How to Write an Introduction for a Research Paper

How to Write an Introduction for a Research Paper

Knowing how to write an introduction for a research paper properly is very important because the introduction should justify your work and inform readers about the specific rationale behind it. The introduction of a research paper can be defined as the first paragraph of a research paper. It is the first thing that readers read, see, experience or hear about the subject of your research.

Basically, a good introduction of a research paper has two major parts:

  • The general introduction to your study topic that will be discussed in the paper
  • A thesis statement.

A research paper introduction is important because without it, readers cannot understand what you are telling them. The introduction presents a thread of a hint that will be followed in your presentation or research paper. The introduction is the start of that thread.

Why it is important to know how to write an introduction for a research paper

Writing an introduction is the most challenging task in writing a research paper. Perhaps, this is due to the important role that this section of a research paper plays. It should announce the topic of the research paper; create rationale and context for the work, before stating the hypothesis and the research question. The length and content of the introduction depends on the nature of your research paper and the instructions provided by the instructor. However, a good research paper introduction should catch the interest of the reader, set a clear tone for the research paper and communicate a clear thesis statement or hypothesis.

How to write an introduction for a research paper in three major steps

Step One: Start the Introduction

  1. Announce the research topic

Start your research paper introduction with sentences that announce your topic while indicating the research questions that you intend to ask. This is an ideal way of introducing the topic of your research paper to the readers and piquing their interest. Start your paper with few sentences that indicate the broader problem that your research paper will focus on and lead readers to the specific question of your research.

  1. Refer to the relevant keywords

If your research paper is to be published, there are keywords that you should consider and include in the introduction. These could be in the provided title of your research paper and you should emphasize them in the introduction of your research paper. For instance, if your research paper topic is about mice behavior, then the keyword here could “mice” and you should include it in the first sentences of your introduction.

  1. Define concepts and terms

If necessary, clarify the meaning of concepts and terms early. This is because leaving some unfamiliar concepts or terms unexplained may make it impossible for your readers to understand your argument. This is very important especially if you are trying to create a new conceptualization using terminology and language that is unfamiliar to your readers.

  1. Use a quotation or anecdote to introduce your topic

There are more literary techniques of starting an introduction for social sciences and humanities research papers. A good quotation or anecdote can be used to point to a research topic in order to generate readers’ interest in a paper in an imaginative way while demonstrating a more engaging style.

Step Two: Establish a context for your research paper

  1. Include literature review briefly

The amount of literature review that you include in the introduction depends on the length of the paper that you want to write. This is the literature that has been published on the field that you are writing a research paper on. This step of a guide on how to write an introduction for a research paper is very important because including literature shows that you are knowledgeable about the topic and you understand the scholarship and debates in that area. Your aim should be to show that you are broadly knowledgeable and that you can engage in specific debates that are relevant to that research area. However, be concise and present strong literature especially background information.

  1. Focus literature to your contribution

Use comprehensive but concise literature review to frame your research paper. While writing the introduction, move from literature to your work. Direct readers to the position of your work and show them how relevant it is to the larger scholarship. With a clear reference to the existing work, it is possible to show explicitly your specific contribution in your field. You can also identify the gap that exist in the scholarship and tell readers how you intend to address it and move understanding forward.

  1. Explain the rationale behind your research paper

After framing your work in a larger context, explain the rationale behind your work. Tell readers what makes it important and what its strengths are. Your rationale should concisely and clearly show the value of the research paper and how it contributes to your study field. Apart from telling readers that your work will fill an existing gap, emphasize on the positive contribution that the work is making.

Step 3: State your hypothesis and research question

  1. State the research question

After indicating the position of your research as well as the rationale behind it, specify the hypothesis or research question that your paper will be addressing. The rational and literature review frame the research while introducing a research question. There should be a fluent development of a research question from the beginning of your introduction. Thus, the research question should not come just as a surprise.

  1. Indicate the hypothesis of your research paper

Once you have specified the research question, provide a concise and clear articulation of the hypothesis of your research or the thesis statement. A thesis statement is a statement that indicates that the paper will be making a particular contribution with a clear result instead of coverage of a broader topic. The statement should be clear indicating how the hypothesis was arrived at in a manner that references the discussion of the reviewed literature.

  1. Provide an outline for your research paper

There are cases where the last part of the research paper introduction provides a brief overview of the research paper structure. This outline indicates how the paper is organized and how it is divided into sections. However, this is not necessary in all cases and in social science and humanities writers are allowed to deviate in terms of the structure of a research paper.

Bonus tips on how to write an introduction for a research paper

  • Keep your introduction short

Rambling and long introductions put most readers off. This implies that even your instructor will lose interest in your research paper and give you a poor grade. Therefore, try to make your introduction concise and comprehensive. Remember that you have the body where you can include all the necessary details of your research.

  • Define the research problem

The introduction should have a logical end which is a research question and the hypothesis or thesis statement. After reading the introduction, the reader should logically know what your research paper is trying to accomplish or achieve. Additionally, the discussion and the conclusion should always refer readers to your introduction. This becomes easier when your problem is defined clearly by the introduction.

  • Maintain logical organization

While writing the research paper, you might realize that it is taking a direction that is slightly different from what you planned. To ensure that your introduction serves its purpose of introducing your paper, follow the flow of your paper. However, ensure that your introduction is adjusted accordingly.  A major tip on how to write an introduction for a research paper that works for some people is to write the introduction after writing the other sections of a research paper. You can also do this if you find it effective.

Research paper introduction examples

Example 1

Muslims and Christians engaged in more armed conflict in the middle ages’ era in the Middle East and Europe. The conflicts were called Crusades by Christians because they fought under the cross sign to save the Biblical holy lands from non-Christians’ desecration. However, the actual reason why they fought for the holy lands was not holy. Christian leaders were prompted by economic gain desire to send their soldiers to the Holy Land war.


This example gives readers an idea of where the paper is going. It is easy to follow because it has a logical flow, background information and context which lead to the thesis statement or hypothesis.

Example 2

Humans’ perceptions of life on the other plants have changed drastically during the 20th century. At some point, it was considered an impossible because it was thought that other planets have barren landscapes that could not support life. However, telescopes have discovered plants where it seems habitable during the 21st century. These are found in smaller bands where planet temperatures can support life.  Such newly discovered planets include Planet KOI 172.02 which can be holding the key to life discovery outside Earth.


This is another example of a good introduction of a research paper that starts by establishing context by providing background information before stating the thesis statement.

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