Chapter 3: Writing the Introduction Section

Introduction Goal 1: Establishing a Knowledge Territory

The first goal of writing an Introduction is Establishing a Knowledge Territory, which means that you explain to your reader the big picture of where your study fits in the literature. To accomplish this goal, you must demonstrate knowledge of the topic and its relevance to the field. In other words, you are establishing how your expertise fits into an existing body of work.

Overall, Goal 1 (Establishing a Knowledge Territory) presents information, generally known background, and previous research on the topic of your research. It is the broadest part of an Introduction, so as you are writing, be sure to keep the information general.

Here are some excerpts from research articles with the key language in bold, because it is the best clue for linking words or phrases to a communicative goal:


  • Wood pellet production is a well-established and rapidly expanding industry worldwide, including in the United States and Canada where the annual production is nearing 4 million metric tons. In the province of British Columbia, the industry has grown from 50,000 tons in 1996 to an expected 1,500,000 tons in 2010.[1]
  • Legionellae are widespread in both natural and man-made aquatic habitats. Among the 51 species described so far, Legionella pneumophila is the most causative agent of legionellosis, but it is often difficult to isolate from environmental samples because of the presence of heterotrophic-associated bacteria that frequently overgrow on culture plates.[2]
  • It is well known that having strong and supportive social relations is beneficial for several different outcomes (House et al., 1988; Call and Mortimer, 2001; Malecki and Demaray, 2003; Cohen, 2004). We also know that social background influences our living conditions and opportunities in several ways (Breen and Jonsson, 2005; Conger and Donnellan, 2007).[3]

The bolded phrases in the list above are language cues demonstrating how the writers accomplish the communicative goal of establishing the territory. There are many other ways to achieve the same goal, and you can find extensive lists of such phrases by visiting Manchester’s Academic Phrasebank website, which we will refer to repeatedly in this book.

Goal 1 prepares your reader to understand your research better by describing what is generally known and what has been previously researched. Imagine it as the foundation upon which you are going to build the house of your research. Unlike architectural foundations, however, the foundation of your research (as laid out in the Introduction) is on display for all to see. In fact, in this foundation, your aim as a writer is also to attract the reader, draw them into the research, and maintain their interest. 

Goal 1 Strategies

Goal 1, “Establishing a Knowledge Territory,” means that you demonstrate knowledge of the topic and its relevance in the field. There are three strategies that will help you to accomplish this:

Three concentric circles. The largest is establish a territory (overview), the middle is identify a niche (problems), and the smallest is address the niche (solution).

Strategies for Introduction Communicative Goal 1: Establishing a Knowledge Territory

  • Claim centrality of your topic
  • Provide relevant general background
  • Review informative previous research

We’ll now discuss each of these and provide some examples from published journal articles.

Introduction Goal 1 Strategy: Claiming Centrality

Claiming centrality is a strategy used to focus the reader’s attention on the reasons that your research belongs within the bigger picture of the topic. Centrality is also about stating the importance of your study and/or the amount of attention that other scholars have paid to the issue. You can implement this strategy by pointing out the broader scope of the interest and noting the other investigations that are related. This highlights the significance of your claims and shows the study has the potential for prominence within your discipline.
Here are two examples taken from published research articles in different disciplines. These excerpts demonstrate how to claim that there is a considerable amount of interest and importance in the topics, and the key language is in bold.


