My Standard Template for Book Introduction Chapters

A baby has awakened me at 2am and for some reason I now feel the need to offer you my standard template for book introduction chapters.

First, a caveat: you do not *have to* structure your intro this way. This is merely a tool that may be useful if your current draft isn’t working or you have no idea where to start. I can’t stress this enough. You do you.

Another caveat: I’m sure some ppl think using a formulaic structure = stultifying, but I don’t. Just bc you give readers an expected structure doesn’t mean the content of what you say has to be predictable. In fact, structure that doesn’t show off can allow the content to shine.

Last set of caveats: the page lengths are just approximate suggestions. Not all of the bullet points need their own section headings; you can combine these sections however makes sense for you.

A hand uses a wrench to tighten a bolt on a set of interlocking gears. Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels.

Ok here’s the template for your book intro:

▪️opening anecdote/hook (~1–3pp)

▪️statement of main thesis + why it matters (~1–2pp)

▪️conceptual background (~6–12pp)

▪️background on research site/objects (~6–12pp)

▪️research methods (~1–3pp)

▪️outline of chapters (~2–3pp)

The opening anecdote/hook should be something that will make readers care about what you have to say. Imagine a reader who is not already motivated to learn about your topic. What’s your go-to story when you explain your research to someone outside your field? It can be short!

The statement of your main thesis is key. Give away the big idea driving your book right here. Then tell the reader why it’s important in the real world. Don’t be vague. Don’t worry about all the nuances and sub-arguments yet. (See this if you need help.)

The conceptual background is *not* a literature review. You’ll probably cite other scholars here but you’re not summarizing their work. You’re telling the reader what they need to know in order to appreciate the new knowledge/theory you’re going to drop in the body chapters.

The background on your site/objects is also about getting your reader up to speed so they’re equipped to understand the novel data/analysis in your body chapters. This might include historical, political, or cultural context in addition to straight description of your site.

I’ve definitely seen people combine the two background sections into one, braiding the conceptual background with the historical background for example. That works if you can do it elegantly.

Include an outline of chapters or don’t. If you do, use it to give away the arguments of the body chapters and to show how they relate to, build on, and/or push back against each other and the main thesis. Feel free to cut & paste from your book proposal’s annotated ToC.

I think it’s nice to end with a final paragraph that brings readers back to the real world and the stakes of your project as a set-up for the body chapters to come. Bonus points for you if you can pull this off.

(This content began life as a Twitter thread. There might be some helpful info in the replies if you want to check them out.)