When we write a research paper, most of the times we need to describe in the introduction what is the merit of the present work (unless is a survey of sorts).

Many professors, tell me that is enough to write it within the sentences with some context. And is the way I see it in most papers.

Other professors, however, I've seen they especifically list the merits and innovations of the papers in the introduction, for example:

  • The present work presents cherries using A, which has never been done before.
  • We implemented the mix of berries and bananas, which has never been tried.

While I find the approach intuitive and way more explicit than the usual approach, It seems a bit condescending.

What is your suggestion, should I write a list of merits or not?


Somehow it is common to start an introduction with a general blah-blah, basically saying that a field is important and repeating some popular facts.

However, in my opinion, the most important thing of the introduction is to say

  • what is there,
  • what is the actual contribution

and said in a precise way, so reader will know if the content is useful for her. And in such a way as "we prove X1 and X2, under the assumption of Y, and conjecture Z" instead of "we investigate X1, X2 and Z".

Of course, giving the general context is extremely important, but not more that saying what's there.

Personally, I wasted a lot of time reading papers whose abstract or introduction left me believing that they solve a general problem, when in fact it was only n=2,3,4 case, or just something tangentially related to my research interests.

There is an incentive to write introduction in a big talk / general blah-blah style (because it sounds serious, because it may bait uninterested readers, etc), but (IMHO) it is very counterproductive, sometimes verging on the edge of scientific dishonesty (i.e. an implicit overclaim).


In the end, the strength of your paper is in a large part defined by its contributions. Therefore, I believe it is absolutely vital to clearly state them. A bullet pointed list is an excellent way to do so. Remember: papers are almost never read from start to end. Therefore, it is important to make your paper visually pleasing, by, for example, making the most important parts (like the contributions) easy to find. Bullet-points serve that purpose.

Excellent slides by SP Jones on how to write a great research paper (which also covers this question) can be found here.

The link also contains much advice on academic research, for instance on giving talks.


It is fine in most formats to finish your introduction by stating your goals. I tend not to over-emphasize the list of innovations in the paper right in the introduction, usually because it is already made clear in two places: abstract and conclusion.

Also: if by “specifically list the merits” you mean use a bullet-point list, I'd suggest to avoid it. It's not the same as an oral presentation, where you might want to focus on nice simple messages for an audience whose attention is never to be take for granted. When someone has read your introduction ’til the end, they are interested in your work, you don’t need to resort to oversimplifying your message.

  • 1
    Using bullets doesn't man you're oversimplifying. It's a typographical device to make your contributions stand out. Given the plethora of papers sloshing around, I for one am gratefuly for clearly marked lists of contributions. – Suresh Oct 21 '12 at 5:39

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