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Is it academic to tell the reader in the introduction what the essay is about directly?

For example, after some introductory ideas, you tell the the reader this essay or section discusses so and so.

Or should the writer end the introduction with the thesis statement that indirectly tells the reader what the essay is about?

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Whats the point of writing if you need to want to make it cryptic :P. –  krammer May 25 at 16:21
    
What does "Is it academic" mean? –  JeffE May 26 at 0:56
    
@JeffE: I think it means "Is it a good academic practice...". (And not, e.g. "having no practical or useful significance".) –  Pete L. Clark May 26 at 5:20
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2 Answers 2

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I'm not sure what you mean by "essay", but for an academic paper in general, the reader should be told a minimum of four times what the paper is about and what your contribution is. This should be stated in (1) the title, (2) the abstract, (3) the introduction, and (4) the conclusion.

That is a typical North American style. In some academic cultures, such as Northern Europe where I'm sitting, it's common to not do any of that. In a typical paper here, you can read all of the four parts mentioned above and still have no idea what the author is bringing to the table. You're guaranteed to annoy many readers that way.

So my answer to your question is: Tell the reader as soon as possible what the point and punchline of your paper is. The reader doesn't want a mystery novel, he wants to know as soon as possible whether your paper is worth reading.

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In some fields of academia it is very uncommon for papers to have a "conclusion" section: in my field -- mathematics -- it is much more common that the last line of your paper is the last line of the proof of the last theorem of your paper. When I was younger, I used to end many of my papers with a "further work" section, but (unfortunately, I suspect) even that kind of conclusion is not that well received by referees, since it is more speculative and less verifiably contentful than what a "serious math paper" should contain. –  Pete L. Clark May 25 at 16:44
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I certainly agree with "Tell the reader as soon as possible what the point and punchline of your paper is. The reader doesn't want a mystery novel, he wants to know as soon as possible whether your paper is worth reading." I think this is much of the virtue of having an abstract: it allows you to spill the beans right away, which frees you up to tell "the story of your paper" in a more extended way in the introduction. Nevertheless I often find myself (re)rewriting introductions so as to come to the point more quickly: it is not so easy to properly explain yourself! –  Pete L. Clark May 25 at 16:50
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@Sverre as a physicist working on biology in Sweden, I do have to say many times what I am doing. In multidisciplinary fields one has to go easy, as the culture is very varied. –  Davidmh May 26 at 6:28
    
@PeteL.Clark But again, it's pretty much the standard where I am to use the abstract to say things like "There is much to say about topic X. I will discuss it". So we still have no idea what the author's contribution is. So having an abstract does not in of itself guarantee that the author will tell you the essence of the paper. –  Sverre May 26 at 13:27
    
@Sverre: "So having an abstract does not in of itself guarantee that the author will tell you the essence of the paper." Yes, that's true: sometimes you can't reveal the essence of the paper in one paragraph. In my view it's good that the abstract and the introduction both exist. –  Pete L. Clark May 26 at 17:57
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There are many ways to structure an introduction. However, in the context of psychology I am familiar with the two broad approaches you mention to writing an introduction.

In psychology, students are often taught to write lab reports using an hour glass structure where they start broad and then narrow in gradually into stating aims and hypotheses at the end of the introduction. This structure can really annoying to read, because the purpose of the paper is not immediately clear.

Personally, I prefer the opening-body-currentstudy structure for an introduction. Specifically, the opening section of the introduction contains around three paragraphs that cover the importance of the work, a little context, a little bit of the gap, and importantly the aims of the paper. The introduction then reviews relevant literature, and culminates in a statement of a brief description of the current study (see here for a little more discussion). Thus, in the opening few paragraphs, you might have a paragraph that begins: "The purpose of this paper is..."

The general principle is: Make it easy for the reviewer/reader to see what is the novel contribution of the paper.

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