Introducing work

There are many ways to introduce an academic essay or short paper. Most academic writers, however, appear to do one or more of the following in their introductions:

  • establish the context, background and/or importance of the topic
  • present an issue, problem, or controversy in the field of study
  • define the topic and/or key terms used in the paper
  • state the purpose of the essay or short paper
  • provide an overview of the coverage and/or structure of the writing

Slightly less complex introductions may simply inform the reader: what the topic is, why it is important, and how the writing is organised. In very short assignments, it is not uncommon for a writer to commence simply by stating the purpose of their writing.

Introductions to research dissertations and theses tend to be relatively short compared to the other sections of the text but quite complex in terms of their functional elements. Some of the more common elements include:

  • establishing the context, background and/or importance of the topic
  • giving a brief review of the relevant academic literature
  • identifying a problem, controversy or a knowledge gap in the field of study
  • stating the aim(s) of the research and the research questions or hypotheses
  • providing a synopsis of the research design and method(s)
  • explaining the significance or value of the study
  • defining certain key terms
  • providing an overview of the dissertation or report structure

Examples of phrases which are commonly employed to realise these functions can be seen by clicking on the headings listed below. Note that there may be a certain amount of overlap between some of the categories under which the phrases are listed. Also, the order in which the different categories of phrases are shown reflects a typical order but this is far from fixed or rigid, and not all the elements are present in all introductions.

A number of analysts have identified common patterns in the introductions of research articles. One of the best known patterns is the CARS model (create a research space) first described by John Swales (1990). This model, which utilises an ecological metaphor, has, in its simplest form, three elements or moves:

  • Establishing the territory (establishing importance of the topic, reviewing previous work)
  • Identifying a niche (indicating a gap in knowledge)
  • Occupying the niche (listing purpose of new research, listing questions, stating the value of the work, indicating the structure of the writing)
Establishing the importance of the topic for the world or society

X is fundamental to …
X has a pivotal role in …
X is frequently prescribed for …
X is fast becoming a key instrument in …
X plays a vital role in the metabolism of …
X plays a critical role in the maintenance of …
Xs have emerged as powerful platforms for …
X is essential for a wide range of technologies.
X can play an important role in addressing the issue of …
Xs are the most potent anti-inflammatory agents known.
There is evidence that X plays a crucial role in regulating …
X is a common condition which has considerable impact on …
In the new global economy, X has become a central issue for …
Evidence suggests that X is among the most important factors for …
X is important for a wide range of scientific and industrial processes.
Xs are one of the most widely used groups of antibacterial agents and …
There is a growing body of literature that recognises the importance of …
X is an important component in the climate system, and plays a key role in Y.
In the history of development economics, X has been thought of as a key factor in …
Xs are one of the most widely used groups of Y and have been extensively used for ….

Establishing the importance of the topic for the discipline

A key aspect of X is …
X is of interest because …
X is a classic problem in …
A primary concern of X is …
X is a dominant feature of …
X is an important aspect of …
X is a fundamental property of …
The concepts of X and Y are central to …
X is at the heart of our understanding of …
Investigating X is a continuing concern within …
X is a major area of interest within the field of …
X has been studied by many researchers using …
X has been an object of research since the 1960s.
X has been the subject of many classic studies in …
X has been instrumental in our understanding of …
The theory of X provides a useful account of how …
Central to the entire discipline of X is the concept of …
X is an increasingly important area in applied linguistics.
The issue of X has received considerable critical attention.
X has long been a question of great interest in a wide range of fields.

