When a new grad student or postdoc joins a project, supervisors often suggest they familiarize themselves with the relevant literature and then “write the introduction.” Students and postdocs do the reading and then dutifully write an introduction to a paper that doesn’t yet exist, perhaps documenting an experiment that hasn’t been conducted.
Their supervisor reads this “introduction,” usually with the (unstated) goal of determining if the writer read and understood the literature. Then, both the writer and supervisor forget about this introduction until months or years later. They rediscover it when the experiment is complete and the paper is almost ready to submit. Usually this “introduction” still sits at the front of the manuscript.
These pre-written intros are usually revisited before submission because journals have word limits and most pre-written introductions are far too long. They wander because they were written before the authors decided on the paper’s message. Writers struggle to trim these lengthy literature summaries, yet in most cases the paper would be better served (and the author would save time) by setting the pre-written introduction aside and quickly writing a new one, strictly crafted to support the paper’s message.
Once a paper’s message is clear, writing a brief, targeted introduction is easy, especially if you’re organized and have kept track of the literature you will cite. The goal of an introduction is to start where the reader starts, tell them what researchers know about a subject, explain what researchers don’t know and why that’s a problem, and then quickly summarize how you will answer that problem, within the space constraints of your target journal.
To learn more about how to write a good introduction to a scientific paper, sign up for the Publisher Pro newsletter or apply to become a Publisher Pro beta tester (or both). As a perk, you’ll receive an exclusive invitation for a free webinar about writing introductions.