The importance of the Introduction in all forms of exposition is that it prepares the reader to receive, with the greatest economy of effort, what the writer intends to present. Reports, like any form of exposition, attempt to make information and ideas clear and convincing. The Introduction permits you to launch immediately into the task of relating your readers to the subject matter of the report. Specifically the Introduction makes clear the precise subject to be considered, indicates the reasons for considering the subject, and lays out the organization and scope of the report. This is where you tell the reader what you plan to tell and why and how you will tell it.
The Introduction should focus your readers' attention on the subject to be treated. It should enable them to approach the body of the report naturally and intelligently.
Your prospective readers and subject material will influence both your point of view in writing the Introduction and the amount of material you use. The union of reader and subject must be achieved with a firm, but not heavy, hand. Readers should never be confused, unpleasantly surprised, or disappointed with what they are told throughout the report.
This chapter considers the relation of the Introduction to the rest of the report, describes the functions of the Introduction, and discusses its style and length.
The Introduction makes clear how the body of the report will develop. For example, it answers these questions: Were data produced and analyzed and the results summarized? Were conclusions drawn? Was there an initial theoretical model? Or was there a subsequent analytical model? Did the data create a new understanding? Is the report only an analysis? Are comparisons made?
The style and order of thinking, or logical arrangement, in the Introduction should be consistent with those in the main body of the report.
The first function of the Introduction is to identify immediately and unmistakably the exact subject of the report. What is going to be considered in the report? It is necessary to define and bound the subject in order to guard against misunderstanding. For example, a report dealing with the effect on combustion efficiency of a single design idea tried through six modifications in a turbojet combustor should not pose as a report on combustion, nor on turbojet combustors, nor yet on the effect of turbojet combustor design on performance. What the reader must know is that the report describes the effect of such-and-such a design idea on the combustion efficiency of a turbojet combustor—no more, no less.
A second, and equally important, function of the Introduction is to state clearly the reasons for discussing the particular subject. Just why was the report written? It should indicate the importance of the subject to the reader, relate the report to previous and similar work, and make clear your objective.
The importance of the subject will vary widely in NASA reports. Putting the subject matter in its proper perspective requires a broad knowledge both of the state of the discipline (including pertinent literature) and of the readers who will use the report. It also calls for finesse in writing. Some of you have seen your supervisors struggle with your writing to try to introduce this matter of perspective. Most Glenn reports are incremental bits of information to a field of knowledge; all too often this information can barely stand alone. The danger here is misuse of the data through overgeneralization. On the other hand, it is equally wrong to report factual information with no effort to point out such significance as it may have in its field or related fields. There is a narrow course between overgeneralization and noncommunication.
The extent to which background is given depends largely on the type of paper being written. Often a few key references are available to tie the new work to what preceded it and to the few studies that it touches immediately and directly. Summary papers that establish stepping stones in the advance of a field help relate increments to the background. The occasional major paper that starts a new field demands a broad perspective from the author in relating the new field to other fields and in relating the new field properly to aerospace.
The purpose that you express in the Introduction must be shaped by consideration of your readers. Why should they read the report? What good will it do them?
A third primary function of the Introduction is to lay out the organization that will be followed in the report. Just how is your subject going to be discussed? Give your readers a look at what lies ahead; furnish them an itinerary.
Also your readers should know at the outset the scope and limitations of the work. For example, if design features for a high-performance rocket engine are to be reported, it is important whether the work was done in 100-, 10 000-, or 100 000-lb thrust engines and what propellants and chamber pressures were used. Describe special theories, new or unusual procedures, unique equipment or ideas, anything that contributes to the uniqueness of the subject, so that your readers can orient the report to their special interests and needs.
When the place or places where the research was conducted are not adequately designated on the title page or cover, they may be designated in the Introduction (or in the Apparatus section). The Introduction should mention unusual aspects of a report, such as a film, videotape, microfiche, or computer program supplement, a supplementary report, or an appendix prepared by another author. Use of dates in the Introduction is generally necessary only when a long delay in reporting is encountered or where publication is in a highly competitive field of research and a scoop or patent is involved.
The Introduction may vary in style quite widely within certain bounds. The limits imposed are that the language be clear, direct, and accurate. Within these limits you are free to exercise your art. Indeed you must exercise it if the needs of your readers are to be fulfilled. The task is rendered fairly easy in that the Introduction is not highly formalized. Its three primary functions should not be reeled off in 1-2-3 order, "The subject is . . ," "The purpose is . . ," "The organization and scope are . . ." Instead they should be built into a few paragraphs of expository writing in a style that will be both pleasant to read and unmistakably clear.
One outstanding rule for the style of the Introduction is to construct the first, or theme, sentence so that attention is deftly, decisively, and immediately focused on the precise subject to be treated and, if possible, on the method of approach. Again, keep your readers' viewpoint uppermost in mind. The ease of writing this sentence is in direct proportion to the clarity of the subject being presented. Where you have a clean-cut, definite accomplishment to report, the theme can be stated easily. But if the work has wavered and wobbled and wandered and there is scarcely a definite piece of information to be gleaned from it, the theme can be stated only with great difficulty, if at all. These remarks about the ease or difficulty of writing a striking first sentence apply to the entire Introduction and even to the entire report. Keep that in mind as you plan and conduct your research.
Many find the Introduction difficult to write. All these requirements may seem to make it even more difficult. The best way to write it is to become familiar with the report matter, plan what to put in the Introduction, and then start writing. Try to explain the story to be told in the report: what it is about, why it is being told, and how it will be told. Seclude yourself from interruptions and write continuously—go with the creative flow. Then criticize and revise your work. You may need to rewrite the Introduction and the theme sentence several times.
Because you are writing for readers who will have some reason for using your report, good background on your potential readers is obviously desirable. As you work and grow in a field, learn about others in the field—what they have done and are doing and what they have published. Also build sufficient background about your field and related fields so that you know almost by instinct what work is needed in it and what is not, what is timely and important and what is not, what is new and what is not, and what will earn you and NASA respect and appreciation and what will not.
About 200 to 300 words is the usual length of an Introduction—a page, more or less. The length really depends on how much background must be given, and that depends on the kind of report. In major papers on new ideas the Introduction may be several pages long. If considerable amounts of background information must be included for your readers, try moving it from the Introduction to a separate section of the report (e.g., entitled "Theory").Questions on policies and procedures should be directed to Natalie Henrich, (216) 433-5301.
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