Establishing the importance of the topic (time frame given)

Recently, there has been renewed interest in …
Traditionally, Xs have subscribed to the belief that …
One of the most important events of the 1970s was …
In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in …
Recent developments in X have heightened the need for …
The last two decades have seen a growing trend towards …
Recently, researchers have shown an increased interest in …
Over the past century, there has been a dramatic increase in …
Recent trends in X have led to a proliferation of studies that …
X proved an important literary genre in the early Y community.
The past decade has seen the rapid development of X in many …
Since it was reported in 2005, X has been attracting a lot of interest.
Recently, a considerable literature has grown up around the theme of …
Recent developments in the field of X have led to a renewed interest in …
The past thirty years have seen increasingly rapid advances in the field of …
The changes experienced by X over the past decade remain unprecedented.
In light of recent events in X, it is becoming extremely difficult to ignore the existence of …

Establishing the importance of the topic as a problem to be addressed

X is a major problem in …
Of particular concern is …
One of the main obstacles …
One of the greatest challenges …
A key issue is the safe disposal of …
The main disadvantage of X is that …
X is associated with increased risk of …
X impacts negatively upon a range of …
X is a common disorder characterised by …
It is now well established that X can impair …
X has led to the decline in the population of …
X is a growing public health concern worldwide.
The main challenge faced by many researchers is the …
X is one of the most frequently stated problems with …
Lack of X has existed as a health problem for many years.
X is a major environmental problem, and the main cause of …
Xs are one of the most rapidly declining groups of insects in …
X is the leading cause of death in western-industrialised countries.
Exposure to X has been shown to be related to adverse effects in …
There is increasing concern that some Xs are being disadvantaged …
There is an urgent need to address the safety problems caused by …

 

However, X may cause …
X is limited by …
X suffers from …
X is too expensive to be used for …
X has accentuated the problem of …
the performance of X is limited by …
X could be a contributing factor to …
the synthesis of X remains a major challenge.
X can be extremely harmful to human beings.
research has consistently shown that X lacks …
a major problem with this kind of application is …
the determination of X is technically challenging.
current methods of X have proven to be unreliable.
these rapid changes are having a serious effect on …
X can be adversely affected under certain conditions.
observations have indicated a serious decline in the population of …
Referring to previous work to establish what is already known

Recent evidence suggests that …
Extensive research has shown that …
Studies of X show the importance of …
It has previously been observed that …
Several attempts have been made to …
Previous research has established that …
Data from several studies suggest that …
Recent work by historians has established that …
Previous research comparing X and Y has found …
The existing body of research on X suggests that …
There is a growing body of literature that recognises …
Several theories on the origin of X have been proposed.
Existing research recognises the critical role played by …
It is now well established from a variety of studies, that …
Recently investigators have examined the effects of X on Y.
Surveys such as that conducted by Smith (1988) have shown that …
Factors found to be influencing X have been explored in several studies.
A number of cross-sectional studies suggest an association between X and Y…
Studies over the past two decades have provided important information on …
A considerable amount of literature has been published on X. These studies …

Identifying a controversy within the field of study

A much debated question is whether …
One major issue in early X research concerned …
To date there has been little agreement on what …
The issue has grown in importance in light of recent …
One of the most significant current discussions in X is …
In the literature on X, the relative importance of Y is debated.
One observer has already drawn attention to the paradox in …
Questions have been raised about the use of animal subjects in …
In many Xs, a debate is taking place between Ys and Zs concerning …
Debate continues about the best strategies for the management of …
This concept has recently been challenged by X studies demonstrating …
The debate about X has gained fresh prominence with many arguing that …
Scholars have long debated the impact of X on the creation and diffusion of …
More recently, literature has emerged that offers contradictory findings about …
One major theoretical issue that has dominated the field for many years concerns …
The controversy about scientific evidence for X has raged unabated for over a century.
The issue of X has been a controversial and much disputed subject within the field of …
The causes of X have been the subject of intense debate within the scientific community.
In the literature on X, the relative importance of Y has been subject to considerable discussion.

Explaining the inadequacies of previous studies

Previous studies of X have not dealt with …
Researchers have not treated X in much detail.
Such expositions are unsatisfactory because they …
Most studies in the field of X have only focused on …
Such approaches, however, have failed to address …
Previous published studies are limited to local surveys.
Half of the studies evaluated failed to specify whether …
The research to date has tended to focus on X rather than Y.
Previously published studies on the effect of X are not consistent.
Smith’s analysis does not take account of …, nor does she examine …
The existing accounts fail to resolve the contradiction between X and Y.

