Journal Article: Introduction
Your paper’s Introduction section should provide your readers with the information they need to grasp, appreciate, and build on the knowledge you present. Despite audience-dependent variations , the Introduction generally follows a four-part structure that sets the stage for the core of the paper. Check out annotated examples at the end to see how different authors have introduced their work.
1. Before you start
1.1. identify your purpose.
The Introduction provides your audience with the background information necessary to understand the work you’re presenting in the article, and the reasons why you conducted your work . Therefore, clarify for yourself what problem you’re addressing and why your work is important.
1.2. Analyze your audience
Scientists in your specific field will probably understand your work’s motivation whether they read your Introduction or not. They might even skip the Introduction and focus on the Methods and Results. Outsiders are the people who will benefit most from a well-crafted Introduction. This is an opportunity for you to broaden their background knowledge and close the gap in technical knowledge.
Analyze papers from your target journal and follow the journal’s guidelines. This will inform the appropriate length and breadth for your Introduction, as well as the content needed to help your readers follow along. Let’s say you are writing a paper about CFD simulation in nuclear fission reactor. You can assume that readers of Physics of Fluids are interested in developments in fluid mechanics, but may not know much about reactor design. For other journals such as Nuclear Engineering and Design , readers will be nuclear science insiders.
If you are writing for a general audience, your Introduction will start with some broad, motivating background and fewer technical details. Below are excerpts from two journals articles. Although they describe the same research project, one is intended for a general audience (left) whereas the other is directed at scientists with previous knowledge on the topic (right).
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2. Writing your Introduction
Regardless of length, an effective Introduction resembles the first half of an abstract . Just like an abstract, one way to remember the different components is to visualize an hourglass: start with a broad opening and lead your reader toward the core of your paper.
Here is an example illustrating our four-part structure (see more examples below).
2.1. General background: A broad opening
The general background should demarcate the overall scientific setting of your work. Start with a general topic that everyone in your audience cares about. Note that the general background should give your audience a sense of what to expect from your paper, not an overview of the history of a field. Introduce only necessary background that is related to your work, and make sure it can narrow down to your thesis.
2.2. Specific background: Work done so far
Give your reader a sense of previous accomplishments, current contradictions, and competing theories in the field. Cite previous work that illustrates your narrative and gives a balanced description of the scientific landscape on this research topic.
2.3. Knowledge gap: Motivation for your work
Give evidence of the incompleteness of the current understanding and of the value of investigating the field further. What is the gap that needs to be filled? Demonstrate the importance of this unsolved problem as the motivation for your work.
2.4. Aim of your paper
Finally, clearly state the aim and scope of this article (not the project) and what exact question is answered. You may also briefly explain how the study was conducted, and share a preview of your findings.
3. Quick tips
- Select your target journal carefully. Make sure there is a clear match between your objective for the paper, and the journal’s mission, scope, and readership. This will not only help you write your Introduction but also increase your chances of getting your submission accepted.
- Follow the publisher’s guidelines and read other papers from your target journal to make sure you understand their expectations.
- Only cite relevant work. The previous findings and studies you cite must be strongly related to your research topic, and lead to the knowledge gap of your paper.
- Have a clear story line before writing your Introduction. A paper may be divided into discrete sections but these must all work together. The story you choose for the Results and Discussion sections will determine which theories and past research or methodologies need to be presented in the Introduction. Do not spend excessive amounts of time perfecting the Introduction until you have clear path for the whole paper
- Refer back to your Introduction when you write your Conclusion. The Introduction and Conclusion together serve as “book covers.” Just as your Introduction describes the scientific landscape surrounding your work, your Conclusion will address how your work adds to the field.
4. Annotated examples
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How to Write a Journal Article Introduction Section
Our journal manuscript series has covered the various sections of a scientific article according to the order in which we recommend you write them ( Figures , Methods section , Results section , Discussion section , and Conclusion section ). In this second-to-last installment, we’ll talk about the Introduction and how to draft it in a way that intrigues your readers and makes them want to continue reading. After all, the journal publications industry is a business, so editors won’t accept your article unless they’re confident their readership will be interested.
What is an Introduction in a research paper?
After the Abstract (the final section of the paper you should draft) and the visual aids, like figures, a reader’s first true interaction with your work is the Introduction . Thus, like any other story, you must set a compelling stage that invites your readers into your research world. Essentially, your Introduction will establish the foundation upon which your readers will approach your work . You lay down the rules of interpretation, and if your manuscript follows the tips we’ve given in this series, your readers should be able to logically apply those rules throughout all parts of your paper, including the conclusion in your Discussion section.
Before we examine what specifically belongs in this critical context-defining section of your manuscript, let’s explore a practical point about writing the Introduction.
When should I write the Introduction section?
You may recall that we recommended a particular order for drafting your manuscript—an order that suggests the Introduction should be written second to last. You may also remember we talked about how the Discussion (or the Conclusion section for journals that separate the Discussion and Conclusion) should answer the questions raised in the Introduction. So which is it? Write the Introduction first or the Discussion? Honestly, the Introduction should come second to last because it is one of the harder sections of the manuscript to nail correctly. Therefore, we recommend writing the Introduction in two stages.
