medical research paper introduction

  • Vol 3 (December 2018) /

Introduction sections: where are we going and why should I care?

John Ayric Gray

Editorial Office , AME Publishing Company

Abstract: This chapter aims to provide an instructional review about how to write effective introduction sections for original medical research articles. First, the basic function and aims of the introduction section are discussed. The introduction has the most important social role in the text as it should act as a bridge for the reader to the more technical parts of the document. It should thus be written with the reader kept carefully in mind, and should be able to interest them and convince them of the study’s significance. Next, the major functions of a successful introduction are reviewed including the general background and motivation, the academic background and literature gap, the research problem statement, the methodology and the social impact. Using examples, these functions are analyzed according to the common English language features associated with them such as verb tense, noun types, common words and phrases etc. Some recurring errors made by non-native English writers relating to these language features are also identified. After this, ways to ensure that the separate introduction functions are crafted into a unified section are outlined. A general structure beginning from the broadest statement and narrowing to the most specific is suggested. Placing content-similar functions together, and binding them with cohesive techniques provides further connectedness within and between paragraphs and increases the readability of the text. Finally, a sample introduction and related exercises are given, so the reader can apply the concepts covered in this chapter.

Keywords: Introductions; original research articles; introduction functions; cohesion

Received: 30 November 2018; Accepted: 04 December 2018; Published: 12 December 2018.

doi: 10.21037/amj.2018.12.03

The introduction

Although the introduction, ranging from 250 to 600 words in length, is one of the first parts of the article your reader will see, it is usually the last part to be completed in the writing process. This is because you should already have a clear idea of your methodology, results, and implications of these results (discussion), before you begin to write your introduction. In short, you need to be clear about what you are introducing before you introduce it.

This is due to the main purpose of the introduction: while other sections mainly correspond to the steps of the medical research process as a record or description, the introduction does not. Instead, its role is social and interpersonal, and has the task of welcoming, engaging, convincing, and providing clarity to the reader.

Consequently, as medical writers, we need to give particular attention in our introduction to how our writing is being perceived by the person who will be reading it. Indeed, the introduction sections can be the most conversational part of the article, as compared to the more technical or logical parts found in other sections. This does not mean that the tone of the introduction is informal or non-academic, but rather that the writing style can, and probably should, be more expressive and inviting.

We can think of our introduction as the moment when our passenger (the reader) first gets into our car. They will want to know where they are going (the general idea of our research), they will want to know why they are going there (the value of our research), they will want to know how we will get there (the main structure of our article), and very importantly, they will want to know we are a safe and skillful driver (the quality of our writing).

Apart from the abstract, which is fairly impersonal, the introduction is going to be the first thing the reader sees, and therefore it will give them the first impression of you as a writer and researcher. This will usually be the point where the reader decides if they will continue reading, and will be a good opportunity for you to help them understand the rest of the article. If the introduction is written poorly, if it is confusing, and if it does not tell a story, the reader will not recognize or value our groundbreaking results, or innovative methodology found later in the paper, because they will have stopped stop reading.

At the end of our introduction then, we want our reader to feel both interested about where we are going in our paper, clear about how we will get there, and confident about our ability to take them there as a writer. Given the choice between two drivers, we, on the one hand, do not want a driver who appears out of control, reckless, and not sure about where they are going. Rather, we want one who seems competent, confident, and welcoming.

Introduction functions

In order to make sure that our introduction successfully acts as a bridge to the rest of our paper, we can think of the introduction as a series of functions that accomplish different roles. Fulfilling the criteria of most, or all, of the important functions, will guarantee that the reader has the necessary information, and hopefully the motivation, to propel them through the rest of our article.

A short description of each of the introduction functions follows. Please note that this is only one way to think about the introduction, and that in many cases, these functions are not separated in the writing, but are often integrated or overlapped.

  • Outline the topic background and/or discuss the motivation for the research. This is the minimum information needed to help the reader get familiar with what we will be talking about, and also, why we, as authors and researchers chose to explore our topic. The background frames the most general boundary of the article, and should be accessible to even the most uninformed reader. It is helpful then if the information used here is either interesting, or has clear importance to most people.
  • Outline the academic background and identify the gap in literature. This is usually the longest part of the introduction, and might take the most time to compose. We need to relate to the reader what the most relevant and up-to-date research has to say about our topic, and also identify what is missing from this body of research. We can think of this as the academic justification or purpose behind our research, to convince our reader that our findings are novel. Science writers often make the mistake of going into too much detail about specific studies, or simply listing sentences about others’ research. The goal rather is to use the sources to tell the reader the academic story so far concerning our research area, and show them that the story is incomplete.
  • State the research problem, question, hypothesis or objective of the research. This is the core of our introduction—what we are actually doing or did for our research—and might be the shortest but most important part of the writing. It needs to be clear, detailed, and concise. It is likely going to be the most information-dense part of the introduction (1–2 sentences long), and should answer the what, why, when, how, who, and where questions of our study. Extremely precise and unambiguous language is required here as the research problem statement has a direct relationship to the methodology, results and discussion sections. For the reader to continue on understanding our paper, they need to be properly informed of the technical parameters of our research.
  • Explain the social impact. This should identify how your research might be important outside of filling a gap in academic knowledge. That is, how might the new knowledge gained by your research specifically help patients or the medical community or society in general. Too often this function is overlooked by writers who take for granted that the reader can understand how your findings might be applied in the “real world”. Explaining this clearly for your reader can immediately make your research more interesting, relevant, accessible and significant.
  • Describe how you plan to answer the research question. This is essentially describing what the basic methodology is. This does not need to be very detailed, and can be generally reduced to a mention of the methodology type (meta-analysis, systematic review, prospective study, retrospective study etc.). Often, this can be addressed within the research problem statement itself.
  • Significant results. More often than not, the results do not appear in the introduction, and perhaps should not, depending on whom you ask, or perhaps the publisher whom you are submitting to. If the results are presented in the introduction, they should only include the findings most relevant to answering the research question, and should be clearly, and succinctly stated.

Introduction functions and related language features

Given the nature of the functions described above, we can expect to find common language features of grammar, vocabulary and structure resulting from the communicative role these parts are performing. What follows is a description, with examples, of some of these functions and their related language features, along with some common errors that non-native English writers make. It is important to note that these are not strict rules about how to write these introduction functions, but rather general guidelines to follow in order to increase the likelihood that the writing is grammatically correct, lexically accurate, and communicatively effective.

Background and motivation

Given that the background part is supposed to provide the reader with the basic, necessary information needed to begin to understand the topic, it will usually include sentences detailing facts, truths or common knowledge. Because of this, most sentences of the background function have the same verb tense and noun type which need to be used in a specific way.

The following is an example of a sentence in the background section:

medical research paper introduction

If we look at the green part in this example, we can see the use of the simple present tense.

The simple present tense does not only mean the “ present ” but can also be used in a “ timeless ” sense. Something was true in the past, is true in the present, and will be true in the future. It is a truth. This tense is then used to discuss things such as facts, common knowledge, recurring events, habits etc. which will be predominant in the background part of the introduction.

Also notice the use of “ s ” here at the end of ” remains ”. The verb needs to agree with the subject verb, “ Coronary artery bypass grafting ”, which is a 3 rd person singular subject. This “ s ” is often overlooked, but is very noticeable to a native English reader. Make a habit of checking whether the subject noun is singular or plural when using simple present tense verbs.

Defining abbreviations

In yellow, the abbreviation, “(CABG)” , shortened for “ coronary artery bypass grafting ”, can be seen. It is defined on first mention in the article. Usually, the words of the defined term do not need to be capitalized, unless they are names. Be certain to define any abbreviations that will be used the first time they appear in the text.

In the following example, we can again see the simple present tense of the verb in green, and the definition of terms and their abbreviations in yellow:

medical research paper introduction

Generic nouns

Nouns used in these types of background sentences and in this context are usually generic: they are not referring to a specific thing in the world, but rather all the cases of that noun, “in general”.

In the example above, if we look at the nouns in red, “ stents ”, “ strategies ”, and “ patients ”, we notice that they are all pluralized. This is because it is both a generic sentence, and the nouns are count nouns . That is, we can count their amount. We usually pluralize count nouns in generic sentences.

In contrast, the words in purple can both be considered count or non-count nouns . In this case, they are both processes or procedures, and the author has decided to consider them as non-count nouns. We cannot pluralize non-count nouns, so they are not pluralized here.

It is important to determine whether the nouns we are using are non-count, or count nouns, and follow these rules accordingly to avoid fairly common, but glaring errors.

Academic background

As stated previously, the academic background’s purpose is to discuss previous research as it relates to discussion of the present topic, both in the sense of a general trend, or academic consensus in the field, or as specific results or studies in that field. In both cases, it is important that the author take control of the sources they are citing and use them to craft the academic story they are trying to tell. Good research writers use sources, bad ones let the sources use them.

Here is an example section of the academic background:

medical research paper introduction

A look at the verbs in green, “ has shown ” and “ has been limited ”, reveals they are written in the present perfect tense . Sentences discussing the general state, or shift in research will usually use this tense. As nearly any study referred to in this section will have occurred in the past, it needs to be connected to current relevance by using the present perfect tense. This tense is used to connect actions in the past to the present in some way, and is invaluable to show how past events affect or can continue in the present.

Subject nouns

The noun in yellow, “ studies ”, belongs specifically to the vocabulary area of academic study. Most subject nouns in the academic background will relate in some way with academic research. This signals to the reader that the topic is the research itself, and not simply the background information of the topic. This shift is important because we are trying to ultimately show how our research is academically justifiable .

Here is another excerpt demonstrating the use of both the present perfect tense and academic subject nouns:

medical research paper introduction

In this next example the verb in green, “ have investigated ”, can indicate two things: (i) the meta-analyses have an effect on the present discussion, and (ii) it is possible that more meta-analyses are happening now, or will happen in the future.