  • Meat tenderness is an important issue in beef cattle because it has a major impact on consumer satisfaction. However, beef meat quality is not routinely measured, so a classical selection based on records is not feasible.[4]
  • The emission from low-mass X-ray binaries in quiescence (qLMXBs) is routinely studied to provide useful constraints on the physical models of the interior of neutron stars (NSs). The low luminosity (1032-1033 erg s-1, 4-5 orders of magnitude lower than the outburst luminosities) of these objects was first observed in the post-outburst stages of the transient LMXBs Cen X-4 and Aql X-1 (van Paradijs et al. 1987), and initially interpreted as a thermal blackbody emission powered by some low-level mass accretion onto the NS surface (Verbunt et al. 1994).[5]
Claiming centrality generally occurs quite early in an Introduction because of its ability to establish the territory for the remainder of the Introduction. You will often see this strategy as the very first sentence of a paper; however, it is important to remember that strategies do not occur in a set order. That is, writers can use them wherever they seem most useful or relevant in a given Introduction.
Some common vocabulary that is associated with this strategy includes the following, as noted in the Academic PhraseBank website:
pivotal focal fundamental
instrumental vital critical
essential potent powerful
crucial widely-used extensive
growing primary requisite
Introduction Goal 1 Strategy: Providing General Background
A second strategy for Establishing the Knowledge Territory is providing general background. This strategy usually combines a variety of different types of information, which may be related to theory, practice, methodology, or any other shared area of knowledge within the discipline.  In other words, academics use this strategy as a tool to position the research within a framework. That could be a theoretical or conceptual framework or just an overview of the informational or conceptual frame of reference to support the reader’s understanding of the study.
Below you will read some examples of this strategy being used in published research from a discipline in the human sciences and a discipline in the natural sciences. Notice how the writers are making general statements about their topics, which may include presenting information, systems, or necessities for future research by using words adverbs, such as usually, typically, commonly, generally, or mostly, which serve to emphasize the general nature of the statements.


  • The promotion system is mainly concerned with the regulation of desired outcomes-people operating under a promotion focus are oriented toward opportunities and accomplishing aspired goals and generally engage in approach-related behaviors toward positive end states, such as acquiring or consuming desired objects.[6]
  • As an opportunistic pathogen, Candida albicans is an important cause of systemic fungal infection in hospitalized patients. Routine detection of C. albicans in blood is time consuming and typically involves the use of blood cultures, followed by isolation on solid agar media. Definitive identification of C. albicans via commercially available automated systems may require up to 48 h.[7]

Of course, it is not a requirement for there to be an adverb in a sentence whose purpose is to present General Background. It is merely one way to accomplish the goal of establishing territory. So, while each discipline has its own conventions and each author has his/her/their own personal writing style, there are many similarities and patterns in the language used. Nevertheless, these are only examples, and there is an almost infinite number of language possibilities one could choose to employ to provide the reader with a general background. Now let’s examine the final strategy for Goal 1. 

Introduction Goal 1 Strategy: Reviewing Previous Research

Reviewing previous research is the third strategy a writer can utilize for establishing territory in an Introduction. This strategy acknowledges the many contributions of other scholars by synthesizing and criticizing previous research. We often call this section the “literature review.”  This strategy additionally provides a demonstration of expertise about a topic, supporting the reader’s understanding and expanding your ethos as an author and academic, which then contributes to the credibility of your research.

Although this is probably the most well-known of the strategies within an Introduction, it is also one of the more varied in terms of the language resources we can exercise. Below are several examples from high-impact journals in two varied fields. Notice the variety of phrases the writers use to introduce previous literature.


  • Recent increases in the prevalence of asthma and other allergic diseases have prompted investigators to consider the role of the environment in the genesis of atopy (von Mutius, 2009; Horner, 2010). Modern public health practices have eliminated many of the microbial threats for humans.[8]
  • Recent studies (e.g., Bartell, 2005; Bickmore & Bickmore, 2010; Britton, Paine, Pimm, & Raizen, 2003; Glazerman et al., 2009; Main, 2008; New Teacher Center, 2002; Piggot-Irvine, Aitken, Ritchie, Ferguson, & McGrath, 2009; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004) affirm that comprehensive induction comprises an array of aligned and integrated components which include: carefully selected and trained mentors; a curriculum of intensive and structured support and professional development opportunities; regular meetings with mentors; opportunities to observe experienced teachers; formative assessment tools that permit evaluation of practice; and outreach to wider educational support. We know also, from research by Carver and Feiman-Nemser (2009), that policy documentation which “sets conditions for how induction support is practiced by mentors, and experience by novices” (p. 314) is important, and that support should be provided across at least the first 2 years in the workplace.[9]