Start with a skeletal Introduction that clearly states the hypothesis (the question your research answers). Then proceed with fully drafting the remaining parts of your manuscript, including analyzing your results in the Discussion and drawing rough conclusions that you will later refine. Once you’ve finished the other parts, return to your Introduction and incorporate the information we outline further below under the heading “What should I include in the Introduction?” After, modify the Discussion’s conclusion accordingly and polish the entire piece once again.
What to Include in the Introduction Section
Your paper must read like a chronological story ; it will begin with point A (the Introduction) and advance in time toward point B (the Discussion/Conclusion). If you recall from our prior article, the Discussion should answer the questions “why this particular study was needed to fill the gap in scientific knowledge we currently have and why that gap needed filling in the first place.” The Introduction answers similar but distinct questions. The context you establish in the Introduction must first identify that there is a knowledge gap and then explain how you intend to fill that gap and why .
Imagine that your paper is an hourglass figure, as in the infographic below. Your Introduction holds the sand of knowledge that we currently have (the top bulb), and as the sand trickles through the neck (your research), it builds up a new base of knowledge (the bottom bulb). Thus your paper traces that journey from the top of the hourglass to the bottom, answering the questions in the infographic along the way. As a part of that journey, your Introduction is the starting point that answers the first three questions concisely.
As you can see from above, your Introduction should start broadly and narrow until it reaches your hypothesis. Now, let’s examine how we can achieve this flow of ideas more closely.
What is known about the current research topic?
- Start the Introduction with a strong statement that reflects your research subject area. Use keywords from your title to help you focus and avoid starting too broadly .
- Avoid stating too many obvious facts that your target readers would know . You should be precise about the area of focus so that readers can properly orient themselves before diving into your paper.
- As a trick to help you combat too broad a start, write down your hypothesis or purpose first .
- Then work backward to think about what background information your reader needs to appreciate the significance of your study.
- Stop going back when you reach the point where your readers would be comfortable understanding the statements you make but might not be fully confident to explain all the aspects of those facts.
- Cite relevant, up-to-date primary literature to support your explanation of our current base of knowledge . Make sure to include any significant works that might contradict your argument and address the flaws with that opposing line of thought. You want your readers to conclude that your approach is more plausible than alternative theories.
- Be sure to cite your sources . Plagiarism is a serious offense in the academic community that will hurt your credibility (not to mention it is a violation of many copyright laws). Direct copying or a closely matched language should be avoided. Instead, be sure to use your own words to rephrase what you read in the literature and include references.
- Remember that the Introduction is not meant to be a comprehensive literature review ! Don’t overwhelm your reader with a sea of citations. Instead, use key primary literature (i.e., journal articles) to quickly guide your reader from the general study area to more specific material covered by your hypothesis. In other words, the literature you cite should logically lead your reader to develop the same questions that prompted you to do your research project. Roughly a half page should suffice, but double-check with your target journal’s information for authors.
What is the gap in knowledge?
- As you describe our understanding of the relevant subject matter, highlight areas where too little information is available . However, don’t stop at saying “little is known about…” You must elaborate and tell your readers why we should care about unearthing additional information about this knowledge gap. See the subheading “How and why should we fill that gap?” for further details.
- Alternatively, your Introduction should identify what logical next steps can be developed based on existing research . After all, the purpose of sharing research is to prompt other researchers to develop new inquiries and improve our comprehension of a particular issue. By showing you have examined current data and devised a method to find new applications and make new inferences, you’re showing your peers that you are aware of the direction your field is moving in and confident in your decision to pursue the study contemplated by your paper.
How should we fill that knowledge gap?
- State your purpose/hypothesis clearly . Surprisingly, many people actually forget to do so! If all else fails, a simple “The purpose of this study was to examine/study X” will suffice.
- You are proposing a solution to a problem (the gap) you observed in our current knowledge base. As such, your Introduction must convince your readers that this problem needs solving .
- In particular, since we are writing with a particular journal’s readership in mind (or, at least, you should be!), make sure to address how pertinent your project would be to the reader’s interests.
- In other words, if we fill this gap, what useful information will the readers gain ? The answer to that question is the promise you are delivering to your readers, and in the conclusion part of your Discussion, you will give final confirmation of your findings and elaborate more on what your readers can now do with the information your project has contributed to the research community.
- DON’T draw any conclusions or include any data from your study . Those aspects belong in other parts of your paper.
- Similarly , DON’T talk about specific techniques in your Introduction because your readers ought to be familiar with most of them. If you employed a novel technique in your study, and the development of that process is central to your study, then, by all means, include a brief overview.
How to Write the Introduction Section
To round out our guide to drafting the Introduction of your journal article, we provide some general tips about the technical aspects of writing the Introduction section below.
- Use the active voice.
- Be concise.
- Avoid nominalizations (converting phrases, including adjectives and verbs, into nouns). Instead, use the verb form where practical. When you eliminate nominalizations, your sentences will shorten, you’ll maintain an active voice, and your sentences will flow more like natural speech.
