The Introduction to a research paper needs to convince the reader that your work is important and relevant, frame the questions being addressed, and provide context for the findings being presented. For an audience of researchers who constantly need to make decisions about how best to invest their time and which articles to read, an Introduction needs to “sell” your paper to the reader.
Below is a preview of our white paper outlining specific actions that authors can take to put together a strong introduction section. It covers the following topics:
Most importantly, you need to present a clear research question and convince your reader that your work fills a gap in current knowledge – if the readers do not believe that your paper will improve their understanding of the field in a meaningful way, they are less likely to invest valuable time and effort in reading it carefully.
A well-written Introduction prepares a reader for the information that follows, engaging him or her in the research questions and providing enough information to understand and appreciate the methods, findings, and implications. In contrast, a poor Introduction fails to provide appropriate background and contextual information or does not adequately explain the research questions, ultimately leaving the reader unengaged and unlikely to fully appreciate the results or implications of the research.
The structure and length of an Introduction are not set in stone and can vary across fields and publications, but this section ultimately serves a single purpose: to lead the reader through a narrative that ends with presentation of the research and the reasons for its importance.
The ideal structure of such a narrative is a “funnel” that starts with broad conceptual information and gradually narrows in scope and specificity until the information presented is specific to the research questions being addressed. This structure allows you to use the Introduction to tell a story that progresses logically and guides a reader from broad and familiar concepts, through the paper’s scientific background and rationale, to research questions that are clearly understood and supported.
An Introduction should open by presenting the broad context of the area of study and providing a familiar framework on which the subsequent elaborations are built. In addition to providing context for the research being described, opening with familiar concepts also engages readers and primes them for the information that follows. The opening statements also provide an opportunity to convince readers of the importance and relevance of the research, engaging their interest from the outset; e.g., for a theoretical paper, this might simply be furthering our scientific knowledge; for a clinical paper, the research might relate to a medical condition that affects a sizable population; or, for a management paper, the research might help to relate human behavior to running a successful company.