4 Frequent Mistakes Academics Make When Writing an Introduction (And How to Rectify Them)
You have compiled your research, analyzed your data, and written a great paper or scholarly article. You’re almost at the finish line! All that’s left is the dreaded introduction.
An introduction serves multiple purposes, and it is never just filler. Your introduction should describe your motivation, establish the importance of your research, introduce problems that arose during your work and solutions you found, and contextualize your research within a broader scholarly framework. The introduction is important in piquing and holding the interest of your readers, enticing them to go through the entirety of your paper, however long that may be. It lays out the context of your study, providing important bits of information that your audience needs to better understand why you conducted this research and why it matters.
That said, writing a great introduction is easier said than done. Since this is such a vital component of your paper or article, you should be aware of the most common errors your fellow academics make and how best to avoid them before you publish. While a well-written introduction sets the stage for your paper and courteously invites the reader along for the ride, a poorly written one will push most of your readers away before they get into the meat of your paper. Therefore, a great introduction is vital. Don’t forget to submit your draft to our editors—they can help you whip that problematic piece of text into tip-top shape.
Without further ado, here are four mistakes you might be making with your introduction.
1. You write your introduction first
It may seem to make the most sense to write your introduction first. After all, it’s the first part of your work that your audience will read, so you might think that writing chronologically will help you keep things in order.
Counterintuitively, many scholars prefer to save the introduction for last. In this way, you already know the exact content of your article, which makes you better equipped to introduce it. Even if you know what general form your paper will take, it’s difficult to introduce it before you have actually written it. Go ahead and pen a very rough draft of your introduction first if you feel you need the structure, but make sure you go back and flesh it out at the end. You will likely have a lot of details to add, tweak, and delete. Do the same with your abstract. Whatever you do, don’t write out a full introduction at the start and then allow it to restrict you as you work on the rest of the paper.
Writing your introduction last will not only give you a better handle on your own motivation and thus lead to a more balanced and engaging introduction, but it will also set your readers’ expectations in terms of structure and content. Since you have already written the paper, you’ll be able to provide a road map of your work, which you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.
2. You don’t provide sufficient context
You already know that it’s important for your introduction to lay the foundation for your paper, but many academics commit the error of assuming that their audience is just as well-versed in the topic as they are. Yes, a good portion of your readers will likely be deeply familiar with your field and not require a primer on the context, but that certainly doesn’t include all of them, and you don’t want to alienate curious readers interested in your research. Write for people who have an intellectual curiosity about your topic but need a little more scene-building to grasp your ideas.
Always include the who, what, where, why, and how in your introduction so that your readers can still follow with ease when you dive into the nitty-gritty of your research. However, be careful not to insult them with overly dumbed-down language or explanations that even laypeople already understand. Treat your readers like bright, curious intellectuals who don’t know a lot about your subject.
Additionally, state why your research is necessary and what it contributes to the field so that your audience can better appreciate it. While your reasoning may be obvious to experts in your field, you want to present a compelling case to the uninitiated as well. Make sure you list a few other recent publications to prove that your topic is germane and to provide justification for your research.
Remember that this is still an introduction, and as such, it should steer clear of giving too much away at the very beginning. Pique interest, provide context, and let the rest of your paper get into the details. You want to introduce the topic, not do a deep dive into what your results signify. Situate your findings in time with the use of adverbs, relative time clauses, and references to similar research by date.
3. Your language is inappropriate
Of course, this is not to imply that you’ll be peppering your introduction with slang or colloquialisms—here, inappropriate language is more about tone, jargon, and voice. Use descriptive verbs in the active voice (unless the passive is truly warranted) and maintain a professional tone that establishes you, the author, as an expert on the subject. Adopt a formal yet succinct style, speaking confidently and authoritatively while resisting the urge to pull out all your “smart words” that will have readers reaching for a dictionary.
On a similar note, you will alienate your audience if you use too much technical jargon at the outset (save that for your deep dive into theory later on—and be sure to define adequately any technical terms you whip out). Rather than stating “The low metabolic rate of the Trichechus manatus is profoundly affected by its consumption of Brassica oleracea as well as photosynthetic eukaryotic organisms,” you can simplify by saying “The manatee’s metabolism is affected by its typical diet of cabbage and algae.” And just like that, you make your paper way more accessible to the average reader.
You should adopt a formal and factual tone, but be careful not to slip into verbosity. There’s never any reason to use “due to the fact that” when “because” does a perfectly fine job. Also, make sure you use a tense appropriate to the context. For example, when stating a fact, use the present simple tense (e.g., “Manatees are herbivorous marine animals”). When describing a result or a finding, use the past simple tense (e.g., “Researchers discovered that manatees were once confused with mermaids”). If you encounter any issues with grammar or sentence structure as you write or are concerned that your tone is not appropriate for academic writing, get a proofreading quote here and enlist the help of our experts.
4. Your introduction is disorganized
If your introduction is all over the place, you’ll lose the interest of your audience, not to mention that your work will be less likely to be taken seriously. After all the time and energy you have poured into researching and writing, you want your paper to have the maximum impact possible. To ensure that your text is laid out logically and to provide appropriate context, you can follow this outline:
- Present the focus of your paper.
- Demonstrate the importance of your research (placing it in context).
- List similar, recent, and relevant publications and research in the field.
- Introduce the problem, main argument, central thesis, and/or objectives.
- Explain how the research was conducted and what you found.
- Describe the structure of your paper, giving readers a quick tour through the different sections. (“This paper will…”)
One paragraph is generally not enough to accomplish all these goals, and 15 could be considered excessive, so two to five paragraphs might be the sweet spot. Start broadly and narrow down your descriptions as you go along. Feel free to tweak the outline as necessary to suit your work, but it is highly recommended that you use a similar structure.
In summary, keep your introduction concise, focused, and contextual. Also, don’t forget that you can always ask for a second opinion—reach out to your friends, peers, or supervisor to get their input on your introduction, but make sure you ask someone who will give you honest feedback—this can be invaluable. If you need a fresh pair of eyes to ensure that your work is original and engaging, consider getting our deluxe academic package.