As promised at the conclusion of Part 1 in this series, Part 2 will describe a well-formed introduction, discuss the objectives of this section, and identify necessary vs unnecessary content.
The introduction, like many sections, typically accrues unnecessary content as consequence of misunderstanding the purpose of this section. The introduction is an opportunity to discuss the issue or problem being addressed by the study. This is the author’s best opportunity to convince the reviewers that the study satisfies two crucial criteria for publication: novelty and impact. Unfortunately, many authors choose to focus the introduction on the following, secondary, components.
- A literature review. While an appropriate introduction does review the literature, it does so in the context of the goals stated above. Setting out with the express purpose of reviewing the literature is a recipe for a lengthy, cumbersome introduction. Graduate students, post doctoral fellows, and new investigators often incorrectly adopt this approach. The introduction is not an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge or to establish your credibility. Literature should be discussed only in the context of the specific issue addressed by the manuscript. General knowledge related to the field is wasted content that does not meet the objectives of a novel journal article.
- An expanded abstract. Frequently the introduction is written as a redundant summary of the study. Unless the journal requires that results, methods, or conclusions are included in the introduction, these elements have no place in a succinct, clear introduction. You are introducing the study; it should end where the study itself begins—the hypothesis being tested. Do not summarize your findings or discuss their relevance. This information will have no value or meaning to the reader until they have had the opportunity to verify the details of your study, found in the methods section.
The approaches above should be avoided. Additionally, we have included some specific details that can be reduced or omitted in the introduction to improve brevity and clarity.
- Avoid including secondary hypotheses in your statement of purpose. Limit your problem to one or two sentences that indicates the major novel hypothesis that was tested by the study.
- Avoid stating statistical results from previous studies. Summarize the effects in short, clear sentences.
- One or two statements of the larger societal significance of a problem are acceptable. However, avoid editorializing on the importance of these issues. It is difficult, if not impossible, to compare the importance of issues between areas of study. Indicate that your problem of interest is significant and move on.
- Indicate the method that you’ve used to address the hypothesis, especially if the method is crucial to the novelty of the study, but do not include specific details of the methods.
- Ensure that the review of the literature is sequential. The citations should not provide a sense that the important literature is being presented in a list format. The introduction is a narrative that outlines the path investigators in this field have followed to arrive at the current problem.
There are several crucial elements of an effective introduction, and they deserve their own article. Here, we have provided some tactics to reduce the length of your introduction and improve readability. Remember, you do not want the readers (or reviewers) to fatigue themselves on an unwieldy introduction before they have been able to process your results and conclusions. Additionally, we highlight two common, but flawed, writing approaches that will always have intrinsic brevity and clarity issues. Avoid these approaches at all costs, as no amount of tricks or tips will improve the brevity of introductions structured in those styles.
In the next part of this series, we will provide tactics for efficiently communicating the most information dense section of the manuscript: the methods.
(Please retain the reference in reprint: http://www.letpub.com/index.php?page=author_education_brevity_in_manuscript_2)