How To Start Writing Your Scientific Paper: Tips For Non-English Speakers. Tip #7.

Tip Number 7: Writing the introduction.

Introduction should be the last section to write, after methods, results, discussion and conclusions have been written.

When I first started writing, I tried writing the introduction first then went to the other sections. Then I realised that after I finished with the discussion and conclusions, the main messages and conclusions of the paper had moved away from the what I had written in the introduction. After much studying, mistakes and many papers later I learnt that the introduction is usually the last section of a scientific paper that is written. I wished I had learnt this earlier. Maybe I was not paying attention in those research writing classes I attended. But then looking back, I see that I was not taught well. I am not sure if I missed the key points while in class or that my teachers were not themselves writing and publishing so they could not teach me their practical experience.

So the tip here is write the introduction last.

Another tip – plan how your introduction will look like. Decide how many paragraphs the introduction will be. I usually try to limit the introduction of my papers to less than 5 sentences. But it could be shorter. Create a general layout and overview of how the introduction will look like. You can do this by making bullet points for each paragraph. Beside each bullet point briefly state what that paragraph will discuss. If you decide that the introduction will have 5 sentences, then have 5 bullet points. While developing the layout, you may realise that you may add or remove 1 or 2 paragraphs in your introduction. That’s good because that is what the planning exercise is for. It’s not final. But the important thing is to have that general overview/layout of the introduction by making bullet points and brief exlainatory remarks besides each bullet point about what each paragraph will talk about. One bullet point for each paragraph you will write.

I usually start the introduction with a big overview of the topic the paper is about then narrow down the discussion (introduction section) with each subsequent paragraph. The first paragraph is usually the paragraph that introduces the general topic of the paper in a general overview point of view.

Then the next 3 or 4 paragraph I sequentially narrow the focus of the introduction until the last paragraph of the introduction contains information about why my study was done and states the research question/research objectives. A kind of upside down pyramid approach – from this big wide view down to a narrow focus area where the study focused on.

Sometimes the last paragraph of the introduction can be just 1 or 2 sentences. This last paragraph of the introduction should contain the reason why you did your study and what you hoped the study will reveal (study objectives).

Remember, the first writing is the draft. It’s not the final piece. This is the creative process. Once done, you can revisit it to polish and fine tune the introduction section by changing repeating words, using a thesaurus to change words and the general presentation/writing style. The difficult part is creating the first draft. Once you have the draft, you are 80% complete.


About rodney itaki

Medical doctor and public health specialist from Papua New Guinea.
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