Your Guide to Writing A Strong Academic Introduction

Your Introductory Paragraph Explained

There is a specific stylistic methodology that can assist in forming a coherent and powerful academic introduction paragraph in a research article, especially in scientific disciplines. Writing a strong introductory paragraph is not only a necessary component of being published, but in ensuring your work is understood and makes a significant contribution to the body of knowledge.

John Swales, a leading linguistics professor, defines a model for writing such an introduction in terms of “moves” and “steps”.

Topic overview

The first rhetorical move communicated in the introductory paragraph(s) consists of setting boundaries wherein the research area or territory is defined. For example, you should not simply refer to theoretical physics as such, but the specific branch or intra-disciplinary focus. To the extent that this research area is significant or at least well-established, the importance of the research area is established.  In this way, you claim a certain centrality. Here, you need to highlight previous work in this area. 

The next “move” consists in highlighting a blind spot or at least a “gap” in the existing literature. For example, returning to the example of a topic within theoretical physics, you could mention that there is scant literature on a specific aspect of such a study. At this point, you need to indicate certain limitations to current research in the demarcated area. Another possible “step” is to expand on an existing tradition or line of argument that perhaps has not been probed deeply enough.

At this point, you have prepared the reader for the “coup”, wherein you now established how the current paper or research material will adequately “fill the gap”, that is to say, provide new and pertinent knowledge to develop current research or at best, develop and generate new knowledge. Thus, you should speak directly about what new knowledge in, say, this specialized area in theoretical physics will offer. You should outline the purpose of the current paper, including a summary of principal findings and one possible step is to also outline the structure of the paper.

State your hypothesis

By following this schema, a clear articulation of the context of the study is established. Moreover, its relevance and potential for developing the terrain is argued for. The last move, namely defining the objectives of this study, may in many cases mean articulating a clear hypothesis. This ought to be followed by a brief account of what these findings were and if the hypothesis was proven true or not. In this case, the reader knows the trajectory of the project and the value it may hold. In addition, a clearly defined outcome in the introduction gives the reader clear bearings and thus makes later sections, such as the methodology and results, easier to follow and clear in terms of what the quantitative data might imply both in terms of the paper in question and the larger questions so far as the future research implications might be.

Narrow your focus

The key point in terms of such a formula is to taper your language from the general to the more specific, narrowing your focus toward the paper in question itself. You begin citing references that introduce the research area in question and then as the reader becomes aware of “gaps” the need for the current paper is argued for. By the time you reach “move 3”, it is best to use the present simple tense in describing the work of the paper itself.

In my own role as a lecturer in academic writing for doctoral students in English where in general their first language is Hebrew or other foreign tongues, the structured outlined certainly assists students in writing a coherent introduction and developing their project with both precision and clarity. It furthermore assists in finding accurate words without being wordy and perhaps most importantly creates a seamless flow, which is the basis for good writing and communication of ideas, however technical in scope. A good introduction ought to follow this structure. In so doing, your chances of success of being published, read, and even contributing to the prevailing discourse is increased greatly. 



Glassman, H. (2010). Science research writing for non-native speakers of English. Imperial College Press, London: UK.

Swales, J & Feak, C. (2004).  Academic Writing for Graduate Students, 3rd Edition, Essential Tasks and Skills, 3rd Edition, Michigan University Press: MI/

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