Frequently asked questions
What should i include in a research paper introduction.
The introduction of a research paper includes several key elements:
- A hook to catch the reader’s interest
- Relevant background on the topic
- Details of your research problem
and your problem statement
- A thesis statement or research question
- Sometimes an overview of the paper
Frequently asked questions: Writing a research paper
A research project is an academic, scientific, or professional undertaking to answer a research question . Research projects can take many forms, such as qualitative or quantitative , descriptive , longitudinal , experimental , or correlational . What kind of research approach you choose will depend on your topic.
The best way to remember the difference between a research plan and a research proposal is that they have fundamentally different audiences. A research plan helps you, the researcher, organize your thoughts. On the other hand, a dissertation proposal or research proposal aims to convince others (e.g., a supervisor, a funding body, or a dissertation committee) that your research topic is relevant and worthy of being conducted.
Formulating a main research question can be a difficult task. Overall, your question should contribute to solving the problem that you have defined in your problem statement .
However, it should also fulfill criteria in three main areas:
- Feasibility and specificity
- Relevance and originality
Research questions anchor your whole project, so it’s important to spend some time refining them.
In general, they should be:
- Focused and researchable
- Answerable using credible sources
- Complex and arguable
- Feasible and specific
- Relevant and original
All research questions should be:
- Focused on a single problem or issue
- Researchable using primary and/or secondary sources
- Feasible to answer within the timeframe and practical constraints
- Specific enough to answer thoroughly
- Complex enough to develop the answer over the space of a paper or thesis
- Relevant to your field of study and/or society more broadly
A research aim is a broad statement indicating the general purpose of your research project. It should appear in your introduction at the end of your problem statement , before your research objectives.
Research objectives are more specific than your research aim. They indicate the specific ways you’ll address the overarching aim.
Once you’ve decided on your research objectives , you need to explain them in your paper, at the end of your problem statement .
Keep your research objectives clear and concise, and use appropriate verbs to accurately convey the work that you will carry out for each one.
I will compare …
Your research objectives indicate how you’ll try to address your research problem and should be specific:
Research objectives describe what you intend your research project to accomplish.
They summarize the approach and purpose of the project and help to focus your research.
Your objectives should appear in the introduction of your research paper , at the end of your problem statement .
The main guidelines for formatting a paper in Chicago style are to:
- Use a standard font like 12 pt Times New Roman
- Use 1 inch margins or larger
- Apply double line spacing
- Indent every new paragraph ½ inch
- Include a title page
- Place page numbers in the top right or bottom center
- Cite your sources with author-date citations or Chicago footnotes
- Include a bibliography or reference list
To automatically generate accurate Chicago references, you can use Scribbr’s free Chicago reference generator .
The main guidelines for formatting a paper in MLA style are as follows:
- Use an easily readable font like 12 pt Times New Roman
- Set 1 inch page margins
- Include a four-line MLA heading on the first page
- Center the paper’s title
- Use title case capitalization for headings
- Cite your sources with MLA in-text citations
- List all sources cited on a Works Cited page at the end
To format a paper in APA Style , follow these guidelines:
- Use a standard font like 12 pt Times New Roman or 11 pt Arial
- If submitting for publication, insert a running head on every page
- Apply APA heading styles
- Cite your sources with APA in-text citations
- List all sources cited on a reference page at the end
No, it’s not appropriate to present new arguments or evidence in the conclusion . While you might be tempted to save a striking argument for last, research papers follow a more formal structure than this.
All your findings and arguments should be presented in the body of the text (more specifically in the results and discussion sections if you are following a scientific structure). The conclusion is meant to summarize and reflect on the evidence and arguments you have already presented, not introduce new ones.
The conclusion of a research paper has several key elements you should make sure to include:
- A restatement of the research problem
- A summary of your key arguments and/or findings
- A short discussion of the implications of your research
Don’t feel that you have to write the introduction first. The introduction is often one of the last parts of the research paper you’ll write, along with the conclusion.
