How to organize and improve the introduction for a journal article

This is a how-to document for my students to help with getting started, or getting unstuck, while preparing an introduction for a journal article. I assume here that you already know the relevant literature, but the general method should apply whether you’ve already started writing your intro or not.

1. Read Section 2.2 of A guide to writing articles in energy science.

2. For each paragraph, put a note out to the side (or make a note, if you haven’t written the text yet) that conveys what you want to say with that paragraph. This is somewhere in between a high-level outline and a huge block of text (e.g. “Describe development of QESRadiant and explain the features relevant to this work.”)

3. Does the order make sense? Think of these items as how you will begin telling the story of the research that your paper presents. Rearrange as needed.

4. Write some text for each paragraph. This can be a very rough draft.

5. Do the paragraphs and sentences within them transition well from one to another? Be careful not to go for too long just listing papers without connecting the dots (e.g. “Bianchi [1] did X and found Y. Fallahi [2] did X with Z and using method W found…”).

6. Does the first paragraph convey the overarching theme, motivation, or importance of this work? Will the reader be drawn in by it?

7. Does the last paragraph set the stage for the next section? Will the reader be ready for your explanation of the theory or methodology that comes next?

8. Does the introduction as a whole tell the reader what they need to know as they read on to learn about your approach, findings, and conclusions?

9. Edit. Add, subtract, rearrange. Join paragraphs and trim where you can.

10. Edit some more. Check your grammar and spelling.

11. Have your advisor or other collaborators read it. Have someone else read it who is at or above your level of experience, and in your field (though not in your exact subfield), such as a labmate or classmate. Ask them: Does this make sense? What would you change to make it better?

12. Keep editing. Go back and review when your other sections are complete.

Iterate through the steps as needed. As you write more papers you will come up with your own process for doing this that works best for you. When in doubt, keep putting things on paper, and ask for help.