- Do you see those uber long sentences in your draft? Revise them. Anything longer than three to four lines is absurd, and even sentences of that length should be rare. Shorter sentences are clearer, making it easier for your readers to follow your arguments. With that said, don’t condense every sentence. Incorporate a variety of sentence structures and lengths.
- Similarly, drop the extended sentences with semicolons and serial clauses connected by commas. Again, the purpose of your paper is to provide a CLEAR explanation of your findings.
- Avoid overusing first-person pronouns. Use them rarely at the beginning of the section and sprinkle them toward the end when you discuss your hypothesis and the rationale behind your study.
- Organize your thoughts from broad to specific (as described in the section “What should I include in the Introduction” above).
- BONUS TIP #1: Like any other type of writing, start your Introduction with an active hook . Writing a summary of your findings shouldn’t be boring. In fact, a dull start will make your readers stop long before they get to the good stuff—your results and discussion! So how do you make an exciting hook? Think about techniques in creative nonfiction like starting with a provoking anecdote, quote or striking piece of empirical data. You’re telling a story, after all, so make it enjoyable!
- BONUS TIP #2: As one author, reviewer, and editor once stated , your Introduction should avoid using phrases like “novel,” “first ever,” and “paradigm-changing.” Your project might not be paradigm-shifting (few studies truly are); however, if your idea isn’t novel in the first instance, then should you be writing the paper now? If you don’t feel like your research would make a meaningful contribution to current knowledge, then you might want to consider conducting further research before approaching the drafting table.
And keep in mind that receiving English proofreading and paper editing services for your manuscript before submission to journals greatly increases your chances of publication. Wordvice provides high-quality professional editing for all types of academic documents and includes a free certificate of editing .
You can also find these resources plus information about the journal submission process in our FREE downloadable e-book: Research Writing and Journal Publication E-Book .
- How to Write a Research Paper Introduction
- Which Verb Tenses to Use in a Research Paper
- How to Write an Abstract for a Research Paper
- How to Write a Research Paper Title
- Useful Phrases for Academic Writing
- Common Transition Terms in Academic Papers
- Active and Passive Voice in Research Papers
- 100+ Verbs That Will Make Your Research Writing Amazing
- Tips for Paraphrasing in R esearch Papers
- Guide for Authors. (Elsevier)
- How to Write the Results Section of a Research Paper. (Bates College)
- Structure of a Research Paper. (University of Minnesota Biomedical Library)
- How to Choose a Target Journal (Springer)
- How to Write Figures and Tables (UNC Writing Center)
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How to write an Introduction to an academic article
The introduction to an academic article is the first section of the paper, immediately following the abstract. One of the most important functions of an introduction is to answer the question ‘why?’: why was the study performed, and why is it interesting and/or important? Given that the introduction is the beginning of the paper, it also serves to tell the reader why they should read the rest of the paper and prepares them to understand the importance and implications of the results.
To clearly establish the context for the study, the introduction contains four main components:
General background information
Specific background information.
- A description of the gap in our knowledge that the study was designed to fill
- A statement of study objective, and (optionally) a brief summary of study
This information should ideally be presented in a ‘funnel’ format, flowing from the most general information at the beginning of the section to more specific information as the text continues. Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements in turn.
The first paragraph of the introduction establishes the broad context for the study by providing a general introduction to the field. How broad this paragraph is depends on your target journal and audience. If you choose to submit to a general journal with a wide scientific readership, it is a good idea to start with some fairly general information, as not all readers will necessarily be familiar with your specific field. If you plan on submitting to a highly specialized journal, however, you can begin this section with a much more specific and focused description of the background, as most of your readers will already be familiar with the context of the study.
Let’s say, for example, that your study addresses MAPK signalling in triple negative breast cancer in a specific population. If you are submitting your paper to a journal with a broad focus, it could be useful to begin this section with a brief introduction to breast cancer in general. If, however, you choose to submit to a breast cancer–specific journal, it would be reasonable to start the introduction by discussing triple negative breast cancer, or even the role of MAPK signalling in triple negative breast cancer.
Once the general context of the study has been established, the next part of the introduction should go into more detail about the main topic of the study. This is the part of the introduction that provides a literature review, in which other studies that have addressed similar themes are discussed in detail, to provide readers with a clear picture of what is already known about the topic. The point of this section is to present a complete picture of the state of the field, as this will help explain how your study builds on previous work. Describing the current state of the field helps readers understand your thought process in designing the study, and the logical steps that led you to formulate the main question addressed by your study.
Continuing with the example outlined above, if submitting to a journal with a general readership, this would be the appropriate place to present more detail about triple negative breast cancer and the role of MAPK signalling. In the case of a more specialized journal, in our example this could be a good place to go into more detail about the specific population you studied.