This is because it can be easier to introduce your paper once you’ve already written the body ; you may not have the clearest idea of your arguments until you’ve written them, and things can change during the writing process .
The way you present your research problem in your introduction varies depending on the nature of your research paper . A research paper that presents a sustained argument will usually encapsulate this argument in a thesis statement .
A research paper designed to present the results of empirical research tends to present a research question that it seeks to answer. It may also include a hypothesis —a prediction that will be confirmed or disproved by your research.
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4 Step approach to writing the Introduction section of a research paper
Study Background & Introduction
If you want others to cite your paper, you should make sure they read it first. Let us assume that the title and the abstract of your paper have convinced your peers that they should see your paper. It is then the job of the Introduction section to ensure that they start reading it and keep reading it, to pull them in and to show them around as it were, guiding them to the other parts of the paper (Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion).
What is the function of the Introduction section?
Put simply, the Introduction should answer the question ‘Why:’ why you choose that topic for research; why it is important; why you adopted a particular method or approach; and so on. You can also think of the Introduction as the section that points out the gap in knowledge that the rest of the paper will fill, or the section in which you define and claim your territory within the broad area of research.
The other job the Introduction should do is to give some background information and set the context. You can do this by describing the research problem you considered or the research question you asked (in the main body of the paper, you will offer the solution to the problem or the answer to the question) and by briefly reviewing any other solutions or approaches that have been tried in the past.
Remember that a thesis or a dissertation usually has a separate chapter titled ‘Review of literature,’ but a research paper has no such section; instead, the Introduction includes a review in brief.
Now that you have given the background and set the context, the last part of the Introduction should specify the objectives of the experiment or analysis of the study described in the paper. This concluding part of the Introduction should include specific details or the exact question(s) to be answered later in the paper.
The 4-step approach to writing the Introduction section
As a rule of thumb, this section accounts for about 10% of the total word count of the body of a typical research paper, or about 400 words spread over three paragraphs in a 4000-word paper. 1 With that, let us now understand how to write the Introduction section step-by-step:
1. Provide background information and set the context.
This initial part of the Introduction prepares the readers for more detailed and specific information that is given later. The first couple of sentences are typically broad.
Below are some examples:
- A paper on organic matter in soil can begin thus: ‘Sustainable crop production is a function of the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soil, which, in turn, are markedly affected by the organic matter in soil.’
- A paper that discusses the possible beneficial role of bacteria in treating cancer can begin as follows: ‘The role of bacteria as anticancer agent was recognized almost hundred years back.’
- A paper on lithium batteries can introduce the study with the following sentence: ‘The rapid growth of lithium ion batteries and their new uses, such as powering electric cars and storing electricity for grid supply, demands more reliable methods to understand and predict battery performance and life.’
At the same time, the introductory statement should not be too broad: note that in the examples above, the Introduction did not begin by talking about agriculture, cancer, or batteries in general, but by mentioning organic matter in soil, the role of bacteria, and lithium ion batteries.
Once the first sentence has introduced the broad field, the next sentence can point to the specific area within that broad field. As you may have noticed, the papers in the examples mentioned above introduced the subfield by mentioning 1) remission of some types cancer following accidental infection by Streptococcus pyogenes , 2) organic matter in soil as a source of nutrients for plants and of energy for microorganisms, and 3) imaging techniques to visualize the 3-dimensional structure of the materials and components of batteries on nanoscale.
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2. Introduce the specific topic of your research and explain why it is important.
As you can see from the above examples, the authors are moving toward presenting the specific topic of their research. So now in the following part, you can bring in some statistics to show the importance of the topic or the seriousness of the problem.
Here are some examples:
- A paper on controlling malaria by preventive measures, can mention the number of people affected, the number of person-hours lost, or the cost of treating the disease.
- A paper on developing crops that require little water can mention the frequency of severe droughts or the decrease in crop production because of droughts.
