Writing the introduction

July 17, 2009 at 10:43 am Leave a comment

The results and discussion sections are undeniably critical pieces of a scientific paper. But don’t overlook the importance of the introduction. As I alluded to in my last post (What’s the problem?), the introduction is where you unveil your research problem and try to interest people in its solution. If you don’t hook the reader at this stage, chances are your results and discussion sections will never be read.

This isn’t tabloid journalism, however, where writers must resort to glitz and sensationalism to grab readers’ attention. Luckily, all that scientists really need to get engaged is a solid understanding of your research question and its significance. To help guide you in providing this, I’ve listed a set of questions to keep in mind. Consider them guidelines, rather than questions you need to answer explicitly or in the order listed. If you take a look at this set of sample introductions from recent papers, you’ll see that authors address these questions in different ways.

Suggested questions to cover in the introduction

  1. What is the overall topic or problem you address in your paper? What background and definitions do readers need in order to understand this problem?
  2. What is already known about this topic in the literature? What remains to be discovered?
  3. What specific question or problem do you tackle in the paper? Or, what is your specific purpose?
  4. What methods did you use to answer your question and why? (The “why” can be omitted if it’s not really needed)
  5. Why is your system (genes, organism, proteins) a good model for addressing your question?
  6. What are your main findings, and what are their implications or benefits? Or, how do they fill the gap in knowledge that you described earlier?

Entry filed under: Parts of the paper.

What’s the problem? We need clichés like a (black) hole in the head

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Science of Scientific Writing

This article describes what readers expect when they read - and how scientific writing often violates those expectations.

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