Gap in knowledge
The description of closely related previous studies, as discussed above, should clearly outline a specific gap in our knowledge or understanding of a specific question or phenomenon in the field. Sometimes this is accomplished simply by describing the work that has recently been done to investigate related questions; for example, if risk factors for a disease have been investigated in African and European populations, but not in Asian populations, describing what is already known about this disease in those populations will help readers understand the logic behind exploring the same question in an underexplored population. In other cases, it may be appropriate to (respectfully) point out shortcomings or drawbacks of similar studies to highlight the way in which your study improves on this earlier work. For example, if previous studies have designed computational models that account for some, but not all, of the properties of a specific reaction, you could point out the importance of incorporating additional properties to explain the need for the new computational model described in your study.
While the part of the introduction that describes the specific context for your study should lead naturally to an understanding of the gap in our knowledge that the study addresses, it is often useful to state this explicitly, for the sake of clarity. It is common to do so by including a sentence just prior to the last paragraph of the introduction that begins: ‘However, it remains unclear…’ or ‘However, it is still unknown…’.
Statement of study aim
The final element of the introduction is a clear statement of the primary objective of the study. In some cases, this will be the main overarching question the study sought to answer; in other cases, this may be a formal hypothesis; and in yet other cases, this may be a goal. Regardless of the form it takes, it is important to state the study aim clearly, ideally in the final paragraph of the introduction, to help ensure that readers clearly understand the specific purpose of the study before going on to read about it in greater detail in the sections that follow. Keep in mind that this statement of the study aim should closely mirror the statement of the study aim in the abstract, to present a cohesive and consistent message about the purpose of the study.
In some cases, it is appropriate to conclude the introduction with a summary paragraph that provides a very concise overview of the key findings and overall conclusion. This brief paragraph can help remind readers of the key points of the study within the context of the background information provided in the rest of the introduction, and provide a structure for understanding the rest of the text.
What should be left out of the introduction?
As discussed above, the primary purpose of the introduction is to provide adequate background information for readers to understand the context and importance of the study. For this reason, we recommend leaving out any background information that is not related directly to the main topic of the study. For example, if mutations in the protein you investigated have been linked to both cardiovascular disease and cancer, but your study only looked at cancer, discussing mutations found in patients with cardiovascular disease could distract and confuse readers. For this reason, we suggest reviewing the text of the introduction carefully to ensure that all of the information it presents has a direct logical link to the main focus of your study.
In addition, the introduction is generally not the best place to discuss the methodology used in your study, as this section should primarily be dedicated to explaining why the study was performed, not how it was performed. An exception to this rule is if the main purpose of the study was to develop or test a novel methodology, in which case it would of course be appropriate to discuss other techniques and the rationale behind the design of the new technique developed in your study. Similarly, if the main novelty of your study is the method used to investigate the central question, then this would also be a case in which it would be appropriate to discuss the methodology in the introduction.
In summary, a well-written introduction sets the tone for your paper by providing readers with all of the information they need to understand why you performed your study, what makes it different from other similar studies, and why the findings are interesting and important.
If you are seeking additional support in writing an effective introduction, we are here to help. Charlesworth Author Services provide expert English language editing and publication support services. Why not get in touch with a member of our Charlesworth Author Services team for more information.
Our academic writing and publishing training courses, online materials, and blog articles contain numerous tips and tricks to help you navigate academic writing and publishing, and maximise your potential as a researcher. You can find out more about our Free author training webinar series by clicking here.
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How to write an introduction section of a scientific article?
An article primarily includes the following sections: introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. Before writing the introduction, the main steps, the heading and the familiarity level of the readers should be considered. Writing should begin when the experimental system and the equipment are available. The introduction section comprises the first portion of the manuscript, and it should be written using the simple present tense. Additionally, abbreviations and explanations are included in this section. The main goal of the introduction is to convey basic information to the readers without obligating them to investigate previous publications and to provide clues as to the results of the present study. To do this, the subject of the article should be thoroughly reviewed, and the aim of the study should be clearly stated immediately after discussing the basic references. In this review, we aim to convey the principles of writing the introduction section of a manuscript to residents and young investigators who have just begun to write a manuscript.
When entering a gate of a magnificent city we can make a prediction about the splendor, pomposity, history, and civilization we will encounter in the city. Occasionally, gates do not give even a glimpse of the city, and it can mislead the visitors about inner sections of the city. Introduction sections of the articles are like gates of a city. It is a presentation aiming at introducing itself to the readers, and attracting their attention. Attractiveness, clarity, piquancy, and analytical capacity of the presentation will urge the reader to read the subsequent sections of the article. On the other hand as is understood from the motto of antique Greek poet Euripides “a bad beginning makes a bad ending”, ‘Introduction’ section of a scientific article is important in that it can reveal the conclusion of the article. [ 1 ]
It is useful to analyze the issues to be considered in the ‘Introduction’ section under 3 headings. Firstly, information should be provided about the general topic of the article in the light of the current literature which paves the way for the disclosure of the objective of the manuscript. Then the specific subject matter, and the issue to be focused on should be dealt with, the problem should be brought forth, and fundamental references related to the topic should be discussed. Finally, our recommendations for solution should be described, in other words our aim should be communicated. When these steps are followed in that order, the reader can track the problem, and its solution from his/her own perspective under the light of current literature. Otherwise, even a perfect study presented in a non-systematized, confused design will lose the chance of reading. Indeed inadequate information, inability to clarify the problem, and sometimes concealing the solution will keep the reader who has a desire to attain new information away from reading the manuscript. [ 1 – 3 ]
First of all, explanation of the topic in the light of the current literature should be made in clear, and precise terms as if the reader is completely ignorant of the subject. In this section, establishment of a warm rapport between the reader, and the manuscript is aimed. Since frantic plunging into the problem or the solution will push the reader into the dilemma of either screening the literature about the subject matter or refraining from reading the article. Updated, and robust information should be presented in the ‘Introduction’ section.