However, much of the research up to now has been descriptive in nature …
The generalisability of much published research on this issue is problematic.
Research on the subject has been mostly restricted to limited comparisons of …
However, few writers have been able to draw on any systematic research into …
Short-term studies such as these do not necessarily show subtle changes over time …
Although extensive research has been carried out on X, no single study exists which …
However, these results were based upon data from over 30 years ago and it is unclear if …
The experimental data are rather controversial, and there is no general agreement about …
Most studies in X have only been carried out in a small number of areas.

Identifying the paucity or lack of previous research

There is little published data on …
No previous study has investigated X.
The use of X has not been investigated.
There has been no detailed investigation of …
There has been little quantitative analysis of …
Data about the efficacy and safety of X are limited.
Up to now, far too little attention has been paid to …
A search of the literature revealed few studies which …
The impact of X on Y is understudied, particularly for …
Few studies have investigated X in any systematic way …
In addition, no research has been found that surveyed …
So far, however, there has been little discussion about …
So far, very little attention has been paid to the role of X.
Surprisingly, the effects of X have not been closely examined.
In contrast to X, there is much less information about effects of …
A systematic understanding of how X contributes to Y is still lacking.
Despite the importance of X, there remains a paucity of evidence on …
There have been no controlled studies which compare differences in …
To date, the problem has received scant attention in the research literature
To date, there are few studies that have investigated the association between …

 

While
Whilst
Although
some research has been carried out on X, no single study exists which …
no studies have been found which …
no controlled studies have been reported.
only two studies have attempted to investigate …
there have been few empirical investigations into …
there is still very little scientific understanding of …
the mechanism by which … has not been established.
Identifying a knowledge gap in the field of study

It is still not known whether …
… much less is known about X.
The nature of X remains unclear.
Currently, there are no data on …
What is less clear is the nature of …
Very little is currently known about X in …
Research to date has not yet determined …
What is not yet clear is the impact of X on …
There is still uncertainty, however, whether …
The response of X to Y is not fully understood.
Causal factors leading to X remain speculative.
The neurobiological basis of X is poorly understood.
Little is known about X and it is not clear what factors …
To date, only a limited number of Xs have been identified.
The mechanisms that underpin X are not fully understood.
Much uncertainty still exists about the relationship between …
This indicates a need to understand the various perceptions of X that exist among …
It is now well established that … However, the influence of X on Y has remained unclear.

 

However, very little is known about X in…
few studies have investigated …
the nature of X remains unclear.
much less is known about how …
the use of X has not been investigated.
far too little attention has been paid to …
the behaviour of X has not yet been investigated.
the evidence for this relationship is inconclusive …
much uncertainty still exists about the relation between …
there have been no controlled studies which compare differences in …
Stating the focus, aim, or argument of a short paper

In this paper, I argue that …
This paper attempts to show that …
The central thesis of this paper is that …
In the pages that follow, it will be argued that …
In this essay, I attempt to defend the view that …
The aim of this essay is to explore the relationship between …
The purpose of this paper is to review recent research into the …

 

This paper argues that …
gives an account of …
discusses the case of …
analyses the impact of …
attempts to show that …
contests the claim that …
provides an overview of …
reviews the evidence for …
reports on a study which …
traces the development of …
explores the ways in which …
assesses the significance of …
highlights the importance of …
considers the implications of …
critically examines the view that …
proposes a new methodology for …
examines the relationship between …
compares the different ways in which …
investigates the factors that determine …
describes the design and implementation of …
Stating the purpose of the current research

The specific objective of this study was to …
An objective of this study was to investigate …
This thesis will examine the way in which the …
This study set out to investigate the usefulness of …
This dissertation seeks to explain the development of …
This case study seeks to examine the changing nature of …
The objectives of this research are to determine whether …
This prospective study was designed to investigate the use of …
This research examines the emerging role of X in the context of …
This study systematically reviews the data for…, aiming to provide …
Drawing upon two strands of research into X, this study attempts to …
This thesis intends to determine the extent to which … and whether …
This dissertation aims to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding …
This study therefore set out to assess the effect of X …, and the effect of …
The main aim of this study is to investigate the differences between X and Y.
Part of the aim of this project is to develop software that is compatible with …
There are two primary aims of this study: 1. To investigate … 2. To ascertain …
This study seeks to obtain data which will help to address these research gaps.
One purpose of this study was to assess the extent to which these factors were …
The purpose of this investigation is to explore the relationship between X and Y.

