7.5 Report Introductions

Writing Effective Report Introductions

Think of your report’s introduction as a mental road map that must answer for the reader these four questions:

    1. What was I studying?
    2. Why was this topic important to investigate?
    3. What did we know about this topic before I did this study?
    4. How will this study advance new knowledge or new ways of understanding?

A well-written introduction is important because, quite simply, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. The opening paragraphs of your paper will provide your readers with their initial impressions about the logic of your argument, your writing style, the overall quality of your research, and, ultimately, the validity of your findings and conclusions. A vague, disorganized, or error-filled introduction will create a negative impression, whereas, a concise, engaging, and well-written introduction will lead your readers to think highly of your analytical skills, your writing style, and your research approach.

Structure and Approach

The introduction is the broad beginning of the paper that answers three important questions for the reader:

      1. What is this?
      2. Why should I read it?
      3. What do you want me to do, say, think, or feel?

Think of the structure of the introduction as an inverted triangle of information. Organize the information so as to present the more general aspects of the topic early in the introduction, then narrow your analysis or focus to more specific topical information that provides context before arriving at your research problem and the rationale for studying it. If applicable, in your introduction you can also touch on the potential outcomes your study will reveal.

The following are some of the general phases associated with writing effective introductions:

1. Establish an area to research by:

          • Highlighting the importance of the topic, and/or
          • Making general statements about the topic, and/or
          • Presenting an overview on current research on the subject.

2. Identify a research niche by:

          • Opposing an existing assumption, and/or
          • Revealing a gap in existing research, and/or
          • Formulating a research question or problem, and/or
          • Continuing a disciplinary tradition.

3. Place your research within the research niche by:

          • Stating the intent of your study,
          • Outlining the key characteristics of your study,
          • Describing important results, and
          • Giving a brief overview of the structure of the paper.

*NOTE: Even though the introduction is the first main section of a research paper, it is often useful to finish the introduction late in the writing process because the structure of the paper, the reporting and analysis of results, and the conclusion will have been completed. Reviewing and, if necessary, rewriting the introduction ensures that it correctly matches the overall structure of your final paper.

 

Figure 7.5 below states the report’s purpose, specifies the report’s intended audience, provides a limited description of the report’s context and background, forecasts the report’s scope, and previews the report’s contents and/or organization:

Figure 7.5

The Narrative Flow

The following suggestions will help the narrative flow of your introduction:

      • Your introduction should clearly identify the subject area of interest. A simple strategy to follow is to use key words from your title in the first few sentences of the introduction. This will help focus the introduction on the topic at the appropriate level and ensures that you get to the subject matter quickly without losing focus, or discussing information that is too general.
      • Establish context by providing a brief and balanced review of the pertinent published literature that is available on the subject. The key is to summarize for the reader what is known about the specific research problem before you did your analysis. This part of your introduction should consist of a general review of the important research (with citations) that lays a foundation for understanding the key elements of your research problem. For more information on using background information, see this USC resource.
      • Clearly state the hypothesis that you investigated. When you are first learning to write in this format it is okay, and actually preferable, to use a past statement like, “The purpose of this study was to….” or “We investigated three possible mechanisms to explain the….”
      • Why did you choose this kind of research study or design? Provide a clear statement of the rationale for your approach to the problem studied. This will usually follow your statement of purpose in the last paragraph of the introduction.

Engaging the Reader

The overall goal of your introduction is to make your readers want to read your paper, so your introduction should work to grab readers’ attention. The following are a few strategies for engaging your reader:

        1. Open with a compelling story.
        2. Include a strong quotation or a vivid, perhaps unexpected anecdote.
        3. Pose a provocative or thought-provoking question.
        4. Describe a puzzling scenario or incongruity.
        5. Cite a stirring example or case study that illustrates why the research problem is important.

Abstracts

Some reports or projects require the use of an Abstract (also called a Summary or Executive Summary), which is a brief overview of your report. Abstracts are not the same as introductions, though they’re typically placed at the beginning of a report on their own page just after the Title page (if used). Abstracts are usually written last because they require a complete understanding of the whole report. The Abstract tells the reader the main points of your project to help them decide which specific sections of the report to focus on.

Effective Abstracts are clear and concise in their wording, with no unnecessary language. The Abstract should include the following key information:

        1. Background of your report (why you did it and/or why the project was necessary)
        2. Purpose/Aim of your report project (what you were specifically trying to do)
        3. Research (what research you did and/or your procedure or experimental method)
        4. Results/Findings
        5. Conclusion (or what your results mean)
        6. Recommendations (or special considerations for the future)

Abstracts often follow the same order as the information in the main report. The Abstract should NOT include:

        1. Graphs or tables
        2. Pictures or equations
        3. Abbreviations, acronyms or jargon

Additional Resources

 

*This page borrows from the following sources: 
"Research Guides." USC Libraries. Source link.
"Introductions." Online Technical Writing. Source link.

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Technical Writing at LBCC by Will Fleming is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.