Historical Writing Project

Good and Bad Writing -- Exercises in Evaluating Writing Samples

Good Introduction Paragraphs

Marshall, S. L. A. World War I. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2001.

Great introduction and narration.

Pg. 7—In the Bosnian town of Sarajevo on the morning of June 28, 1914, a chauffeur misunderstood his instructions, made the wrong turn, tried too late to correct his blunder, and so doing delivered his passengers to a point where a waiting assassin did not have to take aim to gun them down.
Two rounds from one pistol and the world rocked. The crime was the small stone that, loosened, brings the avalanche. There followed four years of universal violence. Millions met untimely death. Many mistaken instructions, wrong turnings, and belated tries to redress error went into the making of World War I. The ambush of an Austrian couple was the precipitating incident.
This book is about that crime and what came from it. It tells why the killers killed and how it happened that the tragedy did not end there. The players and the performance at Sarajevo are the beginning of the tale to be unfolded. Intrigue, violence, and death color the scene. They also mark the larger story to the finish. But for murder at Sarajevo there might never have been a war. Men can speculate to the contrary. They cannot know.

Pg. 275—As Imperial Russia tottered toward dissolution that January, Imperial Germany planted two time bombs destined to explode America out of frigid neutrality into full-scale belligerency. That was not the intention; Germany egregiously blundered. But in time sequence, the events of that fateful month are so related as to warrant the illusion that, having beaten the Eastern Colossus into submission, Wilhelm’s Government was determined to provoke finally and fully the Giant of the West.
On January 9 there went from the Kaiser to all vessels of his navy a secret message saying: “I order that unrestricted submarine warfare be launched with the greatest vigor in February 1. You will immediately take the necessary steps.” Then, on January 17, British Naval Intelligence in London routed an intercepted German wireless message to its Political Section because its number indicated that the subject matter was diplomatic. Cryptologists worked out the signature, “Zimmermann,” the German Foreign Secretary, and toiled on, thinking it was a routine transmission.
Yet the combined impact of these two signals carried America into the war.

(Examples of good introduction paragraphs.)

Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. New York: Random House, 2001.

Pg. 3--Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States without knowing it, at 2:15 in the morning of 14 September 1901. He was bouncing in a buckboard down the rainswept slopes of Mount Marcy, in the Adirondacks. Constitutionally, not so much as a heartbeat impeded the flow of power from his assassinated predecessor to himself. Practically, more than four hundred miles of mud and rails still separated him from William McKinley’s death chamber in Buffalo, where preparations for an emergency inauguration were already under way.

Pg. 236--Senator Beveridge and others getting off Roosevelt’s train in Washington on 5 June 1903 were amazed to see a multitude jamming Pennsylvania Avenue all the way downtown from Sixth Street Station. Normally the capital paid little attention to executive comings and goings, but this looked like an almost royal welcome. Apparently, the President’s forceful oratory on tour, his widely reported disappearances into the wilderness, and his haughty suppression of Mark Hanna—in Walla Walla, of all places!—had caught the public’s imagination, and strengthened him as the likely ruler of America for six more years. Roosevelt now enjoyed the endorsement of sixteen state Republican organizations, and seventeen more were expected to follow suit. “He will be nominated by acclamation,” Beveridge predicted, “and elected by the greatest popular majority ever given a President.”

Pg. 375-6--Theodore Roosevelt took his second oath of office in sharp, cold sunshine on 4 March 1905. Exactly four years before, he had stood on this same Capitol platform, watching President McKinley being sworn in by this same little Chief Justice. Then, heavy rain and a dogged phalanx of mostly incumbent Old Guard Republicans had reinforced his sense of having been forced into political immobility. Now, a blustering wind tore at his hair and speech cards as he stepped forward to address the crowd. It tossed the dozens of flags rising to either side of him, so violently that some wrapped around their staffs in tight spirals of red, white, and blue. Other flags, suspended between the marble columns behind him, whipped and cracked. The caps of several Annapolis and West Point cadets went spinning through the air. Women clutched at their hats (none more determinedly than Alice Roosevelt, who wore a flimsy white-and-black satin wheel, undulant with ostrich plumes), while men jammed their toppers down. The whole scene, from the ten-acre crush of spectators in the plaza to hundreds more onlookers perched dangerously on every one of the Capitol’s upper protuberances (not to mention boys clambering in trees, and a whirl of pigeons around the dome), was one of constant movement, as if Roosevelt’s energy had animated the entire body politic.