Then main topic of our manuscript, and the encountered problem should be analyzed in the light of the current literature following a short instance of brain exercise. At this point the problems should be reduced to one issue as far as possible. Of course, there might be more than one problem, however this new issue, and its solution should be the subject matter of another article. Problems should be expressed clearly. If targets are more numerous, and complex, solutions will be more than one, and confusing.
Finally, the last paragraphs of the ‘Introduction’ section should include the solution in which we will describe the information we generated, and related data. Our sentences which arouse curiosity in the readers should not be left unanswered. The reader who thinks to obtain the most effective information in no time while reading a scientific article should not be smothered with mysterious sentences, and word plays, and the readers should not be left alone to arrive at a conclusion by themselves. If we have contrary expectations, then we might write an article which won’t have any reader. A clearly expressed or recommended solutions to an explicitly revealed problem is also very important for the integrity of the ‘Introduction’ section. [ 1 – 5 ]
We can summarize our arguments with the following example ( Figure 1 ). The introduction section of the exemplary article is written in simple present tense which includes abbreviations, acronyms, and their explanations. Based on our statements above we can divide the introduction section into 3 parts. In the first paragraph, miniaturization, and evolvement of pediatric endourological instruments, and competitions among PNL, ESWL, and URS in the treatment of urinary system stone disease are described, in other words the background is prepared. In the second paragraph, a newly defined system which facilitates intrarenal access in PNL procedure has been described. Besides basic references related to the subject matter have been given, and their outcomes have been indicated. In other words, fundamental references concerning main subject have been discussed. In the last paragraph the aim of the researchers to investigate the outcomes, and safety of the application of this new method in the light of current information has been indicated.
An exemplary introduction section of an article
Apart from the abovementioned information about the introduction section of a scientific article we will summarize a few major issues in brief headings
Important points which one should take heed of:
- Abbreviations should be given following their explanations in the ‘Introduction’ section (their explanations in the summary does not count)
- Simple present tense should be used.
- References should be selected from updated publication with a higher impact factor, and prestigous source books.
- Avoid mysterious, and confounding expressions, construct clear sentences aiming at problematic issues, and their solutions.
- The sentences should be attractive, tempting, and comjprehensible.
- Firstly general, then subject-specific information should be given. Finally our aim should be clearly explained.
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How to write and structure a journal article
Sharing your research data can be hugely beneficial to your career , as well as to the scholarly community and wider society. But before you do so, there are some important ethical considerations to remember.
What are the rules and guidance you should follow, when you begin to think about how to write and structure a journal article? Ruth First Prize winner Steven Rogers, PhD said the first thing is to be passionate about what you write.
Steven Nabieu Rogers, Ruth First Prize winner.
Let’s go through some of the best advice that will help you pinpoint the features of a journal article, and how to structure it into a compelling research paper.
Planning for your article
When planning to write your article, make sure it has a central message that you want to get across. This could be a novel aspect of methodology that you have in your PhD study, a new theory, or an interesting modification you have made to theory or a novel set of findings.
2018 NARST Award winner Marissa Rollnick advised that you should decide what this central focus is, then create a paper outline bearing in mind the need to:
Isolate a manageable size
Create a coherent story/argument
Make the argument self-standing
Target the journal readership
Change the writing conventions from that used in your thesis
Get familiar with the journal you want to submit to
It is a good idea to choose your target journal before you start to write your paper. Then you can tailor your writing to the journal’s requirements and readership, to increase your chances of acceptance.
When selecting your journal think about audience, purposes, what to write about and why. Decide the kind of article to write. Is it a report, position paper, critique or review? What makes your argument or research interesting? How might the paper add value to the field?
If you need more guidance on how to choose a journal, here is our guide to narrow your focus.
Once you’ve chosen your target journal, take the time to read a selection of articles already published – particularly focus on those that are relevant to your own research.
This can help you get an understanding of what the editors may be looking for, then you can guide your writing efforts.
The Think. Check. Submit. initiative provides tools to help you evaluate whether the journal you’re planning to send your work to is trustworthy.
The journal’s aims and scope is also an important resource to refer back to as you write your paper – use it to make sure your article aligns with what the journal is trying to accomplish.
Keep your message focused
The next thing you need to consider when writing your article is your target audience. Are you writing for a more general audience or is your audience experts in the same field as you? The journal you have chosen will give you more information on the type of audience that will read your work.
