The Introduction explains why an important GAP in scientific understanding can be filled by testing specific General and Measurable hypotheses.
Why do papers have an Introduction section?
Clearly, the Introduction section "introduces" a research project. However, "introduces" is a fairly vague term. What is the specific objective of an Introduction?
A "funnel" framework can be a difficult approach to the Introduction.
Many resources suggest using an "Inverted pyramid" or "funnel" or "hourglass" model for the Introduction, where the Introduction begins with general principles and moves to more specific topics (Bolt and Bruins, 2012; Plaxco, 2010). However, the "general" vs. "specific" distinction can be a false dichotomy.
The definition of the word "specific" includes accuracy: specific statements are clearly-defined and unambiguous. Contrasting "general" statements with "specific" statements implies that general statements need NOT be accurate. Therefore, the "general" vs. "specific" dichotomy suggests that general statements can be vague: having unclear or indefinite meaning.
However, vague statements convey little or no information to audiences and are NOT useful elements of reasoned arguments (Layman, 2005). One goal of scientific communication is to ensure that ALL statements are NOT vague but specific (in the sense of being accurate), whether the statements apply widely or to particular situations or experiments.
If vague statements are unacceptable, can "general" principles have any place in scientific communication?
Yes! Discovering general principles is one of the most important GOALS of science! However, instead of vague statements, general principles are specific statements that apply widely (e.g. to all people, all animals, etc.). Scientific generalities allow for specific predictions in MANY different situations. Therefore, "general" principles are extremely valuable, provided that the general principles are also specific: accurate and unambiguous.
Would a "funnel" approach be an appropriate framework for an Introduction if the "funnel" involves progressing from accurate and specific statements about general principles to specific topics?
YES! However, a "funnel" approach is still a challenging framework to implement. Although evidence-based generalities are the goal of science, general statements are often difficult to defend with quantitative evidence. Non-trivial generalities are very rare and can be very difficult to find. Therefore, basing an Introduction on evidence-based generalities using a "funnel approach" is attractive in principle, but often a difficult approach to implement in practice.
The Introduction need not address all potential introductory questions.
In part because of the difficulty of implementing a broadly-defined "funnel" framework, some resources suggest that the Introduction address several more specific questions. Examples of recommended questions include: "What exactly is the work?" "Why is the work important?" "What is needed to understand the work?" "How will the work be presented?" "What was the study's motivating research issue?" "What was novel and unique about the study?" "What hypotheses guided the study?" "What were the specific purposes of the study?" (Alley, 1996; Greene, 2010).
All of these questions are potentially relevant. However, answering eight or more questions is complex and does not conform to the "Rule of Three." Moreover, not all questions potentially addressed in an Introduction are equally important. Therefore, Introduction sections will be strongest if they focus on only the three (or fewer) most important questions. What are the most important questions for the Introduction?
The Introduction can focus on defending one important question.
Introduction sections can be simplified by focusing on the specific objective of answering a single question:
WHY does an important GAP in current scientific understanding lead reasonably to the General and Measurable hypotheses?
A "compass" framework uses specific arguments to identify a gap in understanding.
A "compass" is a tool used to precisely draw circles or arcs. Drawing compasses have a central hinge and two legs that typically end in sharp points. Compasses can be a good analogy for the structure of an Introduction because:
1) The Introduction hinges on the importance of the research topic
2) Compasses have two legs. Similarly, establishing a central dichotomy can be useful for identifying a gap in understanding. (Of course, if three or more legs are required, then that's fine also. The framework needs to suit the information. However, it can be very helpful if each leg is strong, smooth, and distinct from the other legs. Connections among different topic "legs" can then be identified clearly).
3) The sharp points at the end of the legs of a compass are analogous to the specific conclusions of the central arguments of the Introduction.
It can be useful to analyze (break up) the central question into three separable sections:
A) WHY is the area of research important? (Paragraph 1)
B) WHAT is the GAP in scientific understanding? (3-5 paragraphs)
C) HOW do the proposed General and Measurable hypotheses FILL the gap in understanding? (1-3 paragraphs)
Using this WHY, WHAT, HOW framework can help to organize and simplify the Introduction: