Using Scholarly Sources to Establish What Your Best Readers Are and Are Not Thinking

        If you still find it awkward to use scholarly secondary sources, there is an easy way to begin.  First, search the MLA Bibliography on the topic “Your Presentation Tale's Title Here” (e.g., "Miller's Tale").  Then sort the hits by date, descending (most recent to least recent).  Tell your readers in your introduction what scholars have been saying about your topic recently, and then transition into your thesis and its importance.  It either will be important because others have been discussing the topic it’s about, or it will be important because they have not paid attention to it and should have done so.  Either way, you have a scholarly introduction that situates your work among your colleagues’ work in the wider world of Chaucer readers.

        When you become more a experienced reader of your primary source in any era, you will become familiar with both famous past interpreters of that source and with the most useful/challenging/wrong-headed new interpreters of the source who have published recently.  Each time you write about the source, you will re-enter a dialogue with those sources, engaging them about points where you agree and disagree with their reading and interpretation of the evidence.  The most common introductory move is to begin with what your best readers and you agree about, and to proceed to the issues/passages/etc. that provoke you to disagree. 

        You can start by picking a fight in the introduction's first sentence, but what if the best readers were writing about your work?  Would you rather they poked you in the nose right away and then tried to persuade you they were right, or would you rather they gently led you from your best ideas to better ideas you had not yet discovered?  Treat others as you would be treated--it's an old discourse formula for peaceful cooperation.