According to Tim Albert in The A-Z of Medical Writing, “the typical introduction consists of two or three paragraphs. Despite what many people think, the first sentence is generally dull and can be divided into three types: (1) the Seminar Approach (‘Left-handedness is a condition affecting 10% of the population...’); (2) the Alarmist (‘Hundreds of left-handed people commit suicide each year claiming that they cannot get their scientific papers published, and the figure is rising’), and (3) Much Discussion Recently (‘There has been much discussion recently about the impact of being-left-handed on the task of writing scientific papers’). The most important sentence in the Introduction, therefore, is not the first one, but the last, which typically describes what the authors did: ‘In this study we conducted a postal survey of 2 million doctors to see if there was a link between authorship and left-handedness’”.

Yet, there are many ways to structure an introduction. A good way to begin would be several paragraphs describing the problem area or topic you are researching, with some of the unanswered questions you address in the paper. You can think of the introduction portion of your paper as a conceptual funnel: start out broad, addressing a general area of practice, then move to more specific topics, culminating in one or more specific hypotheses your study will test.

Your introduction should leave the reader with:

  • a clear understanding of the issue being addressed;

  • the context of the current study in light of prior work, and

  • how your study attempted to augment what is known about a given treatment or issue.

It is highly recommended that you conclude your introduction with one or more specific and directional hypotheses that are clearly derived from prior empirical work or prior theory.

A hypothesis predicts something that ought to be observed in the real world if a theory is correct. It is a tentative and testable statement about how changes in one thing are expected to explain changes in something else. The things that hypotheses predict are called variables. Most hypotheses predict which variable influences the other; in other words, which one is the cause and which one is the effect. (Rubin & Babbie, 2007, p. 49)

Here is one possible way to structure your introduction, keeping in mind that the introduction presents the purpose and the scope of your report. This is also the place for a brief review of the related literature, the method of investigation and the statement of the principal conclusions.

An introduction may start with a definition of terms. An unfamiliar term, or an expression which is given a different meaning from the usual one, must be explained; or the author may wish to remind the reader what the term is generally understood to mean.

Background to the subject matter includes a general statement orienting the reader in the area of research.

Review of previous research

What research has been done in the field?

What advances have been made?

What are the outstanding problems?

The knowledge gap

Indicate the existence of a gap in research or knowledge about the subject being discussed. Your paper should attempt to address precisely this gap.

Statement of purpose

After the description of the knowledge gap, there follows a statement of intent or purpose which explains how such a gap is to be filled, or re-analyzed or even widened in scope by your research/article.

The Language of the Introduction


A is B

What we generally understand by A is B

We define A by/as B

A is defined as B

In this study, A is taken to mean…


There is increasing evidence that….

Review of previous research

Many reports have appeared in journals or general practice and have been well- reviewed.

Popescu characterized ….as…..

The results of recent studies have suggested that…

Popescu ( !999) reported that…..

X syndrome has been the focus of many studies…..

Popescu (1999) in Romania noted that……

X was described in a study by Popescu( 1999) in Romania….

The knowledge gap

In Romania there have been few studies regarding….

This problem seems to have been overlooked in the research because….

Statement of purpose

The most widely hypothesis that public health is dependent upon must, therefore, be re-examined…

We advance the idea that….

What we want to demonstrate in our study is that…

Final word of advice:

Use Present Perfect with non-specific time, relative to previous events. Use Past Tense to refer to research completed by X in a specific year.