The introduction fulfils a number of vital functions:
• It should put your study into its research context, discussing what other researchers in the area have discovered to date.
• It should also give the reasons (rationale) for why your particular study was carried out.
• Finally towards the end of the introduction you should be able to indicate what you expect to find based on what has gone before (often called ‘predictions’ or ‘hypotheses’).
It’s useful to think of the section as having a triangle shape; it will start off fairly broad with general points about the topic area and move towards issues specific to your particular study/experiment. It will be one of the longer sections in your report (along with the discussion). We’ll work through the different things you should expect to include.
The main feature of the introduction is the description and examination of previous research. You’ll need to do this for two main reasons. Primarily you need to establish what has gone before in order to explain what you are going to do; it will help justify your study. It’s a bit like saying: ‘OK, previous researchers have gotten to point A in explaining phenomena X, so the next natural step is to look at aspect B’. The second important function of discussing previous research is that it will help give some indication of what you might find in your research; it will help you make predictions. This is a bit like saying: ‘Because previous researchers have discovered ‘X’ about this topic, when we investigate this new aspect, we expect to also find ‘X’ OR we actually expect to find ‘Y’.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; before you can discuss the rationale behind your study and what the predictions are, first you must establish the current state of play in the topic area. You’re not expected to give an exhaustive review of all the available literature (there won’t be room in your word boundaries!). For that reason you’ll have to make decisions about which studies are most relevant and refer only to those that are particularly salient. You may also want to refer to classic research in the area. In some cases you may be able to group studies together if they’ve all come to the same conclusion, allowing you to add emphasis to how pervasive a particular finding is. 20 | P a g e