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The Introduction in the Research Work: Is it Worth the Effort?

Very often, my students have doubts about how to write the introduction in their research papers. Several reasons paralyze their writing. Among these reasons is the fear of making statements that might commit judgments or opinions.

Academic writing is a well-structured discursive genre. Just like news articles, essays, or advertising copy, academic texts have a structure with which their readers (academics/scientists) are familiar. Although I have been a researcher for more than 12 years, I had the opportunity to learn this only five years ago. Before that, writing introductions paralyzed me. I was mostly plagued by the doubt of whether my statements were biasing the reader's opinion, directing their attention towards the problem's answer: my ingenious or modest contribution. I felt false, somewhat like an impostor.

I won't lie to you. The introduction has an instrumental objective, to make people learn something new, but also a dialogical one, to get people to opine on something they know. Although in class I like to exemplify it as if it were a Marketing Strategy ("There is a problem this big + described by the literature + where new evidence is still lacking + and it occurred to me to ask this + to gather evidence on it"), it is my responsibility to clarify that it is not about this. This doesn't mean that many colleagues and pseudo-scientists don't use malicious discourse.

The introduction is like a warm welcome. It’s the prelude to what awaits the reader in the following pages. Its persuasive power is not based on deception but on creating an understanding that what they will read will help them learn more about a topic or share or debate your point of view. While like any discourse, it runs the risk of being instrumental (for academic marketing purposes), it should be seen as an opportunity to present something that could be interesting to our readers, with proportional doses of (self)conviction and humility. It’s important to remember that, in the end, the reader has the power to decide whether to believe us and scrutinize our ideas. Although we craft the discourse, our reader has the final opinion.

How Can I Write the Introduction for my research work?

There is no exact or unique formula. But there are distinctive features, information that any reader should find when navigating your work. In Research Methodology classes, I like to work with the following questions:

  • What is the object of study or topic I am researching?

  • What is known about the topic and why is more data needed?

  • Given this, what is the final objective of this work?

  • Why could my work be relevant?

Some advice:

  • Present the object of study from a general perspective that allows the reader to connect from what they already know about the topic to its particularity.

  • Present evidence: objective data (numbers, reports, quotes) that allow the reader to easily understand what is known so far about the topic and what the area of opportunity or research niche is (what is not known/what needs to be further explored).

  • State the objective of your work. Based on the gaps in the research, present the direction your work will take.

  • Detail the relevance or impact of your work for your field of knowledge, society, and/or the development of future work.

A simple way to do this exercise is to develop the questions and points into paragraphs. However, as I mentioned, there is no single way.  Booth et al. (2009) advise adopting a style according to the discipline or even the type of journal. As a professional in advertising, I lean towards the storytelling technique to take the reader to a journey from the general to the particular. With all this, I am not the master of writing introductions. I still have years to improve. Neither am I the authority to judge others’ work. Nevertheless, I invite you to evaluate these features the next time you read a scientific article.

All rights reserved (2024). J. Roberto Sánchez-Reina, Rizoma Redes.

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