Again, as a very versatile tense, the present perfect can bring “dead things” in the past back to life, and back to present importance. In most cases, if what you are talking about what occurred in the past, you can use the present perfect tense without error. It can give your writing more life and relevance.

As before, the subject noun in yellow, “ meta - analyses ” shows that we are talking about the academic background, not the general topic background. Note that the plural use of the noun indicates a general trend or pattern of the academic research. The reader has the sense that this has been a common occurrence.

Here is an example of the academic background referring to a specific study:

medical research paper introduction

In the example above, the verb in green, “ were randomized ”, is in the simple past tense and not the present perfect. This is because the author is identifying a specific, or single study, and discussing the specific results which occurred at a specific time in the past. This gives the sense that the action is complete, and therefore the simple past is more appropriate here. Also, as it is a specific study, there is little chance that it can continue into the present.

Notice that the subject noun in yellow, “ Radial Artery Patency Study ”, refers to a single, specific study, not a general body of research as was the case with Example 4 and “ meta - analyses ”. Commonly, if a specific study is identified, use the simple past to discuss its results. Conversely, when using the simple past, be sure to identify a specific study as the subject, otherwise, you may confuse your reader.

Here is another example of using the simple past tense in the academic background:

medical research paper introduction

Verb tense and time phrases

In this example, the text in yellow, “ In 2006 ”, indicates that the time of the action occurred in the past (time phrases like “ last week ”, “ a year ago ”, “ in the 1990’s ”, “ yesterday ” etc. would have the same effect). What is important here is that the time is in the past and the time is finished. In this case, we must use the simple past to reflect that the action is over. Using the present perfect tense here would be an error because the action cannot proceed to the present.

Literature gap

The “gap” is what is not conclusively agreed upon or known in the research in your topic, and should provide the academic justification or motivation for examining your specific research question. Clearly, there is no worth in doing research about a topic that is already well-known. The literature gap directly relates to the academic background because detailing what has already been researched clarifies what is specifically missing in the research.

This being the case, comments about the literature gap usually talk about what is not here or has not been done, and the vocabulary used to talk about the gap is usually limited to several common words or phrases.

Examples 7–9

These are three examples of literature gap statements:

medical research paper introduction

In all the examples above, the text in yellow highlights the verb in the present perfect tense. Literature gaps using the present perfect tense generally talk about an action that has not happened yet: it has not happened in the past, and it is not happening in the present.

In the last example the author also uses the simple present tense, “ Evidence is scarce ”, in combination with the present perfect construction, “ has not yet been presented ”. There is no problem with using both tenses.

Negative adverbs

All these examples use the negative adverb “ not ”, to show there has been a lack or missing. Also, in the second example above the adverb “ adequately ” more precisely modifies the noun. In this case, there might be some studies on the subject, but overall the knowledge they provide is unsatisfactory.

Examples 10–13

These are four examples of literature gap statements using a different tense:

medical research paper introduction

We can use the simple present tense to talk about the literature gap in the sense of something missing or unclear in the present.

Transition words

Notice also here that all of our literature gap examples are preceded by the word “ however ”. This acts as a bridge between the known academic background, and the unknown gap: we know x but we do not know y. It signals to the reader that there is a shift in function and meaning occurring, and helps to draw attention to the gap as major part of establishing the value of the research problem.

Common phrases discussing the literature gap

There are some common or formulaic ways to state the literature gap.

The following are some present perfect phrases:

  • x has not yet been studied/investigated/researched;
  • x has not been properly/adequately studied/investigated/researched.

In these two examples, the first might be used if there is no research in this particular area, whereas the second, by using the adverbs “ properly ” or “ adequately ”, might be used if there is some, but not enough, research in this particular area.

  • There is little/no evidence/literature/research for x;
  • There are few/no studies/articles about x;
  • There is no agreement/consensus about x;
  • x is still poorly/not well understood;
  • x is still controversial/ much debated;
  • Evidence/research for x is still scarce/lacking/conflicting;
  • Studies/articles about x are still scarce/lacking/conflicting.

Count vs. non-count nouns

Notice that for #1 in the examples above, the singular verb “ is ” is used, whereas in #2 the plural verb “ are ” is used. There is a reason for this difference. Again, the distinction is that the nouns in #1 are generally non-count nouns and are usually not in plural form or used with plural verbs.

Common academic-related non-count nouns include words like “ evidence ”, “ literature ”, “ research ”, “ information ”, and “ knowledge ”. These words are generally not considered countable, and should not be pluralized. For example the word “ literatures ” would be an error and very noticeable to a native English reader.

If we want to use academic count nouns that are countable or can be pluralized, we can use words like “ studies ”, “ articles ”, “ reports ” and “ results ”.

Research problem/question statement (with methods)

The research problem should be stated with as much detail as possible. Optimally, the statement should be discrete. This means that it should be so well specified that once the reader knows the results, they should be able to answer or resolve the research question on their own, because it has been discretely stated. Without this level of specification, the reader will not be adequately informed as they read on in your paper, and will not be as interested or invested in reading about your findings. In addition to this, your research problem statement should be concise, meaning it should be short, but effective, and written in about 1 or 2 sentences.

The three sentences below are research problem statements showing different levels of specification:

Statement 1

medical research paper introduction

In the first example, the statement can be considered vague. We have the verb “ clarify ” here which is adequate to state as a goal of research, but it does not help define what is being done in terms of a scientific study. We do not know how this clarification will occur, what we will be measuring to find this clarification, or who (what types of patients), this will occur in.

Statement 2

medical research paper introduction

The second example provides a little more detail. The main verb used is “ evaluate ” which means that something will be judged as true or false, or its quality will be decided upon. We also know that this will be accomplished by “ systematic review ”, along with what measure will determine this evaluation: “ long - term outcomes ”. Finally, the patient population is more specified: “ patients who underwent CABG with open …SVG harvest techniques ”.

Statement 3

medical research paper introduction

The final example here is long, but clear. Again, not only is the verb “ evaluate ” used, but it is specified what exact areas will be evaluated: “ presentation ”, “ diagnosis ” and, “ therapeutic schemes ”.

We also know the context of this study, “ two single - center cohorts ”, and the nature of the patients, “ NSCLC patient…with advanced stages ”. Most importantly, we have a specific measure to determine the conditions of our evaluation: “ short - term survival rates over the last 5 years ”. Given the detail of this information, the reader will be more able to read the results and understand their meaning given the discrete nature of this research problem statement.

Examples 14,15

medical research paper introduction

Tense in research problem statements is usually simple past tense. This gives a sense of the authors intention before they began the research, or the actions they completed as part of their methodology.

In the first example, the word “ goal ” indicates the researchers intent before their research started.

In the second example, the verb “ conducted ” refers to completion of the methodology, which is itself indicated by the word “ meta - analysis ”.

Examples 16,17

medical research paper introduction

Research problem statements using the s imple present tense are less common but still acceptable. Simple present tense is usually used to talk about the paper itself or the present moment of reading.

In the first example, the verb “ elaborates ” (meaning to discuss in detail) is in the simple present tense, and has the “ s ” conjugation for the singular 3rd person subject, “this report ”. Notice that “ this report ” refers to the paper itself, and takes the simple present tense.

In the second example, the subject “ this network - meta - analysis ” again refers to the text itself, and so the verb “ aims ” uses the simple present tense to indicate the current time of reading.

medical research paper introduction

Hypothesis statements

The research problem can be framed using a hypothesis statement. Usually, we hypothesize about a truth, fact, or outcome and so we need to introduce another clause using the word “that”. A clause is a construction with a subject and a verb.

(I) We hypothesized that X clause (subject + verb)

In the example above, the verb “ hypothesize ” is used with “ that ” to introduce the clause consisting of “ NLR ” and its verb “ would be ”.

The noun form “ hypothesis ” can also be used in this kind of statement. In this case we have to say “our hypothesis was that….” with a clause following after.

(II) Our hypothesis was that X clause (subject + verb)

Summary of introduction function and language features

Table 1 summarizes some of the language features discussed in this section. Again, it is important to remember that these are not hard rules, but rather the most common structures found in these introduction function types.

The background and motivation talk about general facts or truths. According to this, we usually see simple present tense and generic nouns used.

In the academic background, when discussing multiple studies, or discussing the general state of research, the present perfect is normally used, along with generic nouns. When referring to a specific or single study, the simple past tense is normally used, with definite articles.

For discussing the literature gap, we can use the present perfect to talk about something missing in the past and still missing in the present, or we can use the simple present to indicate something is currently not existent or inadequate. In both cases, generic nouns are used.

In the research problem statement, the simple past can be used to talk about the author’s past intent, or to talk about what methodology was completed. The simple present is usually used when referring to the paper itself and the time of reading. In both cases, definite nouns are generally used.

The social impact section is similar in language features to the general background. We can use the simple present to discuss a current possibility (e.g., “ If we develop this treatment , many patients can be saved ”), or discuss a potential future (e.g., “ If we develop this treatment , many patients will be saved ”).

Finally, methods are almost always in the simple past tense because they outline a past action, and use definite nouns to describe your specific methodology.

Making your introduction flow

Given the social and interpersonal role of the introduction, we must take particular care to make sure our writing is unified, connected, and easy to follow. While it is important to provide well-written content for the functions described in the previous section, simply having the complete parts of the introduction is not sufficient; we need to have a way to put these parts together. The meaning of any piece of writing arises both from the content of each sentence or paragraph, and how the sentences or paragraphs relate to one another. For example, unless we connect our research problem statement to our literature gap, by stating that our research can obtain an important missing piece of knowledge, a reader will not know or fully understand why our research is significant. As writers, we cannot expect the reader to make these connections by themselves, and must help them by using proper structure and technique to clarify the connections within our writing. If we do not take care to provide these links, the reader will become confused, annoyed, and be more inclined to stop reading.

Structure and order

Assuming we have written out our introduction functions, or at least have a clear idea about what they are, we also need to consider in what order and in what organization to put these parts in. Which should come first? Which should come last? Which should go in the middle?

