Scientific Research Paper Introduction Format Of Thesis

What types of information should you include in your introduction? 

In the introduction of your thesis, you’ll be trying to do three main things, which are called Moves:

  • Move 1 establish your territory (say what the topic is about)
  • Move 2 establish a niche (show why there needs to be further research on your topic)
  • Move 3 introduce the current research (make hypotheses; state the research questions)

Each Move has a number of stages. Depending on what you need to say in your introduction, you might use one or more stages. Table 1 provides you with a list of the most commonly occurring stages of introductions in Honours theses (colour-coded to show the Moves). You will also find examples of Introductions, divided into stages with sample sentence extracts. Once you’ve looked at Examples 1 and 2, try the exercise that follows.

Most thesis introductions include SOME (but not all) of the stages listed below. There are variations between different Schools and between different theses, depending on the purpose of the thesis.

Stages in a thesis introduction

  1. state the general topic and give some background
  2. provide a review of the literature related to the topic
  3. define the terms and scope of the topic
  4. outline the current situation
  5. evaluate the current situation (advantages/ disadvantages) and identify the gap
  6. identify the importance of the proposed research
  7. state the research problem/ questions
  8. state the research aims and/or research objectives
  9. state the hypotheses
  10. outline the order of information in the thesis
  11. outline the methodology

Now read the following two examples from past theses, noting which stages are included in each example. How does example 1 differ from example 2?

Read the following sample sentence extracts from Honours theses Introductions. When you have decided what stage of the Introduction they belong to, refer to the stages in a thesis introduction and give each sentence extract a number. Then check the suggested answer to see if your answer agrees with ours.

Example 3: The IMO Severe-Weather Criterion Applied to High-Speed Monohulls (School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering)

Example 4: The Steiner Tree Problem (School of Computer Science and Engineering)

What does this tell you about thesis introductions?

Well, firstly, there are many choices that you can make. You will notice that there are variations not only between the different Schools in your faculty, but also between individual theses, depending on the type of information that is being communicated. However, there are a few elements that a good Introduction should include, at the very minimum:

  • Either Statement of general topic Or Background information about the topic;
  • Either Identification of disadvantages of current situation Or Identification of the gap in current research;
  • Identification of importance of proposed research
  • Either Statement of aims Or Statement of objectives
  • An Outline of the order of information in the thesis

Note: this introduction includes the literature review.

Example 5.1 (extract 1): The effects of Fluoride on the reproduction of three native Australian plant Species (School of Geography)

Stage 1Sample sentence extracts (the complete Introduction is 17 pages long)
Give some background (p.1 of 17)

1.1 Fluoride in the environment

Molecular fluorine (F2) is the most electronegative of the elements and therefore is highly reactive. Due to its high reactivity it is never found in its elemental form in nature. It combines directly at both ordinary or elevated temperatures with all other elements except oxygen, nitrogen, and the lighter noble gases (Cotton & Wilkinson, 1980).

Example 5.2 (extract 2): The effects of Fluoride on the reproduction of three native Australian plant Species (School of Geography)

Stage 2Sample sentence extracts
Provide a review of the literature related to the topic (p.2 of 17)The main source of elevated fluoride in plants comes from atmospheric industrial pollution. Because of its extensive industrial use, hydrogen fluoride is probably the greatest single atmospheric fluoride contaminant and is generally considered to be the most important plant pathogenic fluoride (WHO, 1984; Treshow, 1965)… However, fluorides can cause damage to sensitive plant species even at extremely low fluoride concentrations(Hill,1969), accumulate in large amounts within the plant and cause disease if ingested by herbivores(Weinstein, 1977).

Example 5.3

Stages 4 and 5Sample sentence extracts
Outline the current situation; Evaluate the current situation and indicate a gap (p.12 of 17)Doley (1981) summarized several unpublished studies that compared the sensitivity rankings of 24 species according to the responses of photosynthesis and the development of visible injury symptoms. This analysis showed that for nine species, photosynthesis measurements indicated greater sensitivity than was obvious from visible assessment, and for seven species the converse applied. This indicated that, while it may generally be true that physiological responses occur at lower doses than visible injury, this does not always appear to be the case.

Exercise:

Example 5.4 (extract 4): The effects of Fluoride on the reproduction of three native Australian plant Species (School of Geography)

Stage 7Sample sentence extracts
State the research problem(p.4 of 17)In many Australian plant species, young expanding leaves appear much more severely injured by gaseous fluorides than are old leaves. This suggests, either that the young leaf tissues are more sensitive to fluoride than mature tissues, or that sufficient fluoride enters the tissues directly through the cuticle to disrupt normal leaf development before the stomata have fully developed and opened(Doley, 1986a). This question has not been resolved due to the inability to accurately localize low concentrations of fluoride(Doley, 1986a)

Example 5.5 (extract 5): The effects of Fluoride on the reproduction of three native Australian plant Species (School of Geography)

Stage 8Sample sentence extracts
State the research aims and /or research objectives (extract p.16 of 17)Knowledge of the effects of fluoride on the reproductive processes of species within a forest community will help predict potential changes within the community following an increase in atmospheric fluoride due to additional industrial sources, such as aluminium smelters. For these reasons, this project was designed to investigate the reproductive processes of selected species in a woodland near the aluminium smelter at Tomago.