When you know your audience, focus on your main message to keep the attention of your readers. A lack of focus is a common problem and can get in the way of effective communication.
Stick to the point. The strongest journal articles usually have one point to make. They make that point powerfully, back it up with evidence, and position it within the field.
How to format and structure a journal article
The format and structure of a journal article is just as important as the content itself, it helps to clearly guide the reader through.
How do I format a journal article?
Individual journals will have their own specific formatting requirements, which you can find in the instructions for authors.
You can save time on formatting by downloading a template from our library of templates to apply to your article text. These templates are accepted by many of our journals. Also, a large number of our journals now offer format-free submission, which allows you to submit your paper without formatting your manuscript to meet that journal’s specific requirements.
General structure for writing an academic journal article
The title of your article is one of the first indicators readers will get of your research and concepts. It should be concise, accurate, and informative. You should include your most relevant keywords in your title, but avoid including abbreviations and formulae.
Keywords are an essential part of producing a journal article. When writing a journal article you must select keywords that you would like your article to rank for.
Keywords help potential readers to discover your article when conducting research using search engines.
The purpose of your abstract is to express the key points of your research, clearly and concisely. An abstract must always be well considered, as it is the primary element of your work that readers will come across.
An abstract should be a short paragraph (around 300 words) that summarizes the findings of your journal article. Ordinarily an abstract will be comprised of:
What your research is about
What methods have been used
What your main findings are
Acknowledgements can appear to be a small aspect of your journal article, however it is still important. This is where you acknowledge the individuals who do not qualify for co-authorship, but contributed to your article intellectually, financially, or in some other manner.
When you acknowledge someone in your academic texts, it gives you more integrity as a writer as it shows that you are not claiming other academic’s ideas as your own intellectual property. It can also aid your readers in their own research journeys.
An introduction is a pivotal part of the article writing process. An introduction not only introduces your topic and your stance on the topic, but it also (situates/contextualizes) your argument in the broader academic field.
The main body is where your main arguments and your evidence are located. Each paragraph will encapsulate a different notion and there will be clear linking between each paragraph.
Your conclusion should be an interpretation of your results, where you summarize all of the concepts that you introduced in the main body of the text in order of most to least important. No new concepts are to be introduced in this section.
References and citations
References and citations should be well balanced, current and relevant. Although every field is different, you should aim to cite references that are not more than 10 years old if possible. The studies you cite should be strongly related to your research question.
Clarity is key
Make your writing accessible by using clear language. Writing that is easy to read, is easier to understand too.
You may want to write for a global audience – to have your research reach the widest readership. Make sure you write in a way that will be understood by any reader regardless of their field or whether English is their first language.
Write your journal article with confidence, to give your reader certainty in your research. Make sure that you’ve described your methodology and approach; whilst it may seem obvious to you, it may not to your reader. And don’t forget to explain acronyms when they first appear.
Engage your audience. Go back to thinking about your audience; are they experts in your field who will easily follow technical language, or are they a lay audience who need the ideas presented in a simpler way?
Be aware of other literature in your field, and reference it
Make sure to tell your reader how your article relates to key work that’s already published. This doesn’t mean you have to review every piece of previous relevant literature, but show how you are building on previous work to avoid accidental plagiarism.
When you reference something, fully understand its relevance to your research so you can make it clear for your reader. Keep in mind that recent references highlight awareness of all the current developments in the literature that you are building on. This doesn’t mean you can’t include older references, just make sure it is clear why you’ve chosen to.
How old can my references be?
Your literature review should take into consideration the current state of the literature.
There is no specific timeline to consider. But note that your subject area may be a factor. Your colleagues may also be able to guide your decision.
Grasian Mkodzongi, Ruth First Prize Winner
Top tips to get you started
Communicate your unique point of view to stand out. You may be building on a concept already in existence, but you still need to have something new to say. Make sure you say it convincingly, and fully understand and reference what has gone before.
Professor Len Barton, Founding Editor of Disability and Society
Now you know the features of a journal article and how to construct it. This video is an extra resource to use with this guide to help you know what to think about before you write your journal article.
Expert help for your manuscript
Taylor & Francis Editing Services offers a full range of pre-submission manuscript preparation services to help you improve the quality of your manuscript and submit with confidence.
How to write your title and abstract
Journal manuscript layout guide
Improve the quality of English of your article
How to edit your paper
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Scholarly Articles: How can I tell?
Anatomy of a scholarly article, how to read a scholarly article.
- Journal Information
- Literature Review
- Author and affiliation
- Specialized Vocabulary
- Research sponsors
Where can I get more help?
Contact the OSU Libraries Information Desk
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- Chat with a librarian (below):
For a quick overview of the parts of a scholarly article, click on the link below to see an example of a scholarly article and its parts. We will look at the different parts more closely in the next module.
Reading a scholarly journal article does not need to be daunting. Here are some suggestions:
- Read the abstract first. This should give you a complete overview of the article.
- Skim the article to get a sense of the sections and general contents.