Describing the research design and the methods used

Data for this study were collected using …
Five works will be examined, all of which …
This investigation takes the form of a case-study of the …
This study was exploratory and interpretative in nature.
This study uses a qualitative case study approach to investigate …
The research data in this thesis is drawn from four main sources: …
The approach to empirical research adopted for this study was one of …
This dissertation follows a case-study design, with in-depth analysis of …
By employing qualitative modes of enquiry, I attempt to illuminate the …
Qualitative and quantitative research designs were adopted to provide …
Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used in this investigation.
A holistic approach is utilised, integrating X, Y and Z material to establish …
The study was conducted in the form of a survey, with data being gathered via …
The methodological approach taken in this study is a mixed methodology based on …
A combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches was used in the data analysis.

Explaining the significance of the current study

This is the first study to …
This study provides new insights into …
This work will generate fresh insight into …
The study offers some important insights into …
Understanding the link between X and Y will help …
This is the first study to undertake a longitudinal analysis of …
The present research explores, for the first time, the effects of …
The importance and originality of this study are that it explores …
The findings should make an important contribution to the field of ….
Characterisation of X is important for our increased understanding of …
It is hoped that this research will contribute to a deeper understanding of …
This study aims to contribute to this growing area of research by exploring …
This project provided an important opportunity to advance the understanding of …
Therefore, this study makes a major contribution to research on X by demonstrating …
There are several important areas where this study makes an original contribution to …
The experimental work presented here provides one of the first investigations into how …

Describing the limitations of the current study

The thesis does not engage with …
It is not the task of this paper to examine …
This study is unable to encompass the entire …
Establishing X is beyond the scope of this study.
It is beyond the scope of this study to examine the …
A full discussion of X lies beyond the scope of this study.
The reader should bear in mind that the study is based on …
Another potential problem is that the scope of my thesis may be too broad.
Due to practical constraints, this paper cannot provide a comprehensive review of…

Giving reasons for personal interest in the research

I became interested in Xs after reading …
My interest in this area developed while I was …
I have worked closely with X for many years and …
My personal experience of X has prompted this research.
My main reason for choosing this topic is personal interest.
It is my experience of working with X that has driven this research.
This project was conceived during my time working for X. As a medical advisor, I witnessed …

* sometimes found in the humanities, and the applied human sciences

Outlining the structure of the paper or dissertation

The first section of this paper will examine…
This paper begins by … It will then go on to …
My thesis is composed of four themed chapters.
The essay has been organised in the following way.
The remaining part of the paper proceeds as follows: …
The main issues addressed in this paper are: a), b) and c).
This paper first gives a brief overview of the recent history of X.
This paper has been divided into four parts. The first part deals with …
The third chapter is concerned with the methodology used for this study.
The overall structure of the study takes the form of six chapters, including …
Chapter Four analyses the results of interviews and focus group discussions undertaken during …
Chapter Two begins by laying out the theoretical dimensions of the research, and looks at how …
The fourth section presents the findings of the research, focusing on the three key themes that …

Explaining key terms used in the current work

(also refer to Defining terms)

Throughout this paper, the term ‘X’ will refer to …
The term ‘X’ will be used in this thesis to refer to …
Historically, the term ‘X’ has been used to describe …
It is necessary here to clarify exactly what is meant by …
The phrase ‘X’ will be used in this study to describe the …
According to Smith (2002), X can be defined as follows: ‘ … ’
In this article, the abbreviation XYZ will be used to refer to …
Throughout this dissertation, the term ‘X’ will be used to refer to …
The term ‘X’ is a relatively new name for …, commonly referred to as …
In this essay, the term ‘X’ will be used in its broadest sense to refer to all …
In this dissertation, the terms ‘X’ and ‘Y’ are used interchangeably to mean …
While a variety of definitions of the term X have been suggested, this paper will use the definition first suggested by Smith (1968) who saw it as …