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How to Write an Effective Research Paper Introduction


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The introduction of a research paper has several purposes. It presents your topic, describes the problem your research seeks to solve, and outlines the structure of your paper. It can also inform your audience about how your study differs from the research that has already been done. Generally, the introduction helps you to show your audience why your research topic is worth exploring. It gives you the chance to convince your reader why they should stick around and see what you have to say.

The first 1-2 sentences of your introduction should give an elevator pitch of your work. Be clear, relevant, and to the point. Don't sweat the engagement of your first sentences. You might have heard the advice that, when writing, you should use the first few sentences to wow your readers, transporting them into a lyrical world of imagination. While this is certainly good counsel in creative writing or consumer literature to hook your reader, research papers are another story; you won't need quotes from wise heroes of the past to grab your readers' attention. In most cases, your audience comprises people already interested in the field who are intrigued by your title and want to delve into what you have found through your study, and you don't want to include trite snippets right at the outset. Of course, you don't want to bore your readers either, so strive for clarity and direct information about your study so the readers who navigate to your paper know what they can expect.

To introduce your research paper effectively, include the following elements in your introduction. You will expand on these topics in greater detail in the paper, but in the introduction to your paper, you'll provide a summary of each one.

  • Overview: Provide a focused statement on the subject matter of your research. What questions are you seeking to answer? How will your study make the world a better place? Here you can also briefly describe any problems you encountered while conducting your study (and be sure to state that you will address these problems within the paper!).
  • Prior research: It's important that your audience knows you've already explored the field and looked around at what has already been written. Briefly discuss what past studies have concluded on the subject and what that means for your current study. Maybe in your search, you found that your research is the first to address your specific topic, which is why your study is so valuable. Let your readers know that you've done your homework.
  • Rationale: Make your case regarding why your study is important today. What will your findings bring to the field? Your research could address current issues and events, or it might illuminate gaps in previous research that need to be filled in order to move ahead in the academic field and strengthen future studies.
  • Methodology: In your methodology paragraph, briefly name the processes you applied during your study. Why are these tools the best ones for your specific research? What answers do you get from using these methods? Details on your methodology can bring credibility to your study and help with future application of your findings to similar fields.
  • Thesis statement: This is the sentence or two that sums up the entire paper. Consider how you might answer if a friend asked, "So, what is your study about?" This statement wraps up what you've discussed in previous paragraphs. Here are a few examples of what to do when writing your thesis statement.
    Perfecting Your Thesis Statement
  • Outline of the paper: At the conclusion on your introduction, offer a review of what your study will discuss specifically in the sections that follow.

Once you've gathered all of the necessary elements for your introduction, try these tips to make your introduction pop:

  1. Try finalizing your introduction after you've finished writing the body of the paper. While it's beneficial to map out what you want your introduction to say before you begin your paper, wait until you've elaborated on your research in detail, and then create your introduction. With the entire work fresh in your mind, you have a clear grasp on what it's about, your purpose in writing it, and what the study results mean for the world.
  2. Show, don't tell. When giving a brief summary of your work, give compelling details about why this study is a good one to conduct. Remember, you still want to be brief, but you can accomplish clarity and brevity while also enticing your readers to share your vision. For example, instead of stating, "Dual language educational programs are important for children," consider saying, "Dual language programs help students develop increased cognitive function, future linguistic advantages, and a broadened worldview."
  3. Keep it simple. Don't bury the good points of your work in excessive detail within the introduction. Your entire paper is where you will delve into the finer points of the research, so take stock of which ideas are the most important and stick to those nuggets to motivate your audience to read on.
  4. Speak to a broader audience. Your research will certainly attract specialists in the field who know every term you could possibly throw at them, but your audience also includes laymen and people who haven't spent as much time in the field as you have, knee-deep in your study. Remember to make your introduction accessible to those who aren't familiar with the industry jargon. The body of the paper is a great place to flex your muscles and the nitty-gritty details of your research results, but the introduction should be consumable by a much more general group. If you have to use specialized language, make sure to define those obscure terms that only a select few people would know.

Your introduction gives your readers greater access to your work. You are the expert, of course, but your goal is to display your findings to a broader audience, and your introduction is the key to accomplishing that objective. Follow these tips and examples to help you create a strong introductory section for your research paper.

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