- Read the abstract/introduction and then skip to the conclusion or discussion section. This will help you get an overall sense of the article and whether or not it is relevant to your research.
- Then read each section carefully.
- Next: Characteristics >>
- Last Updated: Oct 25, 2022 10:16 AM
- URL: https://guides.library.oregonstate.edu/ScholarlyArticle
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Scientific papers are for sharing your own original research work with other scientists or for reviewing the research conducted by others. As such, they are critical to the evolution of modern science, in which the work of one scientist builds upon that of others. To reach their goal, papers must aim to inform, not impress. They must be highly readable — that is, clear, accurate, and concise. They are more likely to be cited by other scientists if they are helpful rather than cryptic or self-centered.
Scientific papers typically have two audiences: first, the referees, who help the journal editor decide whether a paper is suitable for publication; and second, the journal readers themselves, who may be more or less knowledgeable about the topic addressed in the paper. To be accepted by referees and cited by readers, papers must do more than simply present a chronological account of the research work. Rather, they must convince their audience that the research presented is important, valid, and relevant to other scientists in the same field. To this end, they must emphasize both the motivation for the work and the outcome of it, and they must include just enough evidence to establish the validity of this outcome.
Papers that report experimental work are often structured chronologically in five sections: first, Introduction ; then Materials and Methods , Results , and Discussion (together, these three sections make up the paper's body); and finally, Conclusion .
- The Introduction section clarifies the motivation for the work presented and prepares readers for the structure of the paper.
- The Materials and Methods section provides sufficient detail for other scientists to reproduce the experiments presented in the paper. In some journals, this information is placed in an appendix, because it is not what most readers want to know first.
- The Results and Discussion sections present and discuss the research results, respectively. They are often usefully combined into one section, however, because readers can seldom make sense of results alone without accompanying interpretation — they need to be told what the results mean.
- The Conclusion section presents the outcome of the work by interpreting the findings at a higher level of abstraction than the Discussion and by relating these findings to the motivation stated in the Introduction .
(Papers reporting something other than experiments, such as a new method or technology, typically have different sections in their body, but they include the same Introduction and Conclusion sections as described above.)
Although the above structure reflects the progression of most research projects, effective papers typically break the chronology in at least three ways to present their content in the order in which the audience will most likely want to read it. First and foremost, they summarize the motivation for, and the outcome of, the work in an abstract, located before the Introduction . In a sense, they reveal the beginning and end of the story — briefly — before providing the full story. Second, they move the more detailed, less important parts of the body to the end of the paper in one or more appendices so that these parts do not stand in the readers' way. Finally, they structure the content in the body in theorem-proof fashion, stating first what readers must remember (for example, as the first sentence of a paragraph) and then presenting evidence to support this statement.
- First, provide some context to orient those readers who are less familiar with your topic and to establish the importance of your work.
- Second, state the need for your work, as an opposition between what the scientific community currently has and what it wants.
- Third, indicate what you have done in an effort to address the need (this is the task).
- Finally, preview the remainder of the paper to mentally prepare readers for its structure, in the object of the document.
Context and need
At the beginning of the Introduction section, the context and need work together as a funnel: They start broad and progressively narrow down to the issue addressed in the paper. To spark interest among your audience — referees and journal readers alike — provide a compelling motivation for the work presented in your paper: The fact that a phenomenon has never been studied before is not, in and of itself, a reason to study that phenomenon.
Write the context in a way that appeals to a broad range of readers and leads into the need. Do not include context for the sake of including context: Rather, provide only what will help readers better understand the need and, especially, its importance. Consider anchoring the context in time, using phrases such as recently , in the past 10 years , or since the early 1990s . You may also want to anchor your context in space (either geographically or within a given research field).
Convey the need for the work as an opposition between actual and desired situations. Start by stating the actual situation (what we have) as a direct continuation of the context. If you feel you must explain recent achievements in much detail — say, in more than one or two paragraphs — consider moving the details to a section titled State of the art (or something similar) after the Introduction , but do provide a brief idea of the actual situation in the Introduction . Next, state the desired situation (what we want). Emphasize the contrast between the actual and desired situations with such words as but , however, or unfortunately .
One elegant way to express the desired part of the need is to combine it with the task in a single sentence. This sentence expresses first the objective, then the action undertaken to reach this objective, thus creating a strong and elegant connection between need and task. Here are three examples of such a combination:
To confirm this assumption , we studied the effects of a range of inhibitors of connexin channels . . . on . . .
To assess whether such multiple-coil sensors perform better than single-signal ones , we tested two of them — the DuoPXK and the GEMM3 — in a field where . . . To form a better view of the global distribution and infectiousness of this pathogen , we examined 1645 postmetamorphic and adult amphibians collected from 27 countries between 1984 and 2006 for the presence of . . .
Task and object
An Introduction is usually clearer and more logical when it separates what the authors have done (the task) from what the paper itself attempts or covers (the object of the document). In other words, the task clarifies your contribution as a scientist, whereas the object of the document prepares readers for the structure of the paper, thus allowing focused or selective reading.