Exercise:

Example 5.6 (extract 6): The effects of Fluoride on the reproduction of three native Australian plant Species (School of Geography)

Stage 11Sample sentence extracts
State the outline of the Methodology (extract p.17 of 17).Germination trials were performed on seeds collected from each species along the fluoride gradient to determine if fluoride has an effect on their viability and hence the regeneration fitness of each species. A density study was used to determine if there were any differences between numbers of mature and immature trees, number of trees producing seed follicles and the number of trees flowering in this season along a fluoride gradient. By using soils collected at various distances away from the smelter the study also investigated differences in germination from the natural soil seed reserve along a fluoride gradient.

Review Paper -- Introductions

To understand Reviews as a kind of scientific publication, it helps to compare them to Research Reports,the type of publication with which we are most familiar.

             Reviews                                                     Reports
Evaluate current trends across           Contribute original experimental
a specific area of research                  evidence to a specific question

      Introduction                                            Introduction
      Review Topic 1                                        Method
      Review Topic 2                                        Results
      Review Topic 3 (etc.)                              Discussion
      Conclusion                                            (Conclusion, in some fields)

A research report explains the investigation and results of a single research question (or small set of highly-related questions).  Research Reports are published in a format we are very familiar with, the IMRD, that plays nicely with an idealized version of the scientific method.  

Research Reports Use IMRD to Manage Real Estate, Following an Idealized Scientific Method

A review paper is a different beast altogether. A Review paper looks at solely published reports to explain what is happening in an area of research as a whole.  Review Articles make a different sort of contribution to science (McMillan, 2001, 3, emphasis added):

In contrast to research papers, conference presentations, and proposals, a review paper is a journal article that synthesizes work by many independent researchers on a particular subject or scientific problem.  By bringing together the most pertinent findings of a large number of studies, a review paper serves as a valuable summary of research.  Although it does not present the writer’s new discoveries, it does reflect his or her painstaking review of the literature in a defined field.  Moreover, a good review not only summarizes information but also provides interpretative analysis and sometimes a historical perspective. Reviews may vary in aims, scope, length, and format, but they all include a relatively lengthy reference section.  Journal editors sometimes invite prominent experts to write reviews of their particular fields, since the ability to give an audience an authoritative overview of a subject usually develops with experience.  Whether solicited or unsolicited, review papers still must conform to journal specifications, and their author receive feedback from editors and reviewers before final publication.

In science, the review writer tries to understand what is happening across an area research, to discover patterns among the individual pieces of research that experimental researchers may or may not be aware of. Reviewers provide two very important and practical contributions to science.  First, they do the hard work of all the reading required so that research results are regularly gathered in one place.  Second, reviewers evaluate current research trends and make recommendations for where research and/or applications of research should be focused. 

So, the Review Article has very different features from a research report.  Professionally produced review articles have huge bibliographies, often 100 or more sources long. The task of the writer isn’t to answer a specific question using some kind of experimental method, but to take a step back and look at what is going on across many individual research projects.  It’s one of those “forest and tree” situations:  in a research report, the scientists are examining a tree; in a review paper, the scientist is looking at the forest. 


Understanding and Writing Introductions

The introduction to a Review article has 5 steps.  The most successful introductions have all 5 steps in the order presented below!  This particular format accomplishes the two functional objectives of the introduction:

  • inform the reader about the topic;

  • persuade the reader that the author's perspective is valuable.

  1. Topic -- a general statement of what the Review is about;

  2. Signficance or Topic -- practical, clinical, or research signficance of topic;

  3. Background of Problem -- a brief background framing the review, usually just a few sentences providing key definitions or concepts;

  4. Gap -- what's missing in the literature (the motivation for the review);

  5. Overview Statement -- usually has 2 parts

    • Focus -- the critical perspective the reviewer is using to organize the body;
    • Preview -- roadmap of body sections so that reader knows what's coming up.

Let's take a look at an example. The first image below identifies the article to be a review by examining the outline -- it consists of topical subheadings, so we know we are not reading experimental research.  The images below this one show a typical Review Introduction in medicine. It is brief and leads the reader quickly to where the information in the paper happens: the body.



Let's practice identifying the 5 moves in a Review Introduction



A note on Science Style

Let's practice!

(Two possible revisions)




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