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I am trying to write an introduction for a scientific paper. I am not sure, when I am announcing my subject, should I write that this is the subject, or just mention it without announcing it outright?

This is very confusing so here's an example.

a. Man was always interested by aliens. This paper discusses the possibility of alien life.

b.Man was always interested by aliens. Currently, scientific discoveries are shedding light on whether it exists.

Which phrasing is better? Is the first one too blunt?

  • Oh and I'm not sure whether this is the right forum to post this question, could you tell me if it's not? – L.R. Jan 11 '15 at 20:49
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    Neither. "Man was always interested in aliens." is needless filler. Omit it. – JeffE Jan 12 '15 at 2:19
  • Thank you so much to everyone for their answers, all of them were very helpful. I'm not choosing one 'best' one, there are so many useful tips. – L.R. Jan 12 '15 at 17:44
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The purpose of the introduction is to focus in on the specific, and likely more narrow, topic of your research from a larger perspective. the "larger perspective" is the larger scientific problem to which your study is tied. Therefore you can start the introduction by briefly explaining the larger perspective followed by identifying the existing gaps in knowledge and gradually work towards your own question.

Many books on scientific writing compare the introduction to a funnel where the wider question is focused to the appropriate width of your research question. the main point is to set your study in a wider perspective so that you can tie your results into the gaps of the larger perspective. This helps readers to get a good perspective of your research and evaluate the results vis-à-vis existing knowledge.

Hence, your scenarios a and b look like a way to describe the writing strategy where in reality the two or three sentences usually requires one or a few paragraphs of text.

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You want to "capture" your audience when writing—that is, you want to make sure that you hold their attention as long as possible. Getting their attention by telling them what the purpose of your paper is, and what they're going to learn, is a good way to do so.

While the "funnel" approach that Peter mentions in his answer is valuable (and is also discussed in general books on writing as well, such as Sheridan Baker's The Practical Stylist, where it is called the "keyhole approach"), the "key" to the introductory paragraph is its conclusion—this should be the generating point both for the introduction and everything else that follows.

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2

Coming from a psychology perspective, I have seen eminent authors adopt both writing approaches.

Introductions to journal articles should generally have an opening. The opening of an introduction should generally introduce the aim of the research, the importance of the research, the gap in the literature that is addressed, and the method adopted to achieve the aim. Of course, often these themes are only touched on in the opening, and emerge more completely through the course of the literature review and are also often consolidated at the end of the introduction in a section often titled "the current study".

Your question pertains to how to structure the sentences or paragraphs of the opening. The more common model I have seen used is to have a motivating introductory paragraph that relates more to importance or gap and then have a second or third paragraph that culminates in the aim of the research. However, it's also possible to do it the other way around and have a very clear opening paragraph that states exactly what the study aims to do. And then have a second paragraph that touches more on importance, gap, and context.

I have found article deconstruction to be a useful tool to develop ideas about writing structure. In particular I wrote up an article deconstruction of an introduction that used the "aim-first" approach here where the first-sentence started with "The purpose of this study was ..." . I also have more detailed notes about introductions - see particularly the discussion of the opening.

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The best model for an essay is "get attention and state idea, explain explain explain, restate idea." However, every essay is different and there are countless strategies.

The best idea is to start the essay with something that captures attention and at least hints at the topic. Then at the end of the first paragraph state your claim. You want to snag the attention of the reader, and tell them the thesis statement. Keep the "hook" relevant though. A good idea is to start with a shocking fact or tell a quick story, unless its a scientific essay.

The middle is for explaining everything, and maybe a good idea is to use a paragraph to discuss the stuff from the hook paragraph. Then the end is pretty much an inverse of the first one: Restate your claim and tie up loose ends.

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    " A good idea is to start with a shocking fact, or tell a quick story. " Not in a scientific paper, really. – Massimo Ortolano Jan 11 '15 at 21:40
  • ... Good point. <edit> – Vector Lightning Jan 12 '15 at 3:28

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