For the task,
- use whoever did the work (normally, you and your colleagues) as the subject of the sentence: we or perhaps the authors;
- use a verb expressing a research action: measured , calculated , etc.;
- set that verb in the past tense.
The three examples below are well-formed tasks.
To confirm this assumption, we studied the effects of a range of inhibitors of connexin channels, such as the connexin mimetic peptides Gap26 and Gap27 and anti-peptide antibodies, on calcium signaling in cardiac cells and HeLa cells expressing connexins.
During controlled experiments, we investigated the influence of the HMP boundary conditions on liver flows.
To tackle this problem, we developed a new software verification technique called oblivious hashing, which calculates the hash values based on the actual execution of the program.
The list below provides examples of verbs that express research actions:
For the object of the document,
- use the document itself as the subject of the sentence: this paper , this letter , etc.;
- use a verb expressing a communication action: presents , summarizes , etc.;
- set the verb in the present tense.
The three examples below are suitable objects of the document for the three tasks shown above, respectively.
This paper clarifies the role of CxHc on calcium oscillations in neonatal cardiac myocytes and calcium transients induced by ATP in HL-cells originated from cardiac atrium and in HeLa cells expressing connexin 43 or 26. This paper presents the flow effects induced by increasing the hepatic-artery pressure and by obstructing the vena cava inferior. This paper discusses the theory behind oblivious hashing and shows how this approach can be applied for local software tamper resistance and remote code authentication.
The list below provides examples of verbs that express communication actions:
Even the most logical structure is of little use if readers do not see and understand it as they progress through a paper. Thus, as you organize the body of your paper into sections and perhaps subsections, remember to prepare your readers for the structure ahead at all levels. You already do so for the overall structure of the body (the sections) in the object of the document at the end of the Introduction . You can similarly prepare your readers for an upcoming division into subsections by introducing a global paragraph between the heading of a section and the heading of its first subsection. This paragraph can contain any information relating to the section as a whole rather than particular subsections, but it should at least announce the subsections, whether explicitly or implicitly. An explicit preview would be phrased much like the object of the document: "This section first . . . , then . . . , and finally . . . "
Although papers can be organized into sections in many ways, those reporting experimental work typically include Materials and Methods , Results , and Discussion in their body. In any case, the paragraphs in these sections should begin with a topic sentence to prepare readers for their contents, allow selective reading, and — ideally — get a message across.
Materials and methods
Results and discussion.
When reporting and discussing your results, do not force your readers to go through everything you went through in chronological order. Instead, state the message of each paragraph upfront: Convey in the first sentence what you want readers to remember from the paragraph as a whole. Focus on what happened, not on the fact that you observed it. Then develop your message in the remainder of the paragraph, including only that information you think you need to convince your audience.
At the end of your Conclusion , consider including perspectives — that is, an idea of what could or should still be done in relation to the issue addressed in the paper. If you include perspectives, clarify whether you are referring to firm plans for yourself and your colleagues ("In the coming months, we will . . . ") or to an invitation to readers ("One remaining question is . . . ").
If your paper includes a well-structured Introduction and an effective abstract, you need not repeat any of the Introduction in the Conclusion . In particular, do not restate what you have done or what the paper does. Instead, focus on what you have found and, especially, on what your findings mean. Do not be afraid to write a short Conclusion section: If you can conclude in just a few sentences given the rich discussion in the body of the paper, then do so. (In other words, resist the temptation to repeat material from the Introduction just to make the Conclusio n longer under the false belief that a longer Conclusion will seem more impressive.)
Typically, readers are primarily interested in the information presented in a paper's Introduction and Conclusion sections. Primarily, they want to know the motivation for the work presented and the outcome of this work. Then (and only then) the most specialized among them might want to know the details of the work. Thus, an effective abstract focuses on motivation and outcome; in doing so, it parallels the paper's Introduction and Conclusion .
Accordingly, you can think of an abstract as having two distinct parts — motivation and outcome — even if it is typeset as a single paragraph. For the first part, follow the same structure as the Introduction section of the paper: State the context, the need, the task, and the object of the document. For the second part, mention your findings (the what ) and, especially, your conclusion (the so what — that is, the interpretation of your findings); if appropriate, end with perspectives, as in the Conclusion section of your paper.
Although the structure of the abstract parallels the Introduction and Conclusion sections, it differs from these sections in the audience it addresses. The abstract is read by many different readers, from the most specialized to the least specialized among the target audience. In a sense, it should be the least specialized part of the paper. Any scientist reading it should be able to understand why the work was carried out and why it is important (context and need), what the authors did (task) and what the paper reports about this work (object of the document), what the authors found (findings), what these findings mean (the conclusion), and possibly what the next steps are (perspectives). In contrast, the full paper is typically read by specialists only; its Introduction and Conclusion are more detailed (that is, longer and more specialized) than the abstract.
An effective abstract stands on its own — it can be understood fully even when made available without the full paper. To this end, avoid referring to figures or the bibliography in the abstract. Also, introduce any acronyms the first time you use them in the abstract (if needed), and do so again in the full paper (see Mechanics: Using abbreviations ).
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