Saturday, January 19, 2013

How to structure the sections of introduction and conclusion of a paper

Below is the advice from a writing consultant and language editor.  It makes a lot of sense for me, but I am not sure his suggestion of writing each paragraphs in 27 minutes. 

" Introduction

1. Describe the current state of our world.
"We live in an age of increased global competition." It should not be that boring, but it should that sort of thing. You are here establishing a "common place" for you and your reader, a point of departure. You should say something that is interesting, and of course true, but not very controversial (or at least not in a way your reader will find controversial). It's what everyone who is familiar with this topic knows, even people who are not professional scholars.

2. Describe the current state of your field.
What is the overarching consensus or characteristic dispute (about the world you've just described) that defines research in your area? This is basically a short statement of your literature review or, better, a summary of your theory section. The paragraph should identify the key concepts in your analysis. It should re-describe the world of paragraph 1 in theoretical terms. This paragraph, that is, describes what the experts know about your topic.

3. Describe your paper.
"This paper shows that..." Feel free to use exactly those four words to begin this paragraph followed by a clear statement of your conclusion. Now, don't argue for the conclusion, but describe instead a paper that argues for it. You've already said what your theory is, so you don't need to say too much more about that for now. But do present your method. (Did you do interviews? If so, how many? With whom?) Summarize your results in one or two sentences, i.e., elaborate on the conclusion you've already stated. Also, summarize the theoretical or practical implications of your research in a sentence or two. What are you recommending? A reform of practices? A rethinking of concepts? New research? Let the reader know what your research implies for theirs.


4. State your conclusion.
This is the first paragraph of your conclusion. You can construct the key sentence here simply by removing the first four words ("This paper shows that...") from the key sentence of paragraph 3. Then support it. It offers you an opportunity to make the strongest possible argument, to the most well-informed reader you can imagine. Remember, this reader has just read—and presumably understood—your whole paper. State the results of your empirical analysis with authority (you've presumably earned it by now) and use theoretical terms without explaining their meaning (the reader gets it by now).

5. How does the world look now?
As a parting word to your reader, re-describe the world you presented in paragraph 1 in the light of your research results. It may be a world that calls for more research. It may be one that calls for new policies or managerial action. Whatever it is, it's a world that is now better understood than before we read your paper. The whole point of your paper was to make us smarter. The difference between paragraph 1 and paragraph 5 should subtly indicate the difference of outlook that this improvement implies. (If you read only paragraph 1 and 5 you wouldn't actually get smarter, but you'd get a sense of how much smarter you would get if you read your whole paper. They're like "before and after" pictures.)"

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