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Opening Moves in Chess Articles

מאי 16, 2011

How does one write a good opening for an academic article? While the question might be easier to answer when writing a scientific article, opening an article in the field of humanities has less rules and guidelines. However, in a manner that could resemble the opening moves of a chess match, there seems to be a finite number of opening strategies for academic writing. The purpose of this assignment is not to write the academic-writing's equivalent of The Encyclopedia of Chess Opening[1], thus enumerating or cataloguing the various ways in which one could open his article, but to demonstrate just some of the possibilities, those which Tzachi Zamir choose to employ in his article, Watching Actors.[2]

            Zamir opens his article with two questions: "Why does one act? And why would someone else be drawn to watch such acting?"[3] Although slightly disobeying academic-expository writing's conventions, Zamir, as evident from his opening move, has his reader in mind. He does not address the reader directly, but by starting with a question he aims to provoke thinking and reminiscing of past experiences – he aims at the reader's involvement.

            However, creating reader involvement alone does not suffice for a good article opening. Just as a strong opening in chess is a balancing act of both defense and offense, of both assuming a strong position on the board and tempting the enemy to make an erroneous move, a strong opening paragraph must be a delicate balance between the reader's involvement and the author's intentions and goals in the article. This too is accomplished in Zamir's opening in Watching Actors – he introduces the main ideas and concepts of his article, and leads the reader through the milestones and highlights of his thesis. Thus the reader is not only left with anticipation for the following, but is also given basic concepts – a low-scale map – for his journey into the article.

            When writing an article, as in chess, each move, each journey, counts – especially the very first few journeys. The importance of mid-game and end-game strategies is not to be diminished, but one could win a match – or write a highly respected article – with a carefully planned opening. As I have argued above, in Zamir's Watching Actors that is the case.

[1] Aleksandar Matanović, Encyclopedia of chess openings  (Šahovski informator, 1979).

[2] Tzachi Zamir, "Watching Actors," Theatre Journal 62, no. 2 (2010).

[3] Ibid., 227.

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