How to Write a Compelling Introduction to Your Scientific Paper

Hi. I’m Karen McKee, retired scientist and author
with another look at how to improve your scientific writing. Today, I’m going to focus on the paper’s introduction. Novice writers are often clueless when it
comes to how to write an effective introduction. I know, because when I started writing, I
had no idea what was expected in the introduction of a scientific article. There are two important components that must
be included in all introductions. One. You must state a clear question or hypothesis
addressed by your research. And two, you have to explain why the topic
of your research is important. I sometimes get manuscripts to review, and
it quickly becomes clear that the author doesn’t know how to state the study’s main goal or
why it’s important. Sometimes, the author just lacks writing experience. Other times, the author may think that they
don’t need to state what’s obvious to them. That the editor and reviewers will somehow
figure out why the work is important. Big mistake. Explicitly making the case for the importance
of your research is key to convincing a journal to publish your work. And the place to do that convincing is in
the introduction. But exactly how do you accomplish this? Well, there is a really simple formula for
structuring your introduction, which I’m going to cover using examples from one of my own
papers. First. You need to explain why the problem you researched
is important. Next. Describe what is known about the problem and
what information is missing. This is the literature review. And third. State your research question and explain how
it will address that gap in knowledge. Let’s now look at a specific example from
a published paper. We’ll scroll down to the beginning of the
introduction Generally, you want to start with the big
picture. How does your research relate to larger issues
of interest to your field of study? The first sentence tells the reader that this
work falls into the larger topic of global warming and consequent effects of sea-level
rise on coastal wetlands worldwide. The second sentence begins explaining the
mechanisms whereby low-lying ecosystems keep pace with changing sea level. This opening paragraph then narrows the focus
down to systems undergoing rapid subsidence or sinking, such as the Mississippi River
Delta, which is where this study was conducted. Once you’ve set the stage by putting your
work into the bigger picture, you next need to explain what is currently known about the
topic and what information is lacking. Let’s look at the topic sentences of the next
couple of paragraphs. In the first one, basic information about
salt marshes and mangroves is given and it’s explained how their distributions overlap
at subtropical latitudes. The paragraph ends by pointing out information
that is needed to predict the future submergence of coastal wetlands in regions undergoing
vegetation shifts. The next paragraph provides more review of
the literature and what is known about expansion of mangroves worldwide. The possible role of disturbance in causing
vegetation shifts is also reviewed because that was a factor investigated in this study. The end of that paragraph points out that
vegetation shifts may alter the plant community’s capacity to keep pace with sea-level rise. In the next paragraph is a clear statement
of the information need. “Comparative information is needed about how
vegetation shifts affect capacity to keep pace with relative sea-level rise, especially
if accompanied by disturbance.” The final paragraph of the introduction states
the research objective, which was to experimentally tested whether vegetation type,
with or without disturbance, can influence elevation trajectories in a salt marsh-mangrove
community. The final sentence of the introduction drives
home why the study was needed and how the results advance the field of knowledge. Now you can see how easy it is to write an
introduction. All you have to do is answer three main questions
the reader will have about your work. One. Why is your study important and how does it
fit into the big picture? Two. What is known about your topic and what information
is needed? Three. What are your research objectives and how
do they fill that information gap? Now, this is not the only approach to structuring
an introduction. Also, there can be a lot of leeway in how
you structure the literature review or introduce your objectives or questions. Some journals prefer a certain style of introducing
a paper that differs from the example I’ve presented here. It’s a good idea to look at a few papers in
your target journal and see how the introduction is structured. If you found this video helpful, don’t forget
to hit the like button. And if you have a specific question about
scientific writing, please leave a comment.

One Reply to “How to Write a Compelling Introduction to Your Scientific Paper”

  1. Dear Karen, thank you very much for this video. It was very concrete and informative. Keep uploading videos with pearls of wisdom like these.

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