In terms of ordering, there are no strict rules, but there are two main principles that can be followed to organize the introduction structure in a way which is easier for the reader to follow:

Go from general information to specific information

Essentially, begin with the broadest statement you can make, and end with the most detailed statement. In between the beginning and the end, the writing should gradually become more and more specific. This kind of writing can be visualized ( Figure 1 ) as an upside down triangle or funnel. Writing this way will allow the reader to more comfortably narrow their attention to the details and purpose of our research. If we immediately begin with the specifics of the research problem, there is no context and the reader is lost.

medical research paper introduction

Put functions that logically relate together next to each other

As you think and write about the individual functions of your introduction, you will begin to see how they might be connected or relate to each other in some way. Which functions connect to each other might depend on the specific content of your research, but there are some functions which naturally go together. For example, we might have a literature gap part focused around the questionable or inadequate methodologies of previous studies, and then we might have a methods part detailing our improved and more valid methodology. Placing these parts next to each other makes sense because the reader can immediately see how your methodology can help fix the gaps in previous research.

Figure 1 illustrates the “funnel” structure of most successful introductions, which move gradually from most general to most specific. In terms of ordering introduction functions, the background, being the most general, almost always goes first, and the research problem statement, being the most specific, almost always goes last. Between these two parts, the other functions can be placed in any way they logically fit together depending on their specific content. Figure 1 is only an example of a possible structure and indeed the writer is encouraged to organize their writing in a way that makes sense to the content of their research. As long as the writing is logical and can be followed by the reader, any structure is theoretically possible.

After intelligently and logically ordering our introduction functions, it is still necessary to clarify precisely what the relationship is between then, more explicitly state how they are connected, and bind the writing to itself so it is one cohesive whole.

Cohesion is how well the basic structural elements of our writing (words, sentences and paragraphs) are connected. If we are talking about a car, it is the nuts and bolts, if we are talking about a dress, it is the stitches and seams, and, if we are talking about writing, it is our words and grammar. Cohesion can be improved using the following techniques:

  • High similarity of content between sentences (same words or synonyms). This means repeating words in sentences you want to connect, or using synonyms— different words that mean the same thing­—to create unity in theme and subject across sentences.
  • Transition words (to show the logical connection between sentences). These are words or phrases that explain the relationship between sentences, for example “additionally”, “however”, “therefore” etc. These words not only show that two or more sentences are related but indicate to the reader how they are related.
  • The following section will show examples of two functions which are commonly connected, and instances of cohesive techniques providing unity between the sentences of these sections.

Example 19 Connecting the background and social impact

medical research paper introduction

In the example above, the background in yellow, is being connected with the social impact in green. This is a common connection. Cohesion here is made by repeating words such as “ preservation technique ”, “ cold ischemic storage ”, “ time ”. The transition word “ therefore ”, clarifies that the second sentence is a logical consequence of the first. That is, the background discusses how time is critical to keeping hearts viable in storage, and the social impact section reasons that extending this time would lead to better patient outcomes and enlarge the organ donor pool.

Example 20 Connecting the background and academic background

medical research paper introduction

In this example, the general background in yellow is connected with the academic background in green. The subject of the background, “ Id - 1 ”, continues in the academic background with a pronoun referent, “ It ”. We have the same topic in the second sentence but are looking at it now through a different perspective: an academic one. This shift in perspective is indicated by the use of an academic subject noun, “experiments”. Also, the background has the simple present tense, “ belongs ” but changes to the present perfect tense, “ it has been implicated ”, when the academic background is discussed.

Example 21 Connecting academic background and research problem statement

medical research paper introduction

In this example, the academic background in yellow is being connected to the research problem in green. There are three sentences here, and cohesion between them is created by repeated use of the noun “ decorin ”. We also have a transition phrase combined with a pronoun phrase “ Taken together , these reports…” . This phrase refers to the body of text preceding this example which discusses different studies, and now refers to them to bring up the relevance and viability of the author’s research approach. It is an excellent way to summarize the content of one function (the academic background) and indicate its importance and connection to another (the research problem statement).

Fixing disconnected sentences

As can be seen in the examples above, using cohesive techniques can provide our writing with readability by making the relationship between sentences clear. The more we use these cohesive techniques, the more readable our text will be. Conversely, the less we use these techniques the more our writing will be disconnected and incoherent .

To show how confusing a piece of writing without using these techniques can be, and how these techniques can improve disconnected writing, the example below is provided:

Example 22 Lack of cohesion

medical research paper introduction

Here we have a passage of writing that lacks cohesion. The first sentence describes a lack of studies (“ are rare ”), yet the second sentence begins by detailing a specific set of studies by Kumar et al. , while the 3 rd sentence discusses another specific study by Seymour et al. with no direct connection between the 2 nd or 3 rd sentence. In order to understand the connection between these sentences, and to therefore understand the real meaning of the text, requires the reader to do their own reasoning and make a lot of guesses about the relationship between these sentences. As writers, we do not want the reader to do too much work to understand our writing.

In order to make the writing clearer here requires the use of cohesive techniques. The following example is the same text improved by these techniques:

Example 23 Improved cohesion

medical research paper introduction

This example shows how the use of some cohesive techniques improves the readability of a passage.

The first change to note is that the academic nouns “ investigations ” and “ analyses ” have been changed to the word “ studies ”. In this way, we have the same noun repeated throughout each sentence. Now, we have a basis to compare the first and the second sentence according to the type of study: the first sentence discusses prospective studies, while the second and third sentences discuss retrospective studies. The topic word “ treatment ” is repeated to emphasize that all these studies are investigating the same topic, but the ones in the first sentence are doing it in a different way.

The first and second sentences are further connected by the transition phrase and pronoun “ despite this ”. This makes it clearer that while there are few prospective studies on this topic, there are in fact abundant retrospective studies. It provides a contrast.

The third sentence is then connected to the second with the use of the transition phrase “ additionally ”, which indicates that Seymour et al. ’s study is of the same type as Kumar et al. ’s study. This is solidified by the pronoun “ another ”.

From using all these techniques, we have a clearer picture of the author’s expression and intended meaning: there are not many prospective studies about sepsis treatment; however, there are a great deal of retrospective studies, like Kumar and Seymour’s, which do provide ample useful information on the topic.

Notice that even with flawless grammar and precise vocabulary use, if we do not take care to guide our reader through binding and connecting our sentences, our writing fails, because our reader becomes lost.

Introduction exercises

To see how a complete introduction comes together, and to apply the knowledge discussed in the section, a complete introduction with exercises to complete is provided below. All the questions refer to the introduction sample (Sample 1).

Question 1 Introduction functions

Briefly look at Sample 1. In which paragraph will you find the following introduction functions? Find the function and write the number of the paragraph where you found it. Some functions can be found in multiple paragraphs.

  • Background ____
  • Academic background ____
  • Justification/Social impact ____
  • Literature gap ____
  • Methods ____
  • Research problem ____

Question 2 Nouns

Look at the nouns on lines 1, 3, 7, 11 from Sample 1. Find and correct any errors.

Question 3 Verbs

Look at the verbs in brackets like “ (to remain)” ____________. Write what you think the best form of the verb is in the blank. Consider aspects such as tense, voice and number.

Question 4 Transition words

medical research paper introduction

Look at the letters in brackets, (l) to (v), and choose the best transition phrase from the box to fill the blank __________. More than one word might be acceptable for each blank.

Sample 1 Introduction sample [adapted from ( 6 )]

  • Background 1
  • Academic background 2,3
  • Justification/social impact 1
  • Literature gap 3
  • Research problem 4
  • Line 1- physician s
  • Line 3- trial s
  • Line 7- research__
  • Line 11- study__
  • (to remain) remains
  • (to be) are
  • (to indicate) has indicated
  • (to prove) has been proven
  • (to correlate) was correlated
  • (to associate) was associated
  • (to investigate) to have been investigated
  • (to evaluate) evaluated
  • in addition, moreover
  • hence, therefore

Neutrophil/lymphocyte ratio is helpful for predicting weaning failure: a prospective, observational cohort study

medical research paper introduction


Funding: None.

Provenance and Peer Review: This article was commissioned by the editorial office, AME Medical Journal for the series “Medical Writing Corner”. The article did not undergo external peer review.

Conflicts of Interest: The author has completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form (available at ). The series “Medical Writing Corner” was commissioned by the editorial office without any funding or sponsorship. Mr. Gray is a full-time employee of AME Publishing Company (publisher of the journal). The author has no other conflicts of interest to declare.

Ethical Statement: The author is accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

Open Access Statement: This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0), which permits the non-commercial replication and distribution of the article with the strict proviso that no changes or edits are made and the original work is properly cited (including links to both the formal publication through the relevant DOI and the license). See: .

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  • v.84(3); 2011 Sep

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Focus: Education — Career Advice

How to write your first research paper.

Writing a research manuscript is an intimidating process for many novice writers in the sciences. One of the stumbling blocks is the beginning of the process and creating the first draft. This paper presents guidelines on how to initiate the writing process and draft each section of a research manuscript. The paper discusses seven rules that allow the writer to prepare a well-structured and comprehensive manuscript for a publication submission. In addition, the author lists different strategies for successful revision. Each of those strategies represents a step in the revision process and should help the writer improve the quality of the manuscript. The paper could be considered a brief manual for publication.

It is late at night. You have been struggling with your project for a year. You generated an enormous amount of interesting data. Your pipette feels like an extension of your hand, and running western blots has become part of your daily routine, similar to brushing your teeth. Your colleagues think you are ready to write a paper, and your lab mates tease you about your “slow” writing progress. Yet days pass, and you cannot force yourself to sit down to write. You have not written anything for a while (lab reports do not count), and you feel you have lost your stamina. How does the writing process work? How can you fit your writing into a daily schedule packed with experiments? What section should you start with? What distinguishes a good research paper from a bad one? How should you revise your paper? These and many other questions buzz in your head and keep you stressed. As a result, you procrastinate. In this paper, I will discuss the issues related to the writing process of a scientific paper. Specifically, I will focus on the best approaches to start a scientific paper, tips for writing each section, and the best revision strategies.

