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How many [conceptual] sections should an "Introduction" contain?

I need to know this so that I can better arrange the Introduction section of my paper.

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    Just asking, why are there 2 down votes, I don't see any problems in this post
    – Hecker Cat
    Jun 5 at 16:32
  • 1
    @HeckerCat, I think that a few users here downvote quite a lot of questions. My best guess is that they don't think the question should be asked at all. But that's just speculation. Close voters might also downvote I'd guess. But unexplained down votes can best be ignored, IMO.
    – Buffy
    Jun 5 at 17:29
  • @HeckerCat I did not vote on this question, but presumably it was downvoted because it is obviously unanswerable without reading the paper. Jun 6 at 3:05

1 Answer 1

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At a very high level, most introductions try to accomplish a few tasks:

  • Motivate the problem, ideally by connecting it to a larger goal in the field.
  • Provide a literature review of relevant work to (a) provide historical context and pointers to more information, (b) show the state of the art, (c) show what gap you will fill or how you will push the state of the art forward.
  • Explain the novel contributions of the present work at a high level.
  • Outline the rest of the paper.

In some papers, there may also be an extended review of technical results that will be used later on. This review could be its own section, separate from the introduction.

There are no hard rules that apply to all papers. Not all papers will include all of those bullet points. For papers that do, how long the text for any of those bullet points can take will vary. Some papers may explicitly include headings signposting the different parts of an introduction ("Related Work", "Outline", ...), other papers may simply have a single "Introduction" section that covers all that ground, and still others may not have any section headers at all (no explicitly marked "Introduction"). For journals with a strict word count (which are also typically higher-impact journals), you typically want to reserve your words for explaining the novel contributions, with very little space taken up by a review. For papers giving a long and technical argument, it may be appropriate to have several "introductory" sections to lay the groundwork so that all the details are laid out in a self-contained way. For review articles, very little if anything in the review will be novel, so the introduction will likely focus on giving a motivation, pointers to the most important references, and a detailed outline of the review.

Because of these and other nuances that depend on the paper you are writing, is impossible to give an answer to the question you asked that is both straightforward and accurate. The real answer is that you should do what makes the most sense for your paper. If you have no idea, some things you can do to gather data are:

  • Look at other papers in your field that are at a similar level of technicality (perhaps some of the key papers you cite), and see what they do.
  • Look at other papers in the journal you are going to submit to, and see how papers are written for that journal.
  • If you are a student, ask your advisor for guidance. If not, ask a trusted colleague.

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