- A paper on more efficient methods of public transport can mention the extent of air pollution due to exhausts from cars and two-wheelers or the shrinking ratio between the number of automobiles and road length.
Another way to emphasize the importance of the research topic is to highlight the possible benefits from solving the problem or from finding an answer to the question: possible savings, greater production, longer-lasting devices, and so on. This approach emphasizes the positive.
For example, instead of saying that X dollars are lost because of malaria every year, say that X dollars can be saved annually if malaria is prevented, or X millions litres of water can be saved by dispensing with irrigation, or X person-hours can be saved in the form of avoided illnesses because of improved air quality or reduced pollution.
3. Mention past attempts to solve the research problem or to answer the research question.
As mentioned earlier, a formal review of literature is out of place in the Introduction section of a research paper; however, it is appropriate to indicate any earlier relevant research and clarify how your research differs from those attempts. The differences can be simple: you may have repeated the same set of experiments but with a different organism, or elaborated (involving perhaps more sophisticated or advanced analytical instruments) the study with a much larger and diverse sample, or a widely different geographical setting.
Here are two examples:
- ‘Although these studies were valuable, they were undertaken when the draft genome sequence had not been available and therefore provide little information on the evolutionary and regulatory mechanisms.’
- ‘Plant response is altered by insect colonization and behaviour but these aspects have been studied mostly in sole crops, whereas the present paper examines the relationship between crops and their pests in an intercropping system.’
4. Conclude the Introduction by mentioning the specific objectives of your research.
The earlier paragraphs should lead logically to specific objectives of your study. Note that this part of the Introduction gives specific details: for instance, the earlier part of the Introduction may mention the importance of controlling malaria whereas the concluding part will specify what methods of control were used and how they were evaluated. At the same time, avoid too much detail because those belong to the Materials and Methods section of the paper.
If, for example, your research was about finding the right proportions of two metals in an alloy and you tested ten different proportions, you do not have to list all the ten proportions: it is enough to say that the proportions varied from 50:50 to 10:90.
Here are two more examples:
- ‘We aimed to assess the effectiveness of four disinfection strategies on hospital-wide incidence of multidrug-resistant organisms and Clostridium difficile ’
- ‘We aimed (1) to assess the epidemiological changes before and after the upsurge of scarlet fever in China in 2011; (2) to explore the reasons for the upsurge and the epidemiological factors that contributed to it; and (3) to assess how these factors could be managed to prevent future epidemics.’
There are different ways of constructing the objectives. Using questions 2 , hypotheses, and infinitives are the more common constructions (both examples in the previous paragraph use infinitives), each of which is illustrated below with some fictitious text:
- ‘Do some genes in wheat form gene networks? If they do, to what extent as compared to rice?’
- ‘Do the regulatory elements in the promoters of those genes display any conserved motifs?’
- ‘Finally, and more specifically, do those genes in wheat display any tissue- or organ-specific expression pattern?’
‘We decided to test the following four hypotheses related to employees of information-technology companies:
H1: Career stages influence work values.
H2: Career stages influence the level of job satisfaction.
H3: Career stages do not influence organizational commitment.’
‘To examine the response of Oryza sativa to four different doses of nitrogen in terms of 1) biomass production, 2) plant height, and 3) crop duration.’
Compared to two other sections of a typical research paper, namely Methods and Results, Introduction and Discussion are more difficult to write. However, the 4-step approach described in this article should ease the task.
A final tip: although the Introduction is the first section of the main text of your paper, you don’t have to write that section first. You can write it, or at least revise it, after you have written the rest of the paper: this will make the Introduction not only easier to write but also more compelling.
To learn in more detail the guidelines to write a great Introduction section, check out this course: How to write a strong introduction for your research paper
1. Araújo C G. 2014. Detailing the writing of scientific manuscripts: 25-30 paragraphs. Arquivos Brasileiros de Cardiologia 102 (2): e21–e23
2. Boxman R and Boxman E. 2017. Communicating Science: a practical guide for engineers and physical scientists , pp. 7–9. Singapore: World Scientific. 276 pp.
