The introduction of a scientific paper is very important because it allows readers to understand the subject, the context and the importance of the work of the paper. The introduction of a scientific paper is an essential element for the good understanding of the rest of the paper although the introduction does not include scientific elements.
It may seem obvious, but introductions are always placed at the beginning of an article. They guide your reader from a general area to the narrow topic covered by your article. They also explain your article:
- Scope : the topic you are going to cover
- context : the background of your subject
- Importance : why your research is important in the context
Your introduction will cover a lot of ground. However, it will only be half a page to a few pages. The length depends on the size of your paper as a whole. In many cases, the introduction will be shorter than all the other sections of your document.
The introduction of your research paper is not only important. It's critical.
Your readers don't know what your research paper is about from the title. This is where your introduction comes in. A good introduction:
- Help your reader understand the context of your topic
- Explain why your research paper is worth reading
- Offer a guide to navigate the rest of the room
- Engage your reader
Without a clear introduction, your readers will struggle. They may feel confused when they start reading your article. They might even give up completely. Your introduction will ground them and prepare them for the in-depth research ahead.
Structure of the introduction
Research paper submissions are always unique. After all, research is original by definition. However, they often contain six essential elements. Each element will be written in a few paragraphs distinct. Each paragraph contains the main idea, then its development.
An overview of the subject, the scientific context. Start with a general overview of your topic. Collapse the overview until you get to the specific topic of your article. Next, mention any questions or concerns you had about the case. Note that you will address them in the post. Often the socio-economic-technical context is also mentioned above all in applied research.
Previous research. Your introduction is the place to review other conclusions on your topic. Include both older scholars and modern scholars. This basic information shows that you are aware of past research. It also introduces past discoveries to those who might not have that expertise.
A rationale for your article. Explain why your topic needs to be covered now. If so, connect it to current issues. Additionally, you may show a problem with old theories or reveal a gap in current research. No matter how you do it, a good rationale will engage your readers and demonstrate why they should read the rest of your article.
Describe the methodology that you used. Tell your processes to make your article more believable. State your objective and the questions you will answer. Reveal how you conducted research and describe how you measured results. Also, explain why you made key choices.
A thesis statement. Your main introduction should end with a thesis statement. This statement summarizes the ideas that will run through your entire research paper. It should be simple and clear.
The plan of the paper. Introductions often end with an overview. Your layout should quickly review what you intend to cover in the following sections. Think of it as a roadmap, guiding your reader to the end of your article. Let's put this paragraph aside.
These five items are more or less highlighted depending on your field.
- Give a general introduction to the subject for a wide audience
- Focus on your particular topic
- State your research problem and objectives
Literature review (usually several paragraphs):
- Summarize relevant literature on your topic
- Describe the current state of the art
- Note any gaps in the literature that your study will fill
Research objectives (usually one paragraph):
- State your hypothesis or research question
- Briefly describe how you will achieve your goals
- Outline your main results and indicate the contribution of the work (optional)
Presentation of the paper (optional; one paragraph):
- Provide a section-by-section overview of the document content
Some writing tips
We don't just want you to learn how to write an introduction for a research paper. We want you to learn how to make it shine.
There are three things you can do to make writing a great introduction easier.
Write your introduction last. An introduction summarizes everything you have learned from your research. While it may be nice to write your foreword quickly, you need to write the rest of your article first. Then it will be easy for you to create a clear overview.
Include a strong quote or story upfront. You want your paper to be full of substance. But that doesn't mean it should look boring or flat. Add a relevant quote or a surprising anecdote at the beginning of your introduction. This technique will pique your reader's interest and leave them wanting more.
Be concise. Research articles cover complex topics. To help your readers, try to write as clearly as possible. Use concise sentences. Check the grammar or confusing syntax. Read your introduction aloud to catch awkward phrases. Before you finish your article, be sure to proofread it as well. Mistakes can look unprofessional.
First step, the context
The first paragraph(s) of the introduction aim(s) to introduce your research topic. Your research subject is the main character of your story. Just as a good story needs a compelling hero, a good scientific article is based on an interesting research topic. Therefore, your opening introductory paragraphs should convince your readers of the importance of your topic. Let's take an example !
Imagine you conducted a study to test the effectiveness of a new treatment in curing a disease called Dragon Pox – Dragon Pox is an imaginary disease that affects wizards and witches, like chickenpox (see the Harry Potter series). When writing the article describing your research on this disease, you could begin your introduction by emphasizing the preponderance of Dragon Pox.
“Dragon pox is one of the most common infectious diseases problematic today. It is the most common disease in children under the age of 12 and about 2 in 5 people contract it in their lifetime. Dragonpox causes green and purple rashes and sparks that come out of the nostrils when the patient sneezes.
These symptoms can worsen, leading to serious complications (pneumonia, encephalitis, etc.) and significant sequelae (respiratory failure, mottled skin). Moreover, in 8.4 % of cases, the infection leads to the death of the patient. In 2021, the deadly consequences and high prevalence of dragon pox prompted the Wizzard Health Organization (WHO) to declare it the priority public health problem for the next decade. »
After reading these few sentences, your reader knows that the article talks about Dragon Pox, this is an important subject.
Your intro should start as broadly as possible to appeal to a wide audience. That being said, the extent of your introduction should also depend on your readership. If your article is aimed at specialists, being too general risks boring them and disinteresting them in your research. So when writing the first paragraph(s) of your introduction, it's important to keep in mind who your audience is and what interests them.