1. Schedule your writing time in Outlook

Whether you have written 100 papers or you are struggling with your first, starting the process is the most difficult part unless you have a rigid writing schedule. Writing is hard. It is a very difficult process of intense concentration and brain work. As stated in Hayes’ framework for the study of writing: “It is a generative activity requiring motivation, and it is an intellectual activity requiring cognitive processes and memory” [ 1 ]. In his book How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing , Paul Silvia says that for some, “it’s easier to embalm the dead than to write an article about it” [ 2 ]. Just as with any type of hard work, you will not succeed unless you practice regularly. If you have not done physical exercises for a year, only regular workouts can get you into good shape again. The same kind of regular exercises, or I call them “writing sessions,” are required to be a productive author. Choose from 1- to 2-hour blocks in your daily work schedule and consider them as non-cancellable appointments. When figuring out which blocks of time will be set for writing, you should select the time that works best for this type of work. For many people, mornings are more productive. One Yale University graduate student spent a semester writing from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. when her lab was empty. At the end of the semester, she was amazed at how much she accomplished without even interrupting her regular lab hours. In addition, doing the hardest task first thing in the morning contributes to the sense of accomplishment during the rest of the day. This positive feeling spills over into our work and life and has a very positive effect on our overall attitude.

Rule 1: Create regular time blocks for writing as appointments in your calendar and keep these appointments.

2. start with an outline.

Now that you have scheduled time, you need to decide how to start writing. The best strategy is to start with an outline. This will not be an outline that you are used to, with Roman numerals for each section and neat parallel listing of topic sentences and supporting points. This outline will be similar to a template for your paper. Initially, the outline will form a structure for your paper; it will help generate ideas and formulate hypotheses. Following the advice of George M. Whitesides, “. . . start with a blank piece of paper, and write down, in any order, all important ideas that occur to you concerning the paper” [ 3 ]. Use Table 1 as a starting point for your outline. Include your visuals (figures, tables, formulas, equations, and algorithms), and list your findings. These will constitute the first level of your outline, which will eventually expand as you elaborate.

The next stage is to add context and structure. Here you will group all your ideas into sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion/Conclusion ( Table 2 ). This step will help add coherence to your work and sift your ideas.

Now that you have expanded your outline, you are ready for the next step: discussing the ideas for your paper with your colleagues and mentor. Many universities have a writing center where graduate students can schedule individual consultations and receive assistance with their paper drafts. Getting feedback during early stages of your draft can save a lot of time. Talking through ideas allows people to conceptualize and organize thoughts to find their direction without wasting time on unnecessary writing. Outlining is the most effective way of communicating your ideas and exchanging thoughts. Moreover, it is also the best stage to decide to which publication you will submit the paper. Many people come up with three choices and discuss them with their mentors and colleagues. Having a list of journal priorities can help you quickly resubmit your paper if your paper is rejected.

Rule 2: Create a detailed outline and discuss it with your mentor and peers.

3. continue with drafts.

After you get enough feedback and decide on the journal you will submit to, the process of real writing begins. Copy your outline into a separate file and expand on each of the points, adding data and elaborating on the details. When you create the first draft, do not succumb to the temptation of editing. Do not slow down to choose a better word or better phrase; do not halt to improve your sentence structure. Pour your ideas into the paper and leave revision and editing for later. As Paul Silvia explains, “Revising while you generate text is like drinking decaffeinated coffee in the early morning: noble idea, wrong time” [ 2 ].

Many students complain that they are not productive writers because they experience writer’s block. Staring at an empty screen is frustrating, but your screen is not really empty: You have a template of your article, and all you need to do is fill in the blanks. Indeed, writer’s block is a logical fallacy for a scientist ― it is just an excuse to procrastinate. When scientists start writing a research paper, they already have their files with data, lab notes with materials and experimental designs, some visuals, and tables with results. All they need to do is scrutinize these pieces and put them together into a comprehensive paper.

3.1. Starting with Materials and Methods

If you still struggle with starting a paper, then write the Materials and Methods section first. Since you have all your notes, it should not be problematic for you to describe the experimental design and procedures. Your most important goal in this section is to be as explicit as possible by providing enough detail and references. In the end, the purpose of this section is to allow other researchers to evaluate and repeat your work. So do not run into the same problems as the writers of the sentences in (1):

1a. Bacteria were pelleted by centrifugation. 1b. To isolate T cells, lymph nodes were collected.

As you can see, crucial pieces of information are missing: the speed of centrifuging your bacteria, the time, and the temperature in (1a); the source of lymph nodes for collection in (b). The sentences can be improved when information is added, as in (2a) and (2b), respectfully:

2a. Bacteria were pelleted by centrifugation at 3000g for 15 min at 25°C. 2b. To isolate T cells, mediastinal and mesenteric lymph nodes from Balb/c mice were collected at day 7 after immunization with ovabumin.

If your method has previously been published and is well-known, then you should provide only the literature reference, as in (3a). If your method is unpublished, then you need to make sure you provide all essential details, as in (3b).

3a. Stem cells were isolated, according to Johnson [23]. 3b. Stem cells were isolated using biotinylated carbon nanotubes coated with anti-CD34 antibodies.

Furthermore, cohesion and fluency are crucial in this section. One of the malpractices resulting in disrupted fluency is switching from passive voice to active and vice versa within the same paragraph, as shown in (4). This switching misleads and distracts the reader.

4. Behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 were programmed by using E-Prime. We took ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music by using Visual Analogue Scales (SI Methods). The preferred and unpreferred status of the music was operationalized along a continuum of pleasantness [ 4 ].

The problem with (4) is that the reader has to switch from the point of view of the experiment (passive voice) to the point of view of the experimenter (active voice). This switch causes confusion about the performer of the actions in the first and the third sentences. To improve the coherence and fluency of the paragraph above, you should be consistent in choosing the point of view: first person “we” or passive voice [ 5 ]. Let’s consider two revised examples in (5).

5a. We programmed behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 by using E-Prime. We took ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal by using Visual Analogue Scales (SI Methods) as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music. We operationalized the preferred and unpreferred status of the music along a continuum of pleasantness. 5b. Behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 were programmed by using E-Prime. Ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal were taken as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music by using Visual Analogue Scales (SI Methods). The preferred and unpreferred status of the music was operationalized along a continuum of pleasantness.

If you choose the point of view of the experimenter, then you may end up with repetitive “we did this” sentences. For many readers, paragraphs with sentences all beginning with “we” may also sound disruptive. So if you choose active sentences, you need to keep the number of “we” subjects to a minimum and vary the beginnings of the sentences [ 6 ].

Interestingly, recent studies have reported that the Materials and Methods section is the only section in research papers in which passive voice predominantly overrides the use of the active voice [ 5 , 7 , 8 , 9 ]. For example, Martínez shows a significant drop in active voice use in the Methods sections based on the corpus of 1 million words of experimental full text research articles in the biological sciences [ 7 ]. According to the author, the active voice patterned with “we” is used only as a tool to reveal personal responsibility for the procedural decisions in designing and performing experimental work. This means that while all other sections of the research paper use active voice, passive voice is still the most predominant in Materials and Methods sections.

Writing Materials and Methods sections is a meticulous and time consuming task requiring extreme accuracy and clarity. This is why when you complete your draft, you should ask for as much feedback from your colleagues as possible. Numerous readers of this section will help you identify the missing links and improve the technical style of this section.

Rule 3: Be meticulous and accurate in describing the Materials and Methods. Do not change the point of view within one paragraph.

3.2. writing results section.

For many authors, writing the Results section is more intimidating than writing the Materials and Methods section . If people are interested in your paper, they are interested in your results. That is why it is vital to use all your writing skills to objectively present your key findings in an orderly and logical sequence using illustrative materials and text.

Your Results should be organized into different segments or subsections where each one presents the purpose of the experiment, your experimental approach, data including text and visuals (tables, figures, schematics, algorithms, and formulas), and data commentary. For most journals, your data commentary will include a meaningful summary of the data presented in the visuals and an explanation of the most significant findings. This data presentation should not repeat the data in the visuals, but rather highlight the most important points. In the “standard” research paper approach, your Results section should exclude data interpretation, leaving it for the Discussion section. However, interpretations gradually and secretly creep into research papers: “Reducing the data, generalizing from the data, and highlighting scientific cases are all highly interpretive processes. It should be clear by now that we do not let the data speak for themselves in research reports; in summarizing our results, we interpret them for the reader” [ 10 ]. As a result, many journals including the Journal of Experimental Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation use joint Results/Discussion sections, where results are immediately followed by interpretations.

Another important aspect of this section is to create a comprehensive and supported argument or a well-researched case. This means that you should be selective in presenting data and choose only those experimental details that are essential for your reader to understand your findings. You might have conducted an experiment 20 times and collected numerous records, but this does not mean that you should present all those records in your paper. You need to distinguish your results from your data and be able to discard excessive experimental details that could distract and confuse the reader. However, creating a picture or an argument should not be confused with data manipulation or falsification, which is a willful distortion of data and results. If some of your findings contradict your ideas, you have to mention this and find a plausible explanation for the contradiction.

In addition, your text should not include irrelevant and peripheral information, including overview sentences, as in (6).

6. To show our results, we first introduce all components of experimental system and then describe the outcome of infections.

Indeed, wordiness convolutes your sentences and conceals your ideas from readers. One common source of wordiness is unnecessary intensifiers. Adverbial intensifiers such as “clearly,” “essential,” “quite,” “basically,” “rather,” “fairly,” “really,” and “virtually” not only add verbosity to your sentences, but also lower your results’ credibility. They appeal to the reader’s emotions but lower objectivity, as in the common examples in (7):

7a. Table 3 clearly shows that … 7b. It is obvious from figure 4 that …

Another source of wordiness is nominalizations, i.e., nouns derived from verbs and adjectives paired with weak verbs including “be,” “have,” “do,” “make,” “cause,” “provide,” and “get” and constructions such as “there is/are.”

