I. Structure and Approach
The introduction is the broad beginning of the paper that answers three important questions for the reader:
- What is this?
- Why should I read it?
- What do you want me to think about / consider doing / react to?
Think of the structure of the introduction as an inverted triangle of information that lays a foundation for understanding the research problem. Organize the information so as to present the more general aspects of the topic early in the introduction, then narrow your analysis to more specific topical information that provides context, finally arriving at your research problem and the rationale for studying it [often written as a series of key questions] and, whenever possible, a description of the potential outcomes your study can reveal.
These are general phases associated with writing an introduction:
1. Establish an area to research by:
- Highlighting the importance of the topic, and/or
- Making general statements about the topic, and/or
- Presenting an overview on current research on the subject.
2. Identify a research niche by:
- Opposing an existing assumption, and/or
- Revealing a gap in existing research, and/or
- Formulating a research question or problem, and/or
- Continuing a disciplinary tradition.
3. Place your research within the research niche by:
- Stating the intent of your study,
- Outlining the key characteristics of your study,
- Describing important results, and
- Giving a brief overview of the structure of the paper.
NOTE: Even though the introduction is the first main section of a research paper, it is often useful to finish the introduction late in the writing process because the structure of the paper, the reporting and analysis of results, and the conclusion will have been completed. Reviewing and, if necessary, rewriting the introduction ensures that it correctly matches the overall structure of your final paper.
II. Delimitations of the Study
Delimitations refer to those characteristics that limit the scope and define the conceptual boundaries of your research. This is determined by the conscious exclusionary and inclusionary decisions you make about how to investigate the research problem. In other words, not only should you tell the reader what it is you are studying and why, but you must also acknowledge why you rejected alternative approaches that could have been used to examine the topic.
Obviously, the first limiting step was the choice of research problem itself. However, implicit are other, related problems that could have been chosen but were rejected. These should be noted in the conclusion of your introduction. For example, a delimitating statement could read, "Although many factors can be understood to impact the likelihood young people will vote, this study will focus on socioeconomic factors related to the need to work full-time while in school." The point is not to document every possible delimiting factor, but to highlight why previously researched issues related to the topic were not addressed.
Examples of delimitating choices would be:
- The key aims and objectives of your study,
- The research questions that you address,
- The variables of interest [i.e., the various factors and features of the phenomenon being studied],
- The method(s) of investigation,
- The time period your study covers, and
- Any relevant alternative theoretical frameworks that could have been adopted.
Review each of these decisions. Not only do you clearly establish what you intend to accomplish in your research, but you should also include a declaration of what the study does not intend to cover. In the latter case, your exclusionary decisions should be based upon criteria understood as, "not interesting"; "not directly relevant"; “too problematic because..."; "not feasible," and the like. Make this reasoning explicit!
NOTE: Delimitations refer to the initial choices made about the broader, overall design of your study and should not be confused with documenting the limitiations of your study discovered after the research has been completed.
ANOTHER NOTE: Do not view delimitating statements as admitting to an inherent failing or shortcoming in your research. They are an accepted element of academic writing intended to keep the reader focused on the research problem by explicitly defining the conceptual boundaries and scope of your study. It addresses any critical questions in the reader's mind of, "Why the hell didn't the author examine this?"
III. The Narrative Flow
Issues to keep in mind that will help the narrative flow in your introduction:
- Your introduction should clearly identify the subject area of interest. A simple strategy to follow is to use key words from your title in the first few sentences of the introduction. This will help focus the introduction on the topic at the appropriate level and ensures that you get to the subject matter quickly without losing focus, or discussing information that is too general.
- Establish context by providing a brief and balanced review of the pertinent published literature that is available on the subject. The key is to summarize for the reader what is known about the specific research problem before you did your analysis. This part of your introduction should not represent a comprehensive literature review--that comes next. It consists of a general review of the important, foundational research literature [with citations] that establishes a foundation for understanding key elements of the research problem. See the drop-down menu under this tab for "Background Information" regarding types of contexts.
- Clearly state the hypothesis that you investigated. When you are first learning to write in this format it is okay, and actually preferable, to use a past statement like, "The purpose of this study was to...." or "We investigated three possible mechanisms to explain the...."
- Why did you choose this kind of research study or design? Provide a clear statement of the rationale for your approach to the problem studied. This will usually follow your statement of purpose in the last paragraph of the introduction.
IV. Engaging the Reader
The overarching goal of your introduction is to make your readers want to read your paper. The introduction should grab the reader's attention. Strategies for doing this can be to:
- Open with a compelling story,
- Include a strong quotation or a vivid, perhaps unexpected anecdote,
- Pose a provocative or thought-provoking question,
- Describe a puzzling scenario or incongruity, or
- Cite a stirring example or case study that illustrates why the research problem is important.
NOTE: Choose only one strategy for engaging your readers; avoid giving an impression that your paper is more flash than substance.
