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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
In general, verb tense should be in the following format, although variations can occur within the text of each section depending on the narrative style of your paper. Note that references to prior research mentioned anywhere in your paper should always be stated in the past tense.
Abstract--past tense [summary description of what I did]
Introduction--present tense [I am describing the study to you now]
Literature Review--past tense [the studies I reviewed have already been written]
Methodology--past tense [the way I gathered and synthesized data has already happened]
Results--past tense [the findings of my study have already been discovered]
Discussion--present tense [I am talking to you now about how I interpreted the findings]
Conclusion--present tense [I am summarizing the study for you now]
A useful approach for evaluating the quality of your academic writing is to consider the following issues from the perspective of the reader. While proofreading your final draft, critically assess the following elements in your writing.
It is shaped around one clear research problem, and it explains what that problem is from the outset.
Your paper tells the reader why the problem is important and why people should know about it.
You have accurately and thoroughly informed the reader what has already been published about this problem or others related to it and noted important gaps in the research.
You have provided evidence to support your argument that the reader finds convincing.
The paper includes a description of how and why particular evidence was collected and analyzed, and why specific theoretical arguments or concepts were used.
The paper is made up of paragraphs, each containing only one controlling idea.
You indicate how each section of the paper addresses the research problem.
You have considered counter-arguments or counter-examples where they are relevant.
Arguments, evidence, and their significance have been presented in the conclusion.
Limitations of your research have been explained as evidence of the potential need for further study.
The narrative flows in a clear, accurate, and well-organized way.