8a. We tested the hypothesis that there is a disruption of membrane asymmetry. 8b. In this paper we provide an argument that stem cells repopulate injured organs.

In the sentences above, the abstract nominalizations “disruption” and “argument” do not contribute to the clarity of the sentences, but rather clutter them with useless vocabulary that distracts from the meaning. To improve your sentences, avoid unnecessary nominalizations and change passive verbs and constructions into active and direct sentences.

9a. We tested the hypothesis that the membrane asymmetry is disrupted. 9b. In this paper we argue that stem cells repopulate injured organs.

Your Results section is the heart of your paper, representing a year or more of your daily research. So lead your reader through your story by writing direct, concise, and clear sentences.

Rule 4: Be clear, concise, and objective in describing your Results.

3.3. now it is time for your introduction.

Now that you are almost half through drafting your research paper, it is time to update your outline. While describing your Methods and Results, many of you diverged from the original outline and re-focused your ideas. So before you move on to create your Introduction, re-read your Methods and Results sections and change your outline to match your research focus. The updated outline will help you review the general picture of your paper, the topic, the main idea, and the purpose, which are all important for writing your introduction.

The best way to structure your introduction is to follow the three-move approach shown in Table 3 .

Adapted from Swales and Feak [ 11 ].

The moves and information from your outline can help to create your Introduction efficiently and without missing steps. These moves are traffic signs that lead the reader through the road of your ideas. Each move plays an important role in your paper and should be presented with deep thought and care. When you establish the territory, you place your research in context and highlight the importance of your research topic. By finding the niche, you outline the scope of your research problem and enter the scientific dialogue. The final move, “occupying the niche,” is where you explain your research in a nutshell and highlight your paper’s significance. The three moves allow your readers to evaluate their interest in your paper and play a significant role in the paper review process, determining your paper reviewers.

Some academic writers assume that the reader “should follow the paper” to find the answers about your methodology and your findings. As a result, many novice writers do not present their experimental approach and the major findings, wrongly believing that the reader will locate the necessary information later while reading the subsequent sections [ 5 ]. However, this “suspense” approach is not appropriate for scientific writing. To interest the reader, scientific authors should be direct and straightforward and present informative one-sentence summaries of the results and the approach.

Another problem is that writers understate the significance of the Introduction. Many new researchers mistakenly think that all their readers understand the importance of the research question and omit this part. However, this assumption is faulty because the purpose of the section is not to evaluate the importance of the research question in general. The goal is to present the importance of your research contribution and your findings. Therefore, you should be explicit and clear in describing the benefit of the paper.

The Introduction should not be long. Indeed, for most journals, this is a very brief section of about 250 to 600 words, but it might be the most difficult section due to its importance.

Rule 5: Interest your reader in the Introduction section by signalling all its elements and stating the novelty of the work.

3.4. discussion of the results.

For many scientists, writing a Discussion section is as scary as starting a paper. Most of the fear comes from the variation in the section. Since every paper has its unique results and findings, the Discussion section differs in its length, shape, and structure. However, some general principles of writing this section still exist. Knowing these rules, or “moves,” can change your attitude about this section and help you create a comprehensive interpretation of your results.

The purpose of the Discussion section is to place your findings in the research context and “to explain the meaning of the findings and why they are important, without appearing arrogant, condescending, or patronizing” [ 11 ]. The structure of the first two moves is almost a mirror reflection of the one in the Introduction. In the Introduction, you zoom in from general to specific and from the background to your research question; in the Discussion section, you zoom out from the summary of your findings to the research context, as shown in Table 4 .

Adapted from Swales and Feak and Hess [ 11 , 12 ].

The biggest challenge for many writers is the opening paragraph of the Discussion section. Following the moves in Table 1 , the best choice is to start with the study’s major findings that provide the answer to the research question in your Introduction. The most common starting phrases are “Our findings demonstrate . . .,” or “In this study, we have shown that . . .,” or “Our results suggest . . .” In some cases, however, reminding the reader about the research question or even providing a brief context and then stating the answer would make more sense. This is important in those cases where the researcher presents a number of findings or where more than one research question was presented. Your summary of the study’s major findings should be followed by your presentation of the importance of these findings. One of the most frequent mistakes of the novice writer is to assume the importance of his findings. Even if the importance is clear to you, it may not be obvious to your reader. Digesting the findings and their importance to your reader is as crucial as stating your research question.

Another useful strategy is to be proactive in the first move by predicting and commenting on the alternative explanations of the results. Addressing potential doubts will save you from painful comments about the wrong interpretation of your results and will present you as a thoughtful and considerate researcher. Moreover, the evaluation of the alternative explanations might help you create a logical step to the next move of the discussion section: the research context.

The goal of the research context move is to show how your findings fit into the general picture of the current research and how you contribute to the existing knowledge on the topic. This is also the place to discuss any discrepancies and unexpected findings that may otherwise distort the general picture of your paper. Moreover, outlining the scope of your research by showing the limitations, weaknesses, and assumptions is essential and adds modesty to your image as a scientist. However, make sure that you do not end your paper with the problems that override your findings. Try to suggest feasible explanations and solutions.

If your submission does not require a separate Conclusion section, then adding another paragraph about the “take-home message” is a must. This should be a general statement reiterating your answer to the research question and adding its scientific implications, practical application, or advice.

Just as in all other sections of your paper, the clear and precise language and concise comprehensive sentences are vital. However, in addition to that, your writing should convey confidence and authority. The easiest way to illustrate your tone is to use the active voice and the first person pronouns. Accompanied by clarity and succinctness, these tools are the best to convince your readers of your point and your ideas.

Rule 6: Present the principles, relationships, and generalizations in a concise and convincing tone.

4. choosing the best working revision strategies.

Now that you have created the first draft, your attitude toward your writing should have improved. Moreover, you should feel more confident that you are able to accomplish your project and submit your paper within a reasonable timeframe. You also have worked out your writing schedule and followed it precisely. Do not stop ― you are only at the midpoint from your destination. Just as the best and most precious diamond is no more than an unattractive stone recognized only by trained professionals, your ideas and your results may go unnoticed if they are not polished and brushed. Despite your attempts to present your ideas in a logical and comprehensive way, first drafts are frequently a mess. Use the advice of Paul Silvia: “Your first drafts should sound like they were hastily translated from Icelandic by a non-native speaker” [ 2 ]. The degree of your success will depend on how you are able to revise and edit your paper.

The revision can be done at the macrostructure and the microstructure levels [ 13 ]. The macrostructure revision includes the revision of the organization, content, and flow. The microstructure level includes individual words, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

The best way to approach the macrostructure revision is through the outline of the ideas in your paper. The last time you updated your outline was before writing the Introduction and the Discussion. Now that you have the beginning and the conclusion, you can take a bird’s-eye view of the whole paper. The outline will allow you to see if the ideas of your paper are coherently structured, if your results are logically built, and if the discussion is linked to the research question in the Introduction. You will be able to see if something is missing in any of the sections or if you need to rearrange your information to make your point.

The next step is to revise each of the sections starting from the beginning. Ideally, you should limit yourself to working on small sections of about five pages at a time [ 14 ]. After these short sections, your eyes get used to your writing and your efficiency in spotting problems decreases. When reading for content and organization, you should control your urge to edit your paper for sentence structure and grammar and focus only on the flow of your ideas and logic of your presentation. Experienced researchers tend to make almost three times the number of changes to meaning than novice writers [ 15 , 16 ]. Revising is a difficult but useful skill, which academic writers obtain with years of practice.

In contrast to the macrostructure revision, which is a linear process and is done usually through a detailed outline and by sections, microstructure revision is a non-linear process. While the goal of the macrostructure revision is to analyze your ideas and their logic, the goal of the microstructure editing is to scrutinize the form of your ideas: your paragraphs, sentences, and words. You do not need and are not recommended to follow the order of the paper to perform this type of revision. You can start from the end or from different sections. You can even revise by reading sentences backward, sentence by sentence and word by word.

One of the microstructure revision strategies frequently used during writing center consultations is to read the paper aloud [ 17 ]. You may read aloud to yourself, to a tape recorder, or to a colleague or friend. When reading and listening to your paper, you are more likely to notice the places where the fluency is disrupted and where you stumble because of a very long and unclear sentence or a wrong connector.

Another revision strategy is to learn your common errors and to do a targeted search for them [ 13 ]. All writers have a set of problems that are specific to them, i.e., their writing idiosyncrasies. Remembering these problems is as important for an academic writer as remembering your friends’ birthdays. Create a list of these idiosyncrasies and run a search for these problems using your word processor. If your problem is demonstrative pronouns without summary words, then search for “this/these/those” in your text and check if you used the word appropriately. If you have a problem with intensifiers, then search for “really” or “very” and delete them from the text. The same targeted search can be done to eliminate wordiness. Searching for “there is/are” or “and” can help you avoid the bulky sentences.

The final strategy is working with a hard copy and a pencil. Print a double space copy with font size 14 and re-read your paper in several steps. Try reading your paper line by line with the rest of the text covered with a piece of paper. When you are forced to see only a small portion of your writing, you are less likely to get distracted and are more likely to notice problems. You will end up spotting more unnecessary words, wrongly worded phrases, or unparallel constructions.

After you apply all these strategies, you are ready to share your writing with your friends, colleagues, and a writing advisor in the writing center. Get as much feedback as you can, especially from non-specialists in your field. Patiently listen to what others say to you ― you are not expected to defend your writing or explain what you wanted to say. You may decide what you want to change and how after you receive the feedback and sort it in your head. Even though some researchers make the revision an endless process and can hardly stop after a 14th draft; having from five to seven drafts of your paper is a norm in the sciences. If you can’t stop revising, then set a deadline for yourself and stick to it. Deadlines always help.

Rule 7: Revise your paper at the macrostructure and the microstructure level using different strategies and techniques. Receive feedback and revise again.

5. it is time to submit.

