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In our last blog, we looked at how to use IMRAD to write your journal paper abstract. We will now focus on how to compile an effective introduction.

First of all, you need to understand the aim and purpose of the introduction in journal paper writing.

A good Introduction should identify your research topic, provide essential context, and indicate the particular motivation for, and focus of, your study. It also needs to engage your readers’ interest and tell them what to expect from your journal paper.

In a nutshell, you should ask yourself the questions below before you start writing:

  • What is the research problem to be solved by your study?
  • What is already known about the research problem?
  • What are the main limitations to what is currently known?
  • What do you hope to achieve through your study?
  • What approach did you take to solve the research problem?

How that you have a solid idea about what you should cover, you need to consider the 3 fundamental principles of organising your introduction.

I. Funnel structure

It can be useful to think of the structure as a funnel: the broadest part at the top represents the most general information, gradually focusing down to the specific problem you studied, and the purpose and rationale of the study.

Refer to the diagram below for the specific information to be included in different parts of the introduction funnel.

Funnel outlining structure of a typical journal article introduction

II. Smooth information flow

The key point here is to make sure your readers can follow your logic and reasoning easily i.e. why you chose this particular research topic and design.

You can take the following steps as a reference for organizing the information flow of your journal introduction.

Step 1: Clearly identify the subject area by using key words from your journal title in the first few sentences to grab your readers’ attention.

However remember not to repeat any part of your journal abstract.

Step 2: Establish the context by providing a brief and balanced review of the relevant published literature.

Again, remember not to just describe previous studies, instead you need to provide a critique that defines the need for your research study.

Step 3: Describe your study by stating its purpose and one or more formal hypotheses, if necessary, and then provide a rationale for your research approach.

You also need to highlight the potential outcomes and contributions of your study, and provide a brief outline of the rest of the journal article.

III. Always think about your audience

It’s important to keep in mind where you plan to publish your journal paper, as this clearly defines your audience.

For example, if your paper is to be published in a general interest journal, you should keep the focus broad. If it is aimed at a highly specialist journal, you probably don’t need to define familiar terms and concepts that your audience will already know.

The best practical advice is:
Check the journal submission guidelines for appropriate manuscript types and topics.

It is not always easy to ensure all required information is organised and structured well in your journal paper introduction. Obviously, you can’t include everything in your Introduction. Which kind of leads us to our next question:

How long should my journal introduction be?

As a rough guide, an introduction should be around 20% of the word count of the entire journal paper. However, the length will also depend on your specific field and the word limit of the journal to which you are planning to submit.

So, always check the journal guidelines and also the length of the Introduction sections in similar journal papers for reference.

Key takeaway here:

Without the context and direction of an Introduction, your audience will be lost and confused – so be sure to give them the roadmap that they need.

Author Profile

Dr Rachel Baron
Co-Chief Editor & Managing Editor (Social Sciences)
Rachel first joined us as a freelance editor in 2001, while completing her PhD. After spending a few years as a post-doctoral researcher and then lecturing in psychology, she returned to us in 2010 and focused her career on academic editing. She took on the role of Assistant Chief Editor in 2018, and became co-Chief-Editor in 2020. Unable to leave academia behind completely, she also teaches Psychology at an English-speaking university in Italy, where she is now based. With extensive experience in both academia and publishing, Rachel has an excellent overview of both the client and editor sides of the business.

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