Second step, the scientific context
Once you have established your research topic and emphasized its importance, the next step is to narrow your article to your research niche. Your niche defines the specialized area you are looking for; it is a more focused area than the general search topic. For example, in the case of dragon pox, your niche could be one of the following topics:
- his diagnosis,
- his treatment,
- its mechanism of contagion,
- the increased vulnerability of some people to this disease,
- the genetic code of the virus,
- the proteins that make up the membrane of the virus,
- its evolutionary origins…
At level 2, you must provide general information on what has been done so far in this niche. For example, if your research relates to the treatment of dragon pox, you can explain what drugs already exist to cure the disease.
“Dragon pox is mainly treated with anti-herpetic agents. Indeed, the disease results from a primary infection due to the varicella-monster virus (VMV), which belongs to the family of human herpesviruses. Recent studies suggest that oral aclocyvir is the most effective method against VMV. Aclocyvir is a nuke that mimics guasonine…”
Third step, justify your work
Once you have defined your niche, you need to describe the problem that your research will answer. A good story needs a compelling character facing a daunting challenge. What challenge does your article address? Why is this challenge important to your readers? These are the two questions you must answer at level 3.
Let's go back to our example. If you have tested a new treatment against Dragon Pox, it is probably because the usual treatment poses certain problems that your new treatment aims to circumvent. So your next paragraphs might be something like:
“Research shows that treatment with oral aclocyvir reduces the risk of complications from VMV infection by 23 %. Unfortunately, aclocyvir has many side effects, such as nausea, loss of appetite or diarrhea. These side effects cause a third of patients to discontinue treatment before the end and thus considerably reduce its effectiveness.“
At Level 3, it is essential that you define your research question as a problem. Indeed, humans have a propensity to pay attention to negative information. In psychology, this phenomenon is called negativity bias. By highlighting the problems and risks associated with the current state of knowledge, you create tension among your readers. This tension motivates them to keep reading your article and makes them want to find a solution to the problem.
Third step bis, define the scientific gap to be filled
At level 3, you have created tension in your readers by highlighting a serious problem in your niche; at 4th level, you begin to resolve this tension by explaining how you are going to resolve this problem.
In scientific writing, it is important to convince your reader that the solution you are proposing to solve this problem has a rational basis. You can do this in two ways:
1) explaining the logic that led you to consider the solution tested in your article,
2) and providing arguments and citing already existing evidence to support your assumptions and/or your theory.
“Recent research suggests that the side effects of oral aclocyvir can be counteracted by adenoside. Adenoside appears to decrease nausea and loss of appetite. In recent years, doctors have started using a combination of oral acyclovir and adenoside to treat severe forms of herpes.
Early clinical trials indicate fewer side effects and better patient acceptance of treatment. Thus, this approach appears to be successful in the treatment of herpes. However, it has never been tested in patients with VMV. This study aims to fill this gap.
As you can see in this example, again, I emphasize the void that research intends to fill. And, I'm sure you guessed it, again, I create tension in the reader.
Fourth step, your methodology
We are now at the end of the introduction. You have already prepared the ground for your study; now is the time to state your hypotheses (if you have any) and/or introduce the methods you have chosen to test them. For instance:
“In the study reported in this article, we investigated the effectiveness of a new treatment in curing Dragon Pox. We tested the hypothesis that the administration of adenoside reduces the side effects of aclocyvir and thus increases the efficacy of the treatment. For this, we compared two groups of patients treated either with aclocyvir alone or with aclocyvir combined with adenoside…”
The presentation of your methods has two objectives. First, it eases the transition to the materials and methods section by giving your readers insight into your research. This should help them better understand the study you conducted. Second, it allows you to explain the reasons for the approach methodological that you have decided to adopt.
This is especially important if you are relying on a new approach or if you are writing for an audience that is unfamiliar with this type of methodology. You can use the last paragraphs of the introduction to present the rationale for your methods and their value in solving the problem your article is addressing.
Fifth step, capital gains / contributions
Some journals require a “Highlights” description that summarizes the most exciting and interesting points in your manuscript. This is a great opportunity to highlight the impact and importance of your work. Writing contributions can be done with a dotted list.
Even if you're writing the highlights for experts in your field, use the simplest, clearest words possible to describe your findings. It can be tempting to choose more interesting terms, but complex language can discourage readers from reading the rest of your article. If you choose to use uncommon abbreviations in your highlights, be sure to define them on first use. Write with your reader in mind and make it easy for them to learn what you've discovered.
Highlights are three to five bullet points that help increase your article's discoverability through search engines. These bullet points should capture new results from your research as well as new methods that were used during the study (if any). Think of them as the "elevating pitch" of your article. Don't try to capture every idea, concept, or conclusion, as highlights are meant to be short.
Highlights have been proven to broaden the reach of your work and help bring your article to the attention of interested colleagues, both inside and outside your usual research community. . Having a dedicated paragraph for these contributions will help readers quickly understand the value of your research.
Here is a very short example of the contributions of a research paper :
“The main contributions of our work can be summarized as follows:
- A summary of tourist stays based on data shared via social networks.
- TPM, a new measure to qualify the proximity between two tourist stays.
- A method for determining tourist profiles.
- An extraction of knowledge from the profiles. »
Last step, the outline, i.e. the plan of the paper
The last part of the introduction is often devoted to a brief overview of the rest of the article.
In an article structured according to the standard scientific format "introduction, methods, results, discussion is not always necessary. But if your article is structured in a less predictable way, it's important to outline its form for the reader.
If included, the overview should be concise, direct, and written in the present tense.