It is late at night again. You are still in your lab finishing revisions and getting ready to submit your paper. You feel happy ― you have finally finished a year’s worth of work. You will submit your paper tomorrow, and regardless of the outcome, you know that you can do it. If one journal does not take your paper, you will take advantage of the feedback and resubmit again. You will have a publication, and this is the most important achievement.

What is even more important is that you have your scheduled writing time that you are going to keep for your future publications, for reading and taking notes, for writing grants, and for reviewing papers. You are not going to lose stamina this time, and you will become a productive scientist. But for now, let’s celebrate the end of the paper.

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How to Practice Academic Medicine and Publish from Developing Countries? pp 193–199 Cite as

How to Write the Introduction to a Scientific Paper?

  • Samiran Nundy 4 ,
  • Atul Kakar 5 &
  • Zulfiqar A. Bhutta 6  
  • Open Access
  • First Online: 24 October 2021

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An Introduction to a scientific paper familiarizes the reader with the background of the issue at hand. It must reflect why the issue is topical and its current importance in the vast sea of research being done globally. It lays the foundation of biomedical writing and is the first portion of an article according to the IMRAD pattern ( I ntroduction, M ethodology, R esults, a nd D iscussion) [1].

I once had a professor tell a class that he sifted through our pile of essays, glancing at the titles and introductions, looking for something that grabbed his attention. Everything else went to the bottom of the pile to be read last, when he was tired and probably grumpy from all the marking. Don’t get put at the bottom of the pile, he said. Anonymous

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1 What is the Importance of an Introduction?

An Introduction to a scientific paper familiarizes the reader with the background of the issue at hand. It must reflect why the issue is topical and its current importance in the vast sea of research being done globally. It lays the foundation of biomedical writing and is the first portion of an article according to the IMRAD pattern ( I ntroduction, M ethodology, R esults, a nd D iscussion) [ 1 ].

It provides the flavour of the article and many authors have used phrases to describe it for example—'like a gate of the city’ [ 2 ], ‘the beginning is half of the whole’ [ 3 ], ‘an introduction is not just wrestling with words to fit the facts, but it also strongly modulated by perception of the anticipated reactions of peer colleagues’, [ 4 ] and ‘an introduction is like the trailer to a movie’. A good introduction helps captivate the reader early.

figure a

2 What Are the Principles of Writing a Good Introduction?

A good introduction will ‘sell’ an article to a journal editor, reviewer, and finally to a reader [ 3 ]. It should contain the following information [ 5 , 6 ]:

The known—The background scientific data

The unknown—Gaps in the current knowledge

Research hypothesis or question

Methodologies used for the study

The known consist of citations from a review of the literature whereas the unknown is the new work to be undertaken. This part should address how your work is the required missing piece of the puzzle.

3 What Are the Models of Writing an Introduction?

The Problem-solving model

First described by Swales et al. in 1979, in this model the writer should identify the ‘problem’ in the research, address the ‘solution’ and also write about ‘the criteria for evaluating the problem’ [ 7 , 8 ].

The CARS model that stands for C reating A R esearch S pace [ 9 , 10 ].

The two important components of this model are:

Establishing a territory (situation)

Establishing a niche (problem)

Occupying a niche (the solution)

In this popular model, one can add a fourth point, i.e., a conclusion [ 10 ].

4 What Is Establishing a Territory?

This includes: [ 9 ]

Stating the general topic and providing some background about it.

Providing a brief and relevant review of the literature related to the topic.

Adding a paragraph on the scope of the topic including the need for your study.

5 What Is Establishing a Niche?

Establishing a niche includes:

Stating the importance of the problem.

Outlining the current situation regarding the problem citing both global and national data.

Evaluating the current situation (advantages/ disadvantages).

Identifying the gaps.

Emphasizing the importance of the proposed research and how the gaps will be addressed.

Stating the research problem/ questions.

Stating the hypotheses briefly.

Figure 17.1 depicts how the introduction needs to be written. A scientific paper should have an introduction in the form of an inverted pyramid. The writer should start with the general information about the topic and subsequently narrow it down to the specific topic-related introduction.

figure 1

Flow of ideas from the general to the specific

6 What Does Occupying a Niche Mean?

This is the third portion of the introduction and defines the rationale of the research and states the research question. If this is missing the reviewers will not understand the logic for publication and is a common reason for rejection [ 11 , 12 ]. An example of this is given below:

Till date, no study has been done to see the effectiveness of a mesh alone or the effectiveness of double suturing along with a mesh in the closure of an umbilical hernia regarding the incidence of failure. So, the present study is aimed at comparing the effectiveness of a mesh alone versus the double suturing technique along with a mesh.

7 How Long Should the Introduction Be?

For a project protocol, the introduction should be about 1–2 pages long and for a thesis it should be 3–5 pages in a double-spaced typed setting. For a scientific paper it should be less than 10–15% of the total length of the manuscript [ 13 , 14 ].

8 How Many References Should an Introduction Have?

All sections in a scientific manuscript except the conclusion should contain references. It has been suggested that an introduction should have four or five or at the most one-third of the references in the whole paper [ 15 ].

9 What Are the Important Points Which Should be not Missed in an Introduction?

An introduction paves the way forward for the subsequent sections of the article. Frequently well-planned studies are rejected by journals during review because of the simple reason that the authors failed to clarify the data in this section to justify the study [ 16 , 17 ]. Thus, the existing gap in knowledge should be clearly brought out in this section (Fig. 17.2 ).

figure 2

How should the abstract, introduction, and discussion look

The following points are important to consider:

The introduction should be written in simple sentences and in the present tense.

Many of the terms will be introduced in this section for the first time and these will require abbreviations to be used later.

The references in this section should be to papers published in quality journals (e.g., having a high impact factor).

The aims, problems, and hypotheses should be clearly mentioned.

Start with a generalization on the topic and go on to specific information relevant to your research.

10 Example of an Introduction

figure b

11 Conclusions

An Introduction is a brief account of what the study is about. It should be short, crisp, and complete.

It has to move from a general to a specific research topic and must include the need for the present study.

The Introduction should include data from a literature search, i.e., what is already known about this subject and progress to what we hope to add to this knowledge.

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Samiran Nundy

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Institute for Global Health and Development, The Aga Khan University, South Central Asia, East Africa and United Kingdom, Karachi, Pakistan

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Scientific Writing for Health Research

Chapter 2 introduction section.

A scientific research paper generally follows the format of IMRaD (Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion). The introduction section sets the stage for the entire paper and introduces the topic of interest to the audience. This first section provides a broad context of the issue under investigation, summarizes what is known and unknown, and tries to convince the readers that this particular study will be a valuable addition to current knowledge.

There are several guidelines suggesting how to best structure the introduction section for a research paper ( Cals and Kotz 2013a ; Bahadoran et al. 2018 ; Heard 2016, 84–88 ) . Typically, a well-written introduction section will contain broader background information on the topic, a summary of key existing knowledge relevant to the specific problem, the gap in the current knowledge (rationale), and the research question and/or the hypothesis. Though not essential, some authors may opt to briefly describe the study design and methods.

2.1 Funnel shape

To better organize the main components of the introduction, it may be useful to build an outline or a skeleton of the section. One approach could be adopting a “funnel shape” or an inverted pyramid shape to organize the components. Based on the funnel shape, the introduction section has five key elements going from broad to narrow: big picture, what is known, what is unknown, research question and methods/design (see Figure 1).

The typical funnel shape of an Introduction section.

Figure 2.1: The typical funnel shape of an Introduction section.

Big picture : the introduction starts with the big picture, represented by the broad opening of the funnel shape. The big picture introduces the general context of the research area and provides an overview of “why this topic or issue is important.” For a research paper in population and public health, it is a good idea to present the broader background information on the health-related topic. This may include the magnitude of the problem and/or the burden of disease (e.g., incidence, prevalence or cost). The big picture should provide the audience with an understanding of the study outcome or explanatory variable from a public health perspective.

What is known : from the big picture, the author narrows down to a more specific research area under investigation. This part should outline the existing knowledge of the research area by providing a summary of the evidence, including the landmark and recent studies. This summary should cite the most current and comprehensive knowledge on the subject. Remember that the evidence cited should be directly relevant to your specific study and inform your research question. These summaries should focus on the particular exposure or disease of interest (e.g., intervention or outcome elements of the PICOT framework) ( Thabane et al. 2009 ) .

What is unknown : as the funnel further narrows, this part should present a synthesis of the reasons why the issue is important (in the big picture), what is already known, and what is unknown, to convince the audience that there is a need to conduct your specific study. This part can include the gaps in current knowledge, any inconsistencies in the literature, gaps in the methodology or the need for different or better methodology. When describing what is unknown, the author should highlight the importance of conducting the present study and persuade the readers that this analysis was needed (rationale). Who would likely benefit from this study should also be highlighted. For example, if there is a previous study that answered the same research question, a clear and compelling argument on the need for the updated study should be included.

Research question : following the identification of the gap in current knowledge, this part outlines the specific purpose of the study. It should include the study objective and/or hypothesis that will address the identified gap in current knowledge.

Methods/design : as the last stage of the funnel, this part can briefly introduce the approach used to answer the research question. This can include the study design or methods, however, a brief summary is sufficient as the methodological approach will be described in depth in the methods section.

2.2 Examples

2.2.1 example 1.

The first example is taken from Nisingizwe et al. ( 2020 ) . You can download the open access PDF from here .

Table 1: A study about the association between perceived barriers to health care access and inadequate antenatal care visits ( Nisingizwe et al. 2020 )

2.2.2 Example 2

The second example is taken from Basham and Karim ( 2019 ) . You can download the open access PDF from here .

Table 1: A study about prevalence of multimorbidity in northern vs. southern Canada ( Basham and Karim 2019 )

Through these 2 examples, we have looked at the key elements of an introduction section of a scientific article in population and public health research. The introduction section provides the general context of the topic (big picture), the narrower research area and what is known, the gap in the existing knowledge, the specific purpose of the study and a summary of the methods and design.

