Writing Lab Reports: Introduction
Keys to the Introduction
Purpose: Why did you conduct this study?
Relative size: 15-20% of total
Scope: Broad to narrow: the top of the hourglass
Verb Tense: Use present tense to indicate established knowledge (e.g., frogs are amphibians). Use past tense to refer to specific studies (e.g., Smith (2013) found that) and to to refer to what you did (e.g., We hypothesized that).
The introduction contextualizes the experiment.
In the introduction, you will define the scope of your study, introduce key concepts and terms, present the current state of knowledge, identify gaps or inconsistencies that lead to your study, summarize what you did, and state your hypotheses and predictions.
The introduction must therefore address the following essential questions:
- What have previous studies found?
- Why is your research important?
- What is the purpose of your research?
- What did you expect to find and why?
Remember that the introduction forms the top of the hourglass – begin with the over-arching concepts and gradually narrow to your specific study. You must write in proper sentence and paragraph style, with each paragraph transitioning logically to the next. The following table provides a summary of key points included in a strong introduction.
Scope: Define the scope of your study, making sure that it is neither too broad nor too focused. Refer to the introduction in your lab manual and review published papers on your topic for ideas on the range of scope.
Definitions: Define key terms you have used in your paper – you must define words before you refer to them as definitions may vary among studies.
Background Research: Provide a brief overview of the current state of knowledge in your subject area. This is not an exhaustive literature review, but you should introduce the most relevant studies for your research. This should logically lead the reader to the importance of your research.
Importance of your research: Explain why your study is important – are you filling a gap in the existing research? Clarifying conflicting results? Embarking on a new area of research? State how your study will contribute to the existing research.
Purpose of your research: What did you expect to find and why? State your hypothesis, prediction, and rationale. Cite appropriate research that provided your rationale and informed your hypothesis and prediction.
How you met your purpose: Briefly state how you tested your hypothesis, but do not go into the specific details of your methods or results sections. Take no more than a sentence or two.
A good introduction should:
- Provide a brief background of the study topic
- Provide any necessary definitions, along with common and scientific species names
- Explain how your study fits into existing research
- Provide rationale for your hypotheses and predictions
A good introduction should NOT:
- Be an exhaustive literature review – include only enough information to inform the reader on your study topic and logically present your hypothesis
- Provide extraneous information that does not specifically relate to your project
- Include detailed information on what you did
- Include results or discussion