Month: May 2022

How to write an introduction

After having discussed the overall Structure of Papers, it is now time to look into the different parts of the paper structure, and see if there are more patterns we need to be aware of (spoiler: there are).

We said about the purpose of a paper:

The main purpose of a paper is to convey a new idea, and show that it has merit.

Then, we can say about the role of the introduction:

The main purpose of the introduction is to identify a problem worth solving, and to show that you are indeed able to do so.

The shape of the introduction is much more formalized than any other part of a paper, which helps and guides us writing one. In particular, we find

  1. State the "BIG Problem" your paper addresses (even if only ever very indirectly). Start out with some BIG Problem (TM), that everyone can relate to. Climate change? Great. COVID? You got it. Gun violence, polarization of the society, etc. 1-2 sentences.

  2. Your topic, hyperspecific. Guide the reader from the BIG Problem statement to your particular hyperspecific research question. You want to solve COVID? Did you know that this one particular protein is superimportant? You want to solve global warming? Did you know that the molecular interaction of carbon dioxide at the critical point is super relevant? 1-2 sentences.

  3. Literature review. This is a tricky one: you have to give the reader an overview, but also demonstrate that you talk the talk and walk the walk and know the lingo of your domain. The meat of the introduction. Describe what is known, what others (and maybe yourself!) have done, what the current state of knowledge with regards to your hyperspecific topic is. 1-3 pages.

  4. What isn't there? The Knowledge Gap! Clearly identify one aspect that no one has addressed yet, something that isn't known yet, some open question. 1 paragraph.

  5. How are you going to fill that gap? Your Research Goal. State it very clearly, "The goal of this paper is to xxx". 1 paragraph.

Some like to give an outline of the paper in that last paragraph, me personally, I think it's a waste of space. Why? It's always the same. Always: The Structure of Papers.

Happy writing!


The structure of academic articles

They're all the same! And it's a feature, not a bug!

Ask yourself: what is the purpose of an article, or, as I'll call it from here on, a paper? Sure, it could be vanity, or someone's boss asked them to write something. But surely

The main purpose of a paper is to convey a new idea, and show that it has merit.

That's it! And everything else should serve that purpose. It turns out that over the last few hundreds of years, Science has converged to a standard format to convey ideas and show their merit. Enter, the standard structure of a paper!

  1. Title. This is marketing. Make something snappy that is interesting, but also explains what this is about. 2 to 8 words.

  2. Abstract. (Executive summary) There are different views on this, but for me it's an executive summary, not only a teaser. Put the why, how, what, and results in here. 200-400 words.

  3. Introduction. (Why are you doing this?) Explain why you wrote the paper. What is the problem you are solving? What is the big picture? Which other ideas were there, and what specific question did they not answer? How are you going to solve this? 1-3 pages.

  4. Methods. (How did you do it?) Which tools and theories do you use in this paper? How do you know they work? A few paragraphs to a few pages, depends on what you're doing!.

  5. Results. (What did you find?) What does your analysis show? Neutral, objective discussion of the findings. This is the core of the paper, see how much space you need (and the journal gives you) to document everything.

  6. [Discussion] (What does it mean?) Not always there, but this is the spot to interpret your results rather than just report them. Maybe 1-2 pages, if necessary.

  7. Conclusions (What did you learn?) Did something surprise you? If there are 3 points you would like the reader to realize, what are they? 3-5 short paragraphs or bullet points, ordered in decreasing importance.

Of course there are intricacies to each of these points in turn, but this is a good starter to get you oriented!


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Welcome to the tfx lab blog!

This will be a collection of articles about some of the practical sides of research, hopefully useful for students! tfx is Thermo Fluids under eXtreme conditions, so we will be biased towards mechanical / aerospace / chemical engineering, but maybe some content can be helpful for others as well.

Topics like 'how do I structure a paper?' or 'how do I make meaningful (and pretty) figures?' are the initial idea, but let's see where this takes us.

Clearly, many of these things have a personal subjective bias, some of these topics have different standards and traditions based on the university/group/PI. Here, I write about what I like, and what worked for me, hoping that it is helpful for others, too. But by all means, if you insist on concluding your talk with a "Thank you" slide, rather than your conclusions, then go right ahead!

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