2.2.3 Importance of a ‘hook’

As the author and researcher, you have the knowledge of the “whole story” of your study from start to end. Hence, you can write the introduction strategically. The introduction section introduces the public health problem to the audience and tries to capture their interest to continue reading. In a newspaper or magazine article, the writer aims to grab the readers’ attention with a “hook” at the beginning. In a scientific article, although you don’t necessarily want to give out all the findings and study implications initially, you should utilize the introduction section to incite the readers’ and reviewers’ interest. By clearly outlining the key components, the introduction section should convince the audience that the population/public health issue under investigation is critical to address and that your particular study is novel and valuable.

2.3 Common pitfalls

  • Common pitfalls in the introduction section include incomplete, inaccurate or outdated reviews of the literature on the topic. For example, including literature that is tangentially related or within the same field but not directly related to the problem, may result in an incomplete or confusing review of the background knowledge. Including inadequate, incomplete or outdated information may result in the rejection of the paper.
  • Not adequately explaining the importance or the relevance of the current knowledge in relation to the study aims is another pitfall. This can lead to an introduction section that is less effective in communicating the relevancy and novelty of your study.
  • Arguably, incorporating clear study aim(s) and rationales for the study objectives are the most important aspects of the introduction section. (i) Aims should be clearly articulated, and the design of the study should be planned accordingly. (ii) Take time to think about the justification of the current study.
  • Provide only the key references that are needed to describe the background knowledge, as well as what is known and unknown about the topic of interest. Including an excessive amount of literature in the introduction can be distracting. Be mindful that you will have an opportunity to contextualize your research in the literature by comparing your findings with other studies in the Discussion section. The introduction should be focused on setting the tone for what is coming next.
  • A lengthy introduction can also make the readers lose interest. A general suggestion is that the introduction section should be about 10-15% of the whole paper ( Cals and Kotz 2013a ) .
  • If you already have a general idea of the journals that you would like to submit your article to, the introduction can be tailored to the audience of the target journal. For example, if you are interested in submitting to journals with a heavier focus on methodology or epidemiology, you may want to highlight the novelties in the design or methods. If you are interested in submitting to clinician-focused or subject-specific journals, you may emphasize the clinical or public health implications of the study.


Writing a Medical Clinical Trial Research Paper – Example & Format

Hello, this is Sam from Ref-n-write. In this blog, I will explain how to write a clinical trial research paper for a medical journal.  We will go through the basic components that make up a good clinical paper. The title of our research paper is “The Effects of Vitamin D Supplements on Obesity: A Randomized Clinical Trial Study” I must insist that this is not an actual research paper from an actual medical journal. This is just an example medical research paper we put together for the purpose of teaching the process of writing up clinical trials.

The Effects of Vitamin D Supplements on Obesity: A Randomized Clinical Trial Study Research Paper Title

1. Introduction Paragraph

Let’s start with the introduction paragraph. This is where you tell your readers what your topic is and why it is important. It is a good idea to start your intro paragraph with a hook. A hook is a powerful opening statement designed to grab the reader’s attention. This can be a fact, a statistic or a question. Since our study is about obesity, let’s give an interesting statistic about obesity. After starting with a broad statement, the next step is to narrow down the topic. In the second statement, we are dropping a hint that our paper is concerned with vitamin D and obesity. With the next statement, we are establishing the importance of the topic. We are saying that many people are dying due to obesity, and vitamin D is causing a lot of health issues, so we must do something about it. Then in the final statement of the intro paragraph, we explain how conducting research in this field will benefit the community. In our case, doctors will be able to prescribe better treatment options for obese patients. That concludes the introduction paragraph of our research paper.

Obesity is a Worldwide disease; In 2020, more than 2 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. There is a general consensus in the research community that there is a strong association between obesity and Vitamin D. This represents an important and timely topic because obesity is currently fifth greatest risk of mortality, and Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with variety of chronic diseases. Better understanding of this link will greatly aid medical practitioners in effective treatment and management of obese patients. Introduction Paragraph

2. Literature Review

Let’s move on to the literature review. This is where you provide a comprehensive summary of previous research on this topic. Let’s start with a broad statement summarizing the research in the area. In the first statement, we are saying that many studies have confirmed some link between vitamin D and obesity. Now let’s move on to specific studies. In the second statement, we are reporting the results of a specific study that came out recently and talks about the link between vitamin D and obesity in western countries. Now let’s talk about some mixed evidence that casts some doubt on the current understanding of the topic. In the final statement, we are saying that some studies have shown that obesity causes vitamin D deficiency, whereas other studies have shown that it is in fact, vitamin D that causes obesity issues among people.

Several studies have reported an association between low vitamin D levels and obesity levels [1-3] . Recently John et al , reported high prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency in several western countries with high levels of obesity [1]. Some studies suggested that obesity increased the risk of vit D deficiency [15] whereas other studies have shown the opposite [3]. Literature Review

3. Research Gap and Research Statement

Now it is time to establish the research gap. The previous statements we made, nicely lead to this statement. We are saying that we lack clear evidence linking vitamin D to obesity. We are also saying that most of the existing studies were conducted on subjects with preexisting health conditions, so there is a research gap to be filled. Now you must define your research question and explain how it addresses the research gap you established in the literature review. We are saying here that the study’s main aim is to investigate the effect of vitamin D on weight loss among the healthy population. We are also defining a specific hypothesis that we will either prove or disprove towards the end of the paper.

Due to lack of clear evidence, the link between vitamin D and obesity remains unclear. Moreover, most studies were conducted on subjects with preexisting health conditions or of certain background. The aim of the study was to examine the effect of vitamin D supplementation on weight loss among healthy population. We hypothesized that vitamin D could enhance weight loss without side effects. Research Gap and Statement

4. Materials and Methods

Let’s move on to materials and methods. The ‘materials and methods’ is one of the most important parts of your paper. This section should have enough detail so that another researcher can reproduce your experiments and results.

4.1. Study Design and Ethical Approval

Let’s start with study design. In clinical trial papers, you must explain the study design employed in your work. In our case, it was a randomized, double-blinded placebo trial. Then you can talk about the location and period in which the clinical trial was conducted. Then provide details about the ethical approval that was obtained for the study. Nowadays, registering your clinical trial on the website is a requirement before you begin recruiting patients for your study. You must also include the registration number.  I must warn you that many journals will refuse to publish the results of your paper if the clinical trial is unregistered. Good clinical practice (GCP) is a set of internationally recognized quality standards that must be followed when conducting clinical trials involving people.  It is a good idea to provide information about who is responsible for monitoring this for your trial.

The study was a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial study. The study was conducted between April 2015 and March 2017 at five different hospitals in the central United Kingdom. This study was approved by the National Health Service ethical committee and registered on as NC 34532. The trial was conducted according to the guidelines of good clinical practice (GCP) and monitored by the GCP unit at the hospital. Study Design, Ethical Approval & Good Clinical Practice

4.2. Participant Recruitment and Consent

It is very important to define the inclusion and exclusion criteria used for the study. The inclusion criteria define the characteristics that will make subjects eligible for the study. In our case, we only included non-smoking and nondiabetic subjects with BMI greater than 25. The exclusion criteria define the characteristics that make subjects ineligible for the study. In our case, we exclude subjects participating in weight loss programs and taking dietary supplements. Now let’s detail the characteristics of the cohort, such as sample size, age, gender etc. In our case, we recruited 50 subjects in the age range of 15-60.

Let’s provide some information about the recruitment procedure. In our case, there was a face-to-face interview to confirm eligibility. And also, the eligible participants were asked to fill in a questionnaire so that we could gather demographic information. Another important part of the recruitment process is to get informed consent from the participants. The participants should be given all the information about the trial, including the benefits and risks, so they can decide whether to participate in the trial or not.

Subjects were included if they met the following criteria: (1) BMI>25; (2) non-smoker; and (3) no history of diabetes. Subjects participating in weight loss programs were excluded from the study. A total of 50 subjects (25 male & 25 female) participated in the study at the age range of 15-60. The eligibility was evaluated by interview. They were asked to fill in a questionnaire to gather demographic information. An informed consent was obtained from all the participants. Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria, Patient Recruitment & Consent

4.3. Outcomes and Follow up

Let us now explain how the participants were divided into groups. In our study, the participants were randomly split into intervention and control groups.  The intervention group was given vitamin D supplements, and the control group was given a placebo. Our study is double-blinded, which means neither the participants nor the researchers knew which group they belonged to. Let’s talk about the follow-up period. Choosing an appropriate follow-up period for your study is important because a shorter follow-up period leads to an underestimation of the effects being measured. On the other hand, a long follow-up period increases the risk of subjects dropping out of the study. In our case, we have chosen a follow-up period of 12 months, and the measurements were performed every 6 months.

Then we have to explain what parameters we are measuring on the participants during the course of the study. In our case, we measured BMI, waist circumference and blood pressure.  BMI is the primary outcome. It means it is the most important outcome, and we will analyze the changes in BMI values to either prove or disprove our hypothesis. The secondary outcomes, such as waist circumference and BP, are additional measurements that we perform to provide supporting evidence for the main finding.

Participants were randomly divided into intervention and control groups, and received vit D supplements and placebo, respectively. Patients were assessed at 0,  6 and 12 months for a follow-up period of 1 year. BMI (primary outcome), waist circumference (secondary outcome) and BP (secondary outcome) were measured by a trained personal at each visit. Grouping, Outcome & Follow-up Period

4.4. Statistical Analysis

Let’s talk about the statistical analysis and tools used for the study. In our case, we are using an independent sample t-test for statistical analysis. The independent sample t-test compares the means of two groups, in our case, the vitamin D group and the placebo group. We also specify the definition of statistical significance; if the p-value is less than 0.05, then we will consider the difference to be statistically significant. We also give the format of the data presented in the paper. In our case, all the data will be represented in the format mean ± SE.  We also mention the name of the statistical package used for the analysis. In our case, We are using SPSS statistical software, and the version number is 10.0.

