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I have been trying to write a paper. Reading the introduction part I am getting different behaviours from different papers.

Some papers cover themselves more than 50% with introduction content as if they are the only source of information present anywhere while some give it very briefly expecting user to be well aware.

As a reader I never expected to learn the concept from paper intro part itself but from books and then read papers. I rather think that introduction section shall be used to provide very brief intro and references for further understanding. Repeating an algorithm that's present in 500 books makes no sense.

I need some tips on writing introduction part that its just about enough or is it mandatory to repeat info to make it somewhat complete in itself ?

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Just a quick remark -- sometimes introducing a well-known concept is useful to introduce and set the notation that you are going to use, or to make sure that the definition is clear and unique among different existing variants (extreme examples from my field: are your stochastic matrices column-stochastic or row-stochastic? Does your definition of "prime number" include 1 and/or negative primes?). It might be obvious, but surely there are books using both conventions, and the "literature standard" might change in ten years from now. –  Federico Poloni May 7 at 12:48
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To add to Federico's points, giving a detailed background can offer the reader a valid, convincing reason why the rest of your paper is of importance. –  Jonathan Landrum May 7 at 12:55
    
@FedericoPoloni : I think I quite agree with your suggestion. Its better than maintaining notations separately. –  Rorschach May 7 at 12:57
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@JonathanLandrum : I am not really interested in convincing anyone. I think I found something and I just want to share it.I feel its unimportant to decorate research. Sorry but I differ on this. :) –  Rorschach May 7 at 12:59
    
@Rorschach if you discovered a way to increase the milk production of spherical cows in a frictionless vacuum, no mater how cool your maths are, you will need to convince the reader that it is actually important or relevant for something. It may be obvious for you, that have been working on it for months, but maybe not so much for someone else. –  Davidmh May 7 at 18:54

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

How much detail to provide in the introduction depends on the circumstances. The minimum requirement is to give enough context and references that a diligent reader could fill in any missing background, at the cost of some extra work. However, that's a pretty undemanding requirement; a few papers fail to do this, but they generally fail by not even trying. It's often valuable to do more to make life easier for the reader. How much more depends on who you expect will read the paper, and on what you believe they want or need from the introduction. (Some papers are read only by impatient experts, while others attract a broad audience.) What's considered appropriate may vary between fields or even subfields, but here are a few general principles:

  1. Targeting an audience for your papers can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you aim at a very specialized audience, it becomes much less likely that anyone else will read your papers. Attracting a broader audience is on the whole a good thing, both for scientific progress and for your own career, so it's best not to limit your audience unnecessarily. If modest changes will make your writing much more accessible, then they are probably a good idea.

  2. It's easy to overestimate how much readers really know. In an ideal world, every researcher would remember all the details of everything they ever studied, but life doesn't work that way. Of course you can't re-teach things from scratch (and shouldn't even try), but sometimes a brief reminder can be really helpful. This is particularly true when the details matter: if the reader really needs to know exactly how a certain algorithm works to understand your paper, then restating the algorithm can be worthwhile even if you suspect most readers will already be somewhat familiar with it. Those who already know the details can easily skim just enough to convince themselves that their version is the same as yours, while those who don't can read more carefully.

  3. The introduction plays a crucial role in describing the context and explaining why you did these things and what the consequences are. It may not be the part of the paper that most excites you, but it will almost certainly be the most-read section (not counting the abstract). The purpose of your paper is to communicate your discoveries, and making the introduction more accessible is sometimes the best way to achieve this.

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+1 as I agree here, though I'd like to add that frequently (well, depending on the field maybe), total paper length is the primary factor that decides about how extensively any detail will be covered in the paper. It is likely that for many of the papers that had a short introduction, the authors had to decide whether to include an additional explanation about a fact or detail of their contribution, or elaborate on existing knowledge in the introduction section, and thus obviously opted for giving the new information a higher priority. –  O. R. Mapper May 7 at 14:53

The general guideline is "just enough." However, the "enough" differs audience to audience, even the article is on the same topic.

Knowing who are going to read it would decide how broad and deep the introduction should be. Say we are writing about Olestra. In a more general publication like a magazine or a blog the introduction may need to include what it is, how it is being used, its chemical properties, its impacts on health, and perhaps some controversies surrounding the compound. In public health or nutrition journals, it may just merit a parenthetical explanation. However, in a food industry journal, the name itself is sufficient.

When in doubt, err on telling more. A well-structured but slightly longer introduction is far less offensive than a cluster of very well selected but illogically laid out arguments.

Another point worth mentioning is that length is perhaps a proxy of the breadth and depth of the introduction, but I think the overall structure of the arguments surpasses length. Generally, I'd focus on an engaging opening that summarizes what is known. Use proper languages here to hint the level of the article. Then, discuss the problems or challenges. Afterwards, how would your work act to address the aforementioned problems and challenges. And lastly, how would your work resolve the suggested problems.

As a reviewer, I'd look for the interconnections between all these components rather than focusing on the length.

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As Grace Fleming wrote on about.com:

The introductory paragraph of any paper, long or short, should start with a sentence that piques the interest of your readers.

...that first sentence will lead into three or four sentences that provide details about the subject or your process you will address in the body of your essay. These sentences should also set the stage for your thesis statement.

The thesis statement is the subject of much instruction and training. The entirety of your paper hangs on that sentence, which is generally the last sentence of your introductory paragraph.

In summary, your introductory paragraph should contain the following:

  • an attention-grabbing first sentence
  • informative sentences that build to your thesis
  • the thesis statement, which makes a claim or states a view that you will support or build upon.

You can check this link for more about each section of the paper. http://abacus.bates.edu/~ganderso/biology/resources/writing/HTWsections.html#introduction

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This question is about an introduction section for an academic paper, not an introduction paragraph to a persuasive essay. Your advice on "how to write an introduction" does not seem to apply to this context. –  ff524 May 7 at 14:04
    
@ff524 thanks for alarm –  HBizhi May 7 at 14:14
    
Even with the edit, this advice does not apply to an intro section of an academic paper. It also does not address the specific question asked by Rorschach: "How much background detail to include in the introduction section?" –  ff524 May 7 at 14:38

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