Millions of research articles are written every year in thousands of journals. Your reader deserves to know why you decided to add yet another article. The Introduction section is your chance to explain why your study exists — and why people should read it!
The main purpose of the Introduction is to clearly convey the motivation for your study: why you did what you did. Editors will be looking for a manuscript that will appeal broadly to readers. Like you, they will want a manuscript that will be widely read and cited.
So how can you write an introduction that will draw people into reading your whole paper?
The parts of an introduction
Your introduction should give the background/context, problem/question/gap, and purpose/aim/approach of your paper. The logical flow of the Introduction looks like a triangle standing on its tip, going from General to Specific. You should start off broad, and then guide your readers to your study aims.
The Introduction may include a mini-literature review. Or, it may be a short, focused Introduction, followed by a separate Literature Review chapter. There may even be a Theory chapter to discuss the most relevant literature that explains your own approach.
The length of the Introduction should not exceed 15% of your report. Aim for conciseness rather than a full literature review.
- Tip: Write your Introduction AFTER the Methods, Results, and Discussion. It’s best not to use IMRaD order when drafting the full text. If you start with the Introduction, you will find that it is too long and not focused.
Beginning & Middle
Now let’s look at the Introduction in more detail.
The Introduction should gain the reader’s interest, while showing how your study is relevant to the research field. The start should give the general topic area and present general statements and facts. You can quote review articles here, but as the Introduction goes on and you present what is known about a specific topic, you should cite and analyze specific studies. Then say what is still missing in the field that all the past research so far has missed, misunderstood, or got wrong. Negative words will be used in this problem statement, with a signal word such as However, Although, Whereas, or Despite.
- Tip: Remember to only criticize past research, not the researchers themselves!
The end of the Introduction presents your aim and approach. These should match the problem statement and research question or hypothesis that were mentioned earlier in the Introduction.
In the example shown here, the problem is a Schottky barrier in transistors, but there is a possibility the temperature could be modified to overcome the problem. The aim and approach at the end then mentions Schottky barrier and transistors, and how high temperature will be adjusted to overcome the barrier. In this way, you are promising the reader that you will directly answer the specific question, not wasting their time, and making a useful contribution to the field.
Your Introduction chapter may be numbered by section and subsection, such as 1, 1.1, 1.1.1. Or the journal or your university may require a separate Literature Review, after a brief Introduction of the topic, problem, hypothesis or research question, aim, and approach. You’ll need to experiment to see what theme organization works best.
Here, the left example is organized by mechanism and subdivided by breast then liver; the right example is organized by breast then liver, and subdivided by mechanism.
The Literature Review may be called Background, Related Work, Current Concepts, or something else. There may also be a Theory chapter to explain your method, called Theoretical or Conceptual Framework or Theoretical Background.
- Have you done a thorough literature review?
- Have you explained the context of your study?
- Did you state what is currently known on the topic?
- Did you present a clear problem and/or knowledge gap?
- Did you demonstrate a need for finding an answer to this problem?
- Is your hypothesis or research question clear? Does it have a theoretical grounding?
- Did you explain all important concepts and variables?
- Do you present a clear aim and approach?
Want to know more?
This post is an excerpt from our ‘Research Writing 1’ course — click HERE to see the full lesson and download the full checklist!
Visit Author Path / MyManuscript for full templates and handy writing tips for ALL sections of your paper!
In Part 2 of this blog post we will learn useful phrases for the Introduction section. Stay tuned!