How to Write an Introduction for a Research Paper

Writing a concise yet compelling introduction is a challenge for many people. Still, it’s an important skill whether you’re in high school, an undergrad, or pursuing a doctoral degree. The introduction is what helps your reader decide if they’re interested in your paper or not. So, remember, you only get one chance to make a good first impression!  

Research papers follow the same basic format, especially within the social sciences. It’s important to keep it concise (no more than 4 pages) while laying out only the most important information for your reader. Anyone can write a good research paper introduction by following this standard format. 

In this article, you’ll learn about the introduction’s purpose and why it’s so important to the rest of your paper. Then, we’ll share some tips to help you write a winning introduction that will leave your reader wanting more. 

Check out this video where Dave explains the basic formula for writing a research paper introduction. 

This post was written by Abbie Van Wagner (freelance writer) on behalf of Dr. Dave Maslach for the R3ciprocity project (check out the YouTube Channel or the writing feedback software).

What is the Introduction, and Why Does it Matter? 

There’s a reason that literally every research paper starts with an introduction. Academic research papers typically begin the same way and provide the same kind of information to the reader within the first few pages. 

Introductions are always your reader’s first encounter with your work, so you want to pique their interest as quickly as possible while giving them the information they need to understand the rest of the paper. Plus, you want them to want to keep reading!  

Still, introductions do a lot more than just tell your reader what the paper is about. A properly written introduction will help your reader understand your topic, the scope of your research, the paper’s context, existing research and literature, the problem or question you’re seeking to resolve, and why any of your research matters.

Even with all that information, your introduction should still be relatively short compared to the rest of your research paper. Creating a clear and concise intro is a struggle for many writers, so don’t feel bad if you have to edit yours down more than once. 

How Long Should a Research Paper Introduction Be? 

The exact length of your intro depends on your paper’s length. In any case, the introduction should typically be the shortest section of your paper. So, depending on how long your whole paper is, the introduction could be half of a page or two or three pages long.

Your introduction should never be more than four pages long (double spaced), but one to two pages is probably pretty close to ideal in most cases. 

At the end of the day, you will have to determine how long your introduction needs to be. You want to provide the reader with enough background information, context, and implications to convince them the research paper is worth reading. Still, you don’t want to summarize your entire report with thousands of unnecessary words.   

For more paper-writing advice, check out this article which provides writing tips from a graduate student. 

How to Format Your Research Paper’s Introduction

Research papers (particularly in the social sciences) follow the same basic format. By using this template to guide your writing, you’ll have an easier time getting organized and including only the necessary information in your introduction. 

For more discussion on structuring the rest of your research paper, check out this video where Dave explains how to write one in 47 hours or less!

Introduction Part One

The first paragraph of your research paper is an important one. It’s the introduction to your introduction. This is where you set the tone for your paper and grab the reader’s attention, so you’ll want to be clear and concise without overloading them with more information than they need. 

This is where you’ll address the current research related to your topic or research area. When you start out, the information should be very broad, as you’ll narrow the scope as you progress through the intro and paper.

The first part of your introduction is where you tell the reader, “this is what we know.” 

To learn more about citing existing literature, check out this article which discusses the best citation software for research papers.

Introduction Part Two 

The next part of your introduction is where you’ll narrow your scope a little further as you introduce an unresolved gap in the research or other problem. This may be a puzzle or issue which opens the door for more investigation. 

This part of the introduction typically says something along the lines of: 

  • “Despite everything we know about this topic, we still don’t know this,” or 
  • “Even with all the progress and advancements in the field, we still aren’t sure about this.” 

After stating what we “still don’t know,” you’ll need to define what “this” is while also discussing why “this” matters. 

Giving this added explanation is critical, but it’s something that many people miss. If you don’t take the time to explain why this question or research gap you’ve discovered is important, the paper is dead in the water. 

Just figuring out that something hasn’t been explained or studied before isn’t automatically enough to warrant a research paper. Remember, just because something hasn’t been studied before doesn’t always mean that it needs to be studied now. It’s your job as the writer to stress the importance of the research and why the subject is relevant now. 

Some ways to do this include discussing the practical applications of the research now or in the future, explaining how the research could change the field, expressing new theories, or filling holes in the existing literature. 

Introduction Part Three

The third part of your introduction should address your research methods and findings. Whether you conducted a qualitative or quantitative study, performed an experiment, looked at data, or used some other methodology, this is where you’ll explain that to the reader. 

To learn more about research design, check out this video

You’ll explain exactly what you did and how you did it, then discuss the findings. It would look something like “we did this…” and “when we did this, we found this...” 

So, in other words, you provide a brief overview of the major findings of the research. While you may have a lot of information about your methodology and findings, you should try to be concise within the introduction. That means selecting a few of the major findings that will inform the reader about the importance of your research. 

Sometimes this part of the introduction requires weeding through your findings and only selecting the most interesting or most relevant items. You might think of it as just picking out the “sexy” findings that will encourage the reader to continue with your paper. 

Use this part of your introduction to play into the reader’s curiosity so they will want to find out more! As you summarize your results and select which findings to include, consider what the reader may think about and what questions they may have. 

If you feel like you need more help writing your research paper, check out Dave’s Essential Guide to Writing Research Papers

And, if you want more information about specifically writing your methods and analysis sections, you should watch this video!

Introduction Wrap-Up and Final Paragraphs

The end of your introduction will address the theoretical implications of the research. In this area of the intro, you should discuss how your findings contribute to solving the problem or filling in the research gap you mentioned earlier. 

In this part of your introduction, you get to brag on yourself a little bit by telling the reader that you solved your research question (yay!) and also why that matters. 

To strengthen your research paper, you will definitely want to make a theoretical implication, stretch the existing theory, or discuss a new theory. You can also include practical applications here or explain how your research fits into our existing understanding of the field.

A good rule of thumb is to try to include two or three of these implications in your discussion. If you feel that your results or findings have even more applications or theoretical implications, you will certainly address those later in your paper. But, for the purposes of your introduction, you want to keep it concise and limit the amount of discussion to just the most important or most relevant findings and implications.

The last sentence of your introduction should be a broad statement about how your research advances the literature. 

If you’re thinking about reviewing someone else’s research paper, check out this video where Dave talks about the steps for reviewing an article.

Putting It All Together

Keeping your introduction concise and neatly assembled is key. You are going to be putting a lot of information into a small amount of writing, so it will be important to keep yourself organized and only include the most relevant information. 

Your introduction will set the tone for your research paper, so try to include the most interesting data and findings to help pique the readers’ interest. 

Remember, you will expand and go into more detail in the paper, so don’t give it all away in the first few pages. Instead, write your introduction last (after your paper is complete), read it, slim it down, and repeat as needed.  

For more information and tips on writing research papers, check out The Ultimate Guide to Academic Papers

Recent Posts