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Published on: Sep 18, 2018
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How to write the background of your study
How to write the literature review of your research paper
4 Step approach to writing the Introduction section of a research paper 10 min read
6 Actionable tips to improve academic writing 7 min read
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Microsoft 365 Life Hacks > Writing > How to write an introduction for a research paper
How to write an introduction for a research paper
Beginnings are hard. Beginning a research paper is no exception. Many students—and pros—struggle with how to write an introduction for a research paper.
This short guide will describe the purpose of a research paper introduction and how to create a good one.
What is an introduction for a research paper?
Introductions to research papers do a lot of work.
It may seem obvious, but introductions are always placed at the beginning of a paper. They guide your reader from a general subject area to the narrow topic that your paper covers. They also explain your paper’s:
- Scope: The topic you’ll be covering
- Context: The background of your topic
- Importance: Why your research matters in the context of an industry or the world
Your introduction will cover a lot of ground. However, it will only be half of a page to a few pages long. The length depends on the size of your paper as a whole. In many cases, the introduction will be shorter than all of the other sections of your paper.
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Why is an introduction vital to a research paper?
The introduction to your research paper isn’t just important. It’s critical.
Your readers don’t know what your research paper is about from the title. That’s where your introduction comes in. A good introduction will:
- Help your reader understand your topic’s background
- Explain why your research paper is worth reading
- Offer a guide for navigating the rest of the piece
- Pique your reader’s interest
Without a clear introduction, your readers will struggle. They may feel confused when they start reading your paper. They might even give up entirely. Your introduction will ground them and prepare them for the in-depth research to come.
What should you include in an introduction for a research paper?
Research paper introductions are always unique. After all, research is original by definition. However, they often contain six essential items. These are:
- An overview of the topic. Start with a general overview of your topic. Narrow the overview until you address your paper’s specific subject. Then, mention questions or concerns you had about the case. Note that you will address them in the publication.
- Prior research. Your introduction is the place to review other conclusions on your topic. Include both older scholars and modern scholars. This background information shows that you are aware of prior research. It also introduces past findings to those who might not have that expertise.
- A rationale for your paper. Explain why your topic needs to be addressed right now. If applicable, connect it to current issues. Additionally, you can show a problem with former theories or reveal a gap in current research. No matter how you do it, a good rationale will interest your readers and demonstrate why they must read the rest of your paper.
- Describe the methodology you used. Recount your processes to make your paper more credible. Lay out your goal and the questions you will address. Reveal how you conducted research and describe how you measured results. Moreover, explain why you made key choices.
- A thesis statement. Your main introduction should end with a thesis statement. This statement summarizes the ideas that will run through your entire research article. It should be straightforward and clear.
- An outline. Introductions often conclude with an outline. Your layout should quickly review what you intend to cover in the following sections. Think of it as a roadmap, guiding your reader to the end of your paper.
These six items are emphasized more or less, depending on your field. For example, a physics research paper might emphasize methodology. An English journal article might highlight the overview.
Three tips for writing your introduction
We don’t just want you to learn how to write an introduction for a research paper. We want you to learn how to make it shine.
There are three things you can do that will make it easier to write a great introduction. You can:
- Write your introduction last. An introduction summarizes all of the things you’ve learned from your research. While it can feel good to get your preface done quickly, you should write the rest of your paper first. Then, you’ll find it easy to create a clear overview.
- Include a strong quotation or story upfront. You want your paper to be full of substance. But that doesn’t mean it should feel boring or flat. Add a relevant quotation or surprising anecdote to the beginning of your introduction. This technique will pique the interest of your reader and leave them wanting more.
- Be concise. Research papers cover complex topics. To help your readers, try to write as clearly as possible. Use concise sentences. Check for confusing grammar or syntax . Read your introduction out loud to catch awkward phrases. Before you finish your paper, be sure to proofread, too. Mistakes can seem unprofessional.
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