Besides the varied language forms that can be used to execute this strategy, it is also important to note that different disciplines have many different formatting styles including, but not limited to, endnotes, footnotes, in-text citations, direct quotes, indirect quotes, parentheticals, etc. Another important point to make about the actual language that a writer might consider using is that reporting verbs (words that directly quote someone else’s idea[s]) are extremely common in this strategy. Reporting verbs are quite nuanced and can provide not only a quote but also the writer’s stance towards that quote (i.e., supportive, doubtful, neutral, etc.). A number of frequent reporting verbs[10][11] are listed in the textbox below:

describe demonstrate
explain claim
mention examine
argue claim
state suggest
show indicate
note propose
use show
find focus

Some other common language (noted in the box below) came from the Academic PhraseBank’s section on “Referring to previous work to establish what is already known”:

  • Studies of X show the importance of …
  • Several theories on the origin of X have been proposed.
  • Extensive research has shown that …
  • It has previously been observed that …
  • Several attempts have been made to …
  • Studies over the past two decades have provided important information on …
  • Data from several studies suggest that …
  • Previous research has found …
  • The existing body of research on X suggests that …
  • There is a growing body of literature that recognizes…
  • Recent evidence suggests that …
  • Surveys such as that conducted by X (1988) have shown that …
  • Factors found to be influencing X have been explored in several studies.
  • Recent work has established that …

Now that we’ve reviewed all the strategies for accomplishing Goal 1 of the Introduction section, let’s try an exercise.

Key Takeaways

Goal #1 of writing the Introduction section is related to Establishing a Territory. There are three strategies that you can use to accomplish this goal:

  • Claim centrality
  • Provide background
  • Review previous research


  1. Tumuluru, J., Sokhansanj, S., Lim, C., Bi, X., Lau, A., Melin, S., Oveisi, E., Sowlati, T. (2010). “Quality of wood pellets produced in British Columbia for export”, Applied Engineering in Agriculture 26(6).
  2. Allegra, S., Girardot, F., Grattard, F., Berthelot, P., Helbig, J., Pozzetto, B., Riffard, S. (2011). “Evaluation of an immunomagnetic separation assay in combination with cultivation to improve Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1 recovery from environmental samples”, Journal of Applied Microbiology 110(4):952-961.
  3. Good, G., Dell, D., Mintz, L. (1989). “Male role and gender role conflict: Relations to help-seeking in men.”, Journal of Counseling Psychology 36(3):295.
  4. llais, S., Journaux, L., Levéziel, H., Payet-Duprat, N., Raynaud, P., Hocquette, J., Lepetit, J., Rousset, S., Denoyelle, C., Bernard-Capel, C. (2011). “Effects of polymorphisms in the calpastatin and µ-calpain genes on meat tenderness in 3 French beef breeds”, Journal of Animal Science 89(1):1-11.
  5. Guillot, S., Rutledge, R., Brown, E. (2011). “Neutron Star Radius Measurement with the Quiescent Low-mass X-ray Binary U24 in NGC 6397”, The Astrophysical Journal 732(2):88.
  6. Baas, M., De Dreu, C., Nijstad, B. (2011). “When prevention promotes creativity: the role of mood, regulatory focus, and regulatory closure.”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 100(5):794.
  7. Bisha, B., Kim, H., Brehm‐Stecher, B. (2011). “Improved DNA‐FISH for cytometric detection of Candida spp”, Journal of Applied Microbiology 110(4):881-892.
  8. Wingender, G., Rogers, P., Batzer, G., Lee, M., Bai, D., Pei, B., Khurana, A., Kronenberg, M., Horner, A. (2011). “Invariant NKT cells are required for airway inflammation induced by environmental antigens”, The Journal of Experimental Medicine 208(6):1151-1162.
  9. Anthony, G., Haigh, M., Kane, R. (2011). “The power of the ‘object’ to influence teacher induction outcomes”, Teaching and Teacher Education, 27.
  10. Bloch, J. (2010). A concordance-based study of the use of reporting verbs as rhetorical devices in academic papers. Journal of Writing Research, 2(2), 219–244.
  11. Liardét, C., & Black, S. (2019). “So and so” says, states and argues: A corpus-assisted engagement analysis of reporting verbs. Journal of Second Language Writing, 44, 37-50.


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Preparing to Publish by Sarah Huffman; Elena Cotos; and Kimberly Becker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.