Monday, November 2, 2009

Now, alduce me to introlow myslef.

Book introductions! What the hell are they? What goes in them? What should they do? What sort of structure should they have? What do you, personally, like to see in introductions, provided it's not too naughty? Or silly ---- I never do silly.

Since nobody made me write an introduction to the dissertation, I didn't. And now I have the feeling that I need one, probably somewhere near the beginning of the diss book manuscript. I'm thinking that it needs to be something other than a compendium of Monty Python quotes or the words "why yes, this is an introduction" copy-and-pasted into the document 1,000 times. Thoughts?

The initial reread of my manuscript is moving right along, by which I mean it is a slow and horrible process which is not made any easier by the fact that I have a short (good! heavily revised and completely reorganized!) article version and a long (sucky! random! endlessly burbling!) dissertation version of chapter 2. I will inform you of my progress, and process, at greater length in a later post. This post is all about my nonexistent introduction which I would like you to write for me to give me some advice about.

I want to 1) finish my initial manuscript reread, 2) make some plans for revisions and a rough timeline and 3)write a draft of my introduction (and maybe also put something together to contact presses for MLA, potentially) this month as part of InaDWriMo, the International Dissertation Writing (or Academic Writing) Month, as seen here and previously participated in by yours truly here, but I have no idea how long an introduction should be or how to do a daily count to keep track of all this crap. Any suggestions?

Right now, however, I am tired out and will go back to watching Monty Python episodes, like this one quoted in my title. Hmm, why yes, this sketch sounds exactly like the chapter I am reading!

Anyways, offer some advice and then come watch Monty Python with me. Oh, and bring chocolate. As long as it's not Crunchy Frog.


Tree of Knowledge said...

I think that Judith Butler writes wonderful introductions. They set out her main argument, but fairly directly and straightforward as compared to the chapters. So if you get the intro, you get her basic argument. I also like intros that set up the chapters.

Academic book intros seem hard to write since you know going in that academics read intros to decide what they should read in the rest of the book.

But I'm working on the lit review portion of my diss prospectus right now and am writing myself in circles. So I feel your pain, but would love to be on your side of the pain.

And thanks for the Monty Python break; I needed that.

Feminist Avatar said...

I am a historian so I am not sure how applicable my advice is- but when I came to write my book intro, I very 'scientifically' looked at a series of other similar history books and then listed what they wrote in terms of themes and copied the structure (Incidentally this is also what Bernard Cornwall the historical bestseller did when he started out- only he did for the whole book). So, most history books intros go: historiography of the subject, section locating this work within that historiography (what's it doing), information on sample (region, demographics, etc) which could otherwise be known as how to help other people compare your work to other work, info on the source and sometimes a justification of why that source is so fab or detailed methodology of how you used it (esp, if your source is non-traditional or you are using it in non-traditional ways)- see above about usefulness when doing comparisons, and finally a section which details how the book is structured and what's in each chapter.

medieval woman said...

I'm doing this the easy way and sending you a link to my post on this back in July or something: - Squadrato and others had some good comments! My advice? Read the Intros of others and find a structure and presentation of your argument that you like - that helped me tons!

Dr. Crazy said...

If it makes you feel better, even if you HAD written an intro to the diss, you'd probably need to scrap it and write a new intro for the book. In other words, yay you for not writing an intro you'd have to throw out!

Anonymous said...

I recommend Craig Dworkin's introduction to Reading the Illegible as a model. (If it's not there, maybe it was in his original dissertation? But I think it's in the book.)

They probably shouldn't always be that much fun, but I would think it could be fun to write an introduction, until you get bogged down in the mandatory redundancy of summarizing your chapters. There must be a way to do that that doesn't involve plodding abstracts of the content. Maybe assign them personae? "Chapter 3 serves as the sphinx to the Oedipus of Chapter 2..."

Susan said...

I also think it works well to start an intro with something that gives a sense of your basic problem: "Here's a place where we see 18th C nosepicking in action. What's going on here". (Not the new historicist model, but something that shows the problem before you tell us how you will address it.) THen you can talk about other scholarship on nosepicking and why your approach is different, and tell us the story you will be telling...

Lucky Jane said...

Whuh? You were not forced to write an intro? Well, I guess I wasn't, either.

For what it's worth, I wrote my intro last. Then I rewrote the, um, rest of the dissertation. Most of my revisions to the intro were excisions. My book made more excisions and added a conclusion.

I've often heard that the worst thing an advisor can do is to advise the dissertator to write the intro first. The intro should be the entrance into the stately mansion/zany funhouse of your book. The best intros I've read use the intro not to summarize the book, but to set up the stakes for the book's argument—as Susan points out, what conceptual/intellectual problem does this book solve?—and then to sketch out the arc of that argument.

Though no one forced me to write an intro, I'm sure someone on my committee would have done so if I didn't. One thing my advisor did insist on was that the argument be evident in each chapter, which should have its own introduction that suggests its place in the book's sequence of argument.

This stuff worked for me. Good luck with yours. It looks to me you've received a lot of good advice and encouragement already.