Freedman, Leora and Jerry Plotnick. Introductions and Conclusions. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Introduction. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College; Introductions. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Introductions. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Introductions, Body Paragraphs, and Conclusions for an Argument Paper. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; “Writing Introductions.” In Good Essay Writing: A Social Sciences Guide. Peter Redman. 4th edition. (London: Sage, 2011), pp. 63-70; Resources for Writers: Introduction Strategies. Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies. Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Sharpling, Gerald. Writing an Introduction. Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick; Samraj, B. “Introductions in Research Articles: Variations Across Disciplines.” English for Specific Purposes 21 (2002): 1–17; Swales, John and Christine B. Feak. Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essential Skills and Tasks. 2nd edition. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2004; Writing Your Introduction. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University.
Examples of introduction sections
A example of a good introduction to a biology report
| Worldwide, many bacteria are showing resistance to antibiotics. This is becoming a major problem for health care professionals; for example, multiple strains of a potentially deadly bacteria, Staphylococcus aureas, are already resistant to all antibiotics except vancomycin. The reports of vancomycin resistant strains of S. aureas, which appeared from three different areas of the globe last year, sent shock waves through the medical community (Levy, 1998). |
Escherichia coli (E..coli) is another bacteria that is beginning to show signs of antibiotic resistance. E.coli is a rod shaped bacteria which inhabits the human colon, living off organic material which would otherwise be eliminated with the faeces. E. coli and the other intestinal flora may make up 40% of the mass of faeces and as a result E. coli is used as an indicator species to detect contamination of lakes and streams by untreated sewage. Under normal conditions E. coli is harmless but some strains can cause blood poisoning, urinary tract infections, diarrhoea and kidney failure, illnesses that are more common in people who have weakened immune systems.In most cases these E. coli infections can be successfully treated with antibiotics such as ampicillin and chloramphenicol; however, some of the strains, such as those that cause urinary tract infections, have been shown to be resistant to certain antibiotics (Morrell, 1997, Levy, 1998). This experiment aimed to test the sensitivity of four E. coli strains (EC1, EC2, EC3, EC4), isolated from patients in a local hospital, to the antibiotics, streptomycin and chloramphenicol.It was hypothesised that separately both drugs would deter bacteria growth but that a combination of both drugs would be most effective.
|Broad context (summary of previous research) |
More specific context to this experiment (summary of previous research)
Significance of the research
Aims of the research
Adapted from Dr Sharon Robinson, Biology 104, University of Wollongong
An example of a POORLY written introduction to a biology report
|Toads and rats are both vertebrates of similar size. Their physiology, however, is quite different, as toads are ectothermic and rats are endothermic (Campbell et al., 1997, pg. 487). Toads regulate their body temperature through behaviour. Rats have a high metabolic rate. They maintain their body temperature at 37 degrees Celsius.In this study, the anatomy of the toad and rat were investigated.||Background to the experiment.|
Technical words are not defined.
How does this information relate to the previous information? The presentation of information in the introduction needs to be building the case for defining the gap in the research this study aims to fill.
Although the aim of the research is outlined here, the reason for making this comparison has not been established. The hypothesis or expected result of the research has also not been stated.
Adapted from Dr Wendy Russell, Biology 103, University of Wollongong
A example of a good introduction to an Engineering scientific report
|Advanced ceramic materials such as zirconia have great potential as substitutes for traditional materials in many engineering applications; however, problems such as difficulties in producing products of reliable and consistent quality and high manufacturing costs have thus far restricted their use by engineers. |
Difficulties in achieving reliable and consistent quality stem largely from the formation of thermal gradients that often occurs during conventional sintering processes. Slow, controlled heating and cooling rates have been used to solve this problem. While this solution facilitates the manufacture of high quality components, it does so at the expense of production rate, and deterioration of the mechanical properties of the ceramic because of an increase in grain size. This solution, therefore, achieves quality at the expense of an economical production rate.
Recently, interest has been growing in alternative sintering techniques that could overcome the problem of thermal gradients more economically. One of the most promising is the use of microwaves to sinter ceramic compacts. Microwave sintering has many attractive features, including rapid volumetric heating and low cost. It may have other advantages as well, as there is some evidence that the mechanical properties of microwave-sintered ceramics are superior to those of conventionally-sintered eramics. This superiority has been largely attributed to the smaller grain sizes resulting from the short, rapid sintering cycle.
Until now, there has been no report of any systematic study of the microstructures produced by microwave sintering, or their relationship to the properties of the sintered product. The aims of this project were to compare the resultant properties and microstructure with material sintered by conventional constant heating rate rocesses. The relationships between density and grain size were studied. It was predicted that microwave sintering would alter the densification/grain growth relationship. The effects of heating rate and yttria content were also investigated. It was predicted that yttria content of ceramics sintered onventionally or by microwave would not differ.
|Establishing the field|
Preparing for present
of the gap
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