Analyses were performed with independent t-test and paired t-test. All data were shown as mean ± SE. In all analysis, P value <0.05 was considered statistically significant. The data were analyzed using SPSS 10.0 ( software. Statistical Analysis

Let’s move on to the results section. This is where you present the core findings of your study. You have to present your results in a logical sequence. Do not interpret the results here. Instead, save them for the discussion section later. Before jumping into results, you must first let the audience know if you did any preprocessing or data cleanup before the analysis. In our case, four participants had to be excluded from the study due to health issues. And two participants dropped out due to personal reasons. So it means we are dealing with a slightly smaller sample size than we initially set out. Try to present your data in figures and tables, and only elaborate on the most important results in the main text. In our case, we are presenting the characteristics of both groups in a table. And we are plotting the change in BMI over time as a graph and presenting it as a figure in the paper.

From 50 participants, four subjects were excluded due to health issues. Two participants withdrew from the study due to personal reasons. Table 1 illustrates the characteristics of two groups participated in the study. In Figure 1, the BMI values are plotted as a function of duration for both groups. The results show that vitamin D supplementation caused a significant decrease in BMI (p<0.001). There was no significant difference in BP (p=0.71) between vitamin D (121 ± 3.1) and placebo groups (123 ± 4.2). Results

Now let’s start with the main finding. In our case, we found a significant drop in BMI among the cohort taking vitamin D supplements. Since we use the word significant, we have to provide a p-value. Let’s move on to the next result. We are reporting that there is no significant difference in blood pressure between the two groups. We are also providing actual values in the text. We have already mentioned in the methods section that the data will be in the format mean ± SE.

6. Discussion

Let’s move on to the discussion. This is where you interpret your findings and compare your results with previously published work in this domain. This is the place to talk about limitations and the future direction of your work. It is a good idea to start with the main result. In our case, we found that vitamin D reduces BMI, which supports the main hypothesis. Let’s also mention how these findings fit into existing research in the domain. In our case, these findings are in line with the results of previous studies published on this topic. Now, let’s move on to a negative result. In our case, we observed a negative association between waist circumference and vitamin D. Now give your interpretation of this negative result. We think it is because of the shorter duration of the study. Let’s report an unexpected result. In our case, we found that the blood pressure was a bit on the higher side with the cohort taking vitamin D supplements. Let’s give our interpretation of the result. We believe it is because of limited data.

Vitamin D supplementation significantly reduced the BMI over a 1 year period supporting the main hypothesis. The results agree well with the findings of existing studies [7-8]. A negative association was observed between waist length and vitamin D supplementation. The findings are in contrast with the previous studies [9-10]. This outcome is likely due to the shorter duration of the study. It was quite surprising to find that there was a slight increase in BP among the vitamin D group. The result must be interpreted with caution due to limited data. Interpretation of Results

Let’s talk about the implications of our research. This is where you describe the significance of your findings. You must explain how your findings will benefit society. You can also explain how your findings contribute to the existing body of knowledge and impact future research in the area. Then add one or two lines about the novelty of your research. Explain what is so unique about your research. In our case, this is the first study to be conducted on a healthy population. Let’s move on to limitations. Every study has limitations. If you hide your limitations, I can guarantee that reviewers will reject your paper. Be honest about the limitations and explain how future studies can rectify the shortcomings of your work. In our case, the major limitation is that our study uses a small number of participants. Let’s move on to the final statement of the paper. Finish your paper with one or two lines about the possible future direction of your research. In our case, we can conduct a much bigger study to reconfirm our findings in the future.

The results demonstrated in this work provides a new perspective on the link between vitamin D and obesity from a clinical treatment perspective. To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest study to date to be conducted on health population. One of the most important limitation of the study is the small sample size. Larger clinical trials are needed to confirm the findings. This should be considered in future studies. Implications, Limitations and Future work

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Useful Phrases and Sentences for Academic & Research Paper Writing

Useful Phrases and Sentences for Academic & Research Paper Writing

In this blog, we explain various sections of a research paper and give you an overview of what these sections should contain.

Research Paper Structure – Main Sections and Parts of a Research Paper

Research Paper Structure – Main Sections and Parts of a Research Paper

In this blog, we explain various topics and sub-topics to be included under each section of a research paper via word cloud diagrams.

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medical research paper introduction

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How to Write a Medical Research Paper

Last Updated: May 29, 2020 Approved

This article was co-authored by Chris M. Matsko, MD . Dr. Chris M. Matsko is a retired physician based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With over 25 years of medical research experience, Dr. Matsko was awarded the Pittsburgh Cornell University Leadership Award for Excellence. He holds a BS in Nutritional Science from Cornell University and an MD from the Temple University School of Medicine in 2007. Dr. Matsko earned a Research Writing Certification from the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) in 2016 and a Medical Writing & Editing Certification from the University of Chicago in 2017. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 89% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 197,554 times.

Writing a medical research paper is similar to writing other research papers in that you want to use reliable sources, write in a clear and organized style, and offer a strong argument for all conclusions you present. In some cases the research you discuss will be data you have actually collected to answer your research questions. Understanding proper formatting, citations, and style will help you write and informative and respected paper.

Researching Your Paper

Step 1 Decide on a topic.

  • Pick something that really interests you to make the research more fun.
  • Choose a topic that has unanswered questions and propose solutions.

Step 2 Determine what kind of research paper you are going to write.

  • Quantitative studies consist of original research performed by the writer. These research papers will need to include sections like Hypothesis (or Research Question), Previous Findings, Method, Limitations, Results, Discussion, and Application.
  • Synthesis papers review the research already published and analyze it. They find weaknesses and strengths in the research, apply it to a specific situation, and then indicate a direction for future research.

Step 3 Research your topic thoroughly.

  • Keep track of your sources. Write down all publication information necessary for citation: author, title of article, title of book or journal, publisher, edition, date published, volume number, issue number, page number, and anything else pertaining to your source. A program like Endnote can help you keep track of your sources.
  • Take detailed notes as you read. Paraphrase information in your own words or if you copy directly from the article or book, indicate that these are direct quotes by using quotation marks to prevent plagiarism.
  • Be sure to keep all of your notes with the correct source.
  • Your professor and librarians can also help you find good resources.

Step 4 Organize your notes.

  • Keep all of your notes in a physical folder or in a digitized form on the computer.
  • Start to form the basic outline of your paper using the notes you have collected.

Writing Your Paper

Step 1 Outline your paper.

  • Start with bullet points and then add in notes you've taken from references that support your ideas. [1] X Trustworthy Source PubMed Central Journal archive from the U.S. National Institutes of Health Go to source
  • A common way to format research papers is to follow the IMRAD format. This dictates the structure of your paper in the following order: I ntroduction, M ethods, R esults, a nd D iscussion. [2] X Research source
  • The outline is just the basic structure of your paper. Don't worry if you have to rearrange a few times to get it right.
  • Ask others to look over your outline and get feedback on the organization.
  • Know the audience you are writing for and adjust your style accordingly. [3] X Research source

Step 2 Know the required format.

  • Use a standard font type and size, such as Times New Roman 12 point font.
  • Double-space your paper.
  • If necessary, create a cover page. Most schools require a cover page of some sort. Include your main title, running title (often a shortened version of your main title), author's name, course name, and semester.

Step 3 Compile your results.

  • Break up information into sections and subsections and address one main point per section.
  • Include any figures or data tables that support your main ideas.
  • For a quantitative study, state the methods used to obtain results.

Step 4 Write the conclusion and discussion.

  • Clearly state and summarize the main points of your research paper.
  • Discuss how this research contributes to the field and why it is important. [4] X Research source
  • Highlight potential applications of the theory if appropriate.
  • Propose future directions that build upon the research you have presented. [5] X Research source
  • Keep the introduction and discussion short, and spend more time explaining the methods and results. [6] X Research source

Step 5 Write the introduction.

  • State why the problem is important to address.
  • Discuss what is currently known and what is lacking in the field.
  • State the objective of your paper.
  • Keep the introduction short.

Step 6 Write the abstract.

  • Highlight the purpose of the paper and the main conclusions.
  • State why your conclusions are important.
  • Be concise in your summary of the paper.
  • Show that you have a solid study design and a high-quality data set.
  • Abstracts are usually one paragraph and between 250 – 500 words.

Step 7 Cite while you write.

  • Unless otherwise directed, use the American Medical Association (AMA) style guide to properly format citations.
  • Add citations at end of a sentence to indicate that you are using someone else's idea. Use these throughout your research paper as needed. They include the author's last name, year of publication, and page number.
  • Compile your reference list and add it to the end of your paper.
  • Use a citation program if you have access to one to simplify the process.

Step 8 Edit your research paper.

  • Continually revise your paper to make sure it is structured in a logical way.
  • Proofread your paper for spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Make sure you are following the proper formatting guidelines provided for the paper.
  • Have others read your paper to proofread and check for clarity. Revise as needed.

Expert Q&A

Chris M. Matsko, MD

  • Ask your professor for help if you are stuck or confused about any part of your research paper. They are familiar with the style and structure of papers and can provide you with more resources. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
  • Refer to your professor's specific guidelines. Some instructors modify parts of a research paper to better fit their assignment. Others may request supplementary details, such as a synopsis for your research project . Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
  • Set aside blocks of time specifically for writing each day. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

medical research paper introduction

  • Do not plagiarize. Plagiarism is using someone else's work, words, or ideas and presenting them as your own. It is important to cite all sources in your research paper, both through internal citations and on your reference page. Thanks Helpful 4 Not Helpful 2

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About This Article

Chris M. Matsko, MD

To write a medical research paper, research your topic thoroughly and compile your data. Next, organize your notes and create a strong outline that breaks up the information into sections and subsections, addressing one main point per section. Write the results and discussion sections first to go over your findings, then write the introduction to state your objective and provide background information. Finally, write the abstract, which concisely summarizes the article by highlighting the main points. For tips on formatting and using citations, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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