to write a clear purpose statement for your document. The purpose statement should explain what the document intends to do. Will you be providing research? Will you be comparing different ideas? Will you be explaining how to do something?

A purpose statement should be written as a declarative sentence that states the topic and desired outcome of the document. You should use specific language in explaining your purpose. The verb you use will help pinpoint your purpose. Are you going to describe, assess, evaluate, explain, instruct or something else? Explaining your purpose will help readers understand the goals of the document. A sample purpose statement for the introduction I've started might be:

This document will evaluate different space suits designed to determine the most cost effective and user-friendly option.

Notice the sentence clearly states what the document will do - evaluate different suits. The language focuses on a specific goal, which gives the reader a clearer picture of the subject of the document.

Conclusion Sentence

Finally, you need to include a sentence at the end of your introduction that will project what you will discuss in the body of your document and who your intended audience is. This sentence helps outline the structure of the document. The following is an example of this type of sentence:

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