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How to Write the Opening Paragraph of a Research Paper on a Famous Person

by Christopher Cascio

Writing the introductory paragraph of a research paper about a celebrity is no different than any other research paper. The opening has two jobs: to hook the reader and state your thesis. Because your subject is famous, you have the challenge of contending with potential biases a reader has developed beforehand. However, you can also use this familiarity as an advantage, as famous subjects lend themselves to engaging narrative examples.

Start at the Heart

Whether you want to call it an example, an anecdote or a narrative, opening with a story about your subject is a excellent way to grab your reader's attention. Choose a story that illustrates the qualities you plan to examine about the person, qualities in accord with your thesis, or perhaps those that you plan to prove are commonly misunderstood. For example, if you're writing about an athlete who has been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, you might want to show how he has reacted belligerently to harsh media coverage. Perhaps you plan to show that his actions have been justified. Regardless, don't waste time explaining the situation. Start the story right at the crux, so the reader is immersed in the narrative.

Stay Out of the Way

You might be tempted to color the narrative to suit your needs, to explain your attitude about your subject during the narrative, but refrain from doing it. Such a move is called breaking the frame, and doing it takes your reader out of the story. Furthermore, it could hurt your credibility if the reader feels you are slanting facts for the benefit of your argument. Whenever using narrative examples, stick to the facts, and keep yourself removed from the story. You'll have plenty of time later to comment.

Transition Toward Purpose

As you wrap up your narrative, you can then comment on how the narrative relates to your attitude toward your subject. Here, for example, you can mention how the actions in the narrative have been interpreted, and the possible consequences of those interpretations. Here you are establishing the stakes of your paper as they relate to your subject. This is an appeal to pathos, or the emotions of your reader, because you want your reader to care about your subject one way or another. Guiding the reader in this way sets you up to state your thesis, which will attempt to capitalize on that emotional investment.

State Your Thesis

As with any mode of academic writing, the introduction culminates in a thesis statement. You've placed your reader in the world of your subject, and skillfully guided her toward a specific attitude regarding this person's situation. Now, you explicitly state your position and how you intend to prove it. For example, if you are proposing that this athlete is an innocent man who has been reacting justifiably to a media onslaught, you must say that, and then list the ways in which you plan to prove it. Ideally, you should limit your thesis statement to a single sentence, but a second sentence is permissible if you need the extra words to explain your methods.

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