In academic writing, and all writing, the goal of the author is to keep the reader’s attention. Lose the reader at the beginning, and you lose the opportunity to share your analysis and insights. That’s why it is so important to begin your article with a hook, or an explanation of what your paper is going to be about.
I review many papers where I can’t identify a thesis statement until several pages into the body of the paper. In these instances, the author might make allusions to a thesis or drop a hint or two. Yet, there is no clear statement of what the paper is about and why it is important. This sort of writing can be frustrating to a reader who doesn’t want to be kept in the dark about their reading material.
Generally, one of the following writing flaws prevents a writer from communicating the thesis early on in the paper:
Too much background information about the topic, too early in the paper. You will of course provide background information, but you do not need to provide very much before sharing your thesis. It’s a distraction to the reader, who is left to guess what purpose this background information serves. Explain your thesis first, and the purpose of the background information becomes much more clear.
Window dressing. You devote paragraphs to situating your work in a larger debate, but you do this in the wrong section of your paper. The reader should not hear from too many different authors before they hear from you. I think some of the most obvious examples of this occur when authors are very explicitly building on a particular theory or theorist, and feel as if they must prove mastery of the theory before they can say anything in their own voice. It’s not necessary to explain everything Foucault thinks about governmentality before you share your argument concerning governmentality.
It’s fair to say that an academic article or book should not use the same techniques as a mystery novel. So don’t keep your reader in suspense. Be upfront about what your work is about and why it matters. Some writers, especially inexperienced writers, may believe that they are drawing the reader in when they hold off on revealing the thesis. Writers, this is not what you are doing.
Think of writing the way you think of embarking on a trip. You always know your destination before you settle in for the ride. Knowledge of where you’re going doesn’t make the journey any less exciting. So let your reader know early on where they’ll find themselves at the end of the paper.