Article introductions are all about setting the scene for the reader before you launch into the main discussion in your article. A good tip when writing your introduction is to think about what the reader needs to know. This helps you to structure what you want to say in a reader-friendly way.
So, what does the reader need? Often, to address the needs of the reader, introductions are structured in a filter style:
- Set the scene for the problem or topic of your discussion
How general the scene setting should be depends on who will be reading your article. If the readers are specialists, they may not need as general an introduction as non-specialists, so your opening statement for a specialist may be more technical than one for a non-specialist.
- Narrow of the focus
Here, you will probably start to discuss more specific areas of interest to researchers and will probably refer to researchers in groups (e.g. using expressions such as numerous researchers have investigated, some academics have addressed, a small group of studies have focussed on). This type of citation is called weak author-prominent citation. Alternatively, perhaps you prefer to refer to individual authors (e.g. Smith (2014) found; According to Jones et al. (2014)). This is called author-prominent citation.
- Identify the gap
In this part of your introduction, you want to make clear to the reader that there is a particular aspect of the topic you have presented so far that has NOT been researched, so you might use language such as Despite the interest among researchers in …….., to date no one has investigated …..; Although ………., the issue of ….. remains unexplored; or There is still a shortage of quantitative data on …….. .
- Introduce your study
Having made clear to the reader that there is a gap in the research, you then make a statement about your study. If you have produced a strong filter structure for your introduction, the gap that your study is filling and the need for the study should be crystal clear for the reader. At this stage of the filter, you will probably use language such as Therefore, the purpose of this study is…..; Thus, this study …….; or To address the gap, this study ….
A word about tense in the Introduction
If a filter structure is used in an article Introduction, you will probably find different tenses being used. For example, in the scene-setting, you may see the present tense (The issue of ….. is …..; Concrete has an extremely ….) or the present perfect tense (Recently there has been a significant rise in…). When narrowing the gap, you may use the present perfect tense (Various studies have investigated …) or the past simple tense (Smith conducted research into …). When you get to the gap, you will probably use either the present perfect tense (To date, no studies have focussed on…) or the present simple (This issue remains under-researched). Finally, you will probably choose to use the present simple to present the focus of the paper (Therefore, this paper presents …)
Note: these tips about tense are not rules! Use whatever tense is most appropriate for what you are presenting. It is helpful, though, if you become more aware of the tense you are using and why you are using it.
Here are some useful links if you want to find out more about writing the Introduction section:
Science: Introductions to papers ; Social Science: Introduction for papers section 4 – The Introduction; Arts and Humanities: Introductions to journal articles chapter 3, page 24
We’ve flagged up which link is targeting which discipline, but do feel free to look at all three links; there’s some really useful information in them all.