My question is rather short one, how much information should I include when writing the introduction, and how much should be left out for the literature review

Note: the reason for this question, is because my advisor told me that my introduction is to light and he raised several question that eventually will be covered in literature review. When I pointed that out, he said that the introduction should inform the reader about the theme being addressed by the thesis/paper so that the reader will have an overview of the paper from reading the introduction.

note: my introduction contains the following:

  • 1.1 Background
  • 1.2 Problem Formulation
  • 1.3 Purposes of study and hypotheses being tested
  • 1.4 Data Sampling
  • 1.5 Structure of the paper

3 Answers 3


(In economics at least.)

Introduction (5 pages)

• start with some broader motivation or backgrund

– maybe a sentence or a paragraph at most

• quickly explain your problem/puzzle

– show not tell

– don't say your work is pathbreaking or the problem is interesting (arrogant)

• clearly, concisely explain what is novel

– crystal clear

• report key results

– no hiding the punchline!

• discuss implication

– what does it mean for public policy? for theory? etc

• Layout:

– a clear roadmap

– Section 1 does this. Section 2 does this. Section 3 etc...so they can find what they want. (This is the easiest paragraph to write)


It seems to vary among disciplines. I suggest you choose two or three papers that have been published in the journal you're targeting -- papers that attempt to do something analogous to what you're doing -- and copy those papers intensely. Of course, I don't mean plagiarize them. I don't even necessarily mean that you would copy any particular words. Instead, I mean that you would copy these papers in terms of how much info to give and where to give it, what kinds of issues you should cover and what kinds of issues you should avoid. Doing research is different than writing it up. In some sense, these papers become your mentors to show you the tone and style of the journal. You've read a metric ton of these papers in the past, so it probably feels like you already know how they go, but when you follow a mentor paper closely there are things that will become apparent that you never noticed before.

In addition, I recommend something I've done over the last few years that has helped me. I keep a clip-file called "Nicely said!" in which I keep examples of how authors deftly handled tricky issues in their write-up. I use these examples as "mini-mentors" to guide me when I must handle a tricky issue. Here again, I might not use any of the actual words they did, but having an excellent example in front of me helps a lot. I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel.


Of course, this varies a lot by discipline, type of manuscript, journal and so on. But speaking about a prototypical psychology single study paper, a common structure is: (1) introduction, (2) method, (3) results, and (4) discussion. The introduction is commonly composed of (1) an opening; (2) a literature review; and (3) a description of the current study.

By this breakdown, what I call the opening is what you call the introduction. The opening is commonly between 1 and 5 paragraphs. I previously wrote a post on how to write an introduction in psychology where to quote myself, "the opening section typically moves from showing why the research is important, to situating the research in context, and then to setting an outline of what is to follow."

In general a good strategy is to find some similar articles to that which you are writing and carefully deconstruct these. How are aims presented? How is the research motivated? How is the importance justified? How is the gap in the literature framed? Where is this content presented?

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