The purpose of an introduction in a psychology paper is to justify the reasons for writing about your topic. Your goal in this section is to introduce the topic to the reader, provide an overview of previous research on the topic and identify your own hypothesis. Before you even begin:
Stary by Researching Your Topic
Search a journal database, such as PsychInfo or ERIC, to find articles on your subject.
Once you have located an article, look at the reference section to locate other studies cited in the article. As you take notes from these articles, be sure to write down where you found the information. A simple note detailing the author's name, journal, and date of publication can help you keep track of sources and avoid plagiarism.
Create a Detailed Outline
This is often one of the most boring and onerous steps, so students have a tendency to skip outlining and go straight to writing. Creating an outline of might seem tedious, but it can be an enormous time-saver down the road and will make the writing process much easier. Start by looking over the notes you made during the research process and consider how you want to present all of your ideas and research.
Once you are ready to write your introduction:
Introduce the Topic
Your first task is to provide a brief description of the research question.
What is the experiment or study attempting to demonstrate? What phenomena are you studying? Provide a brief history of your topic and explain how it relates to your current research.
As you are introducing your topic, consider what makes it important? Why should it matter to your reader? The goal of your introduction is not only to let your reader know what your paper is about, but also to justify why it is important for them to learn more about.
If your paper tackles a controversial subject and is focused on resolving the issue, it is important to summarize both sides of the controversy in a fair and impartial way. Consider how your own paper fits in with the relevant research on the topic.
Summarize Previous Research
The second task of your introduction is to provide a well-rounded summary of previous research that is relevant to your topic. So, before you begin to write this summary, it is important to thoroughly research your topic. Finding appropriate sources amid thousands of journal articles can be a daunting task, but there are a number of steps you can take to simplify your research. If you have completed the initial steps of researching and keeping detailed notes, writing your introduction will come much easier.
It is important to give the reader a good overview of the historical context of the issue you are writing about, but do not feel like you have to give an exhaustive review of the subject. Focus on hitting the main points and try to include the most relevant studies. You might describe the findings of previous research and then explain how the current study differs or expands upon earlier research.
Provide Your Hypothesis
Once you have summarized the previous research, explain areas where the research is lacking or potentially flawed.
What is missing from previous studies on your topic? What research questions have yet to be answered? Your own hypothesis should lead from these questions. At the end of your introduction, offer your hypothesis and describe what you expected to find in your experiment or study.
- Use 3x5" note cards to write down notes and sources.
- Look in professional psychology journals for examples of introductions.
- Remember to cite your sources.
- Maintain a working bibliography with all of the sources you might use in your final paper. This will make it much easier to prepare your reference section later on.
- Use a copy of the APA style manual to ensure that your introduction and references are in proper APA format.
Writing the Introduction to a Research Report
The introduction to a research report accomplishes two goals:
• informs the reader by providing information from the research literature necessary to
understanding the project;
• persuades the reader that the research question is valid by providing the gap in the literature.
How are these goals accomplished? The writer provides a brief review of the literature in the correct order (given below!). The content of the introduction informs; the organization of the introduction persuades.
5 steps to Writing the Introduction
1) Establish Topic -- quick, concise (what is being studied)
2) Provide significance -- research, practical, clinical (why it is generally important)
3) Review the relevant literature -- what the expert literature reveals (what we know already)
4) Point out the gap -- what's missing in the research literature (what we don't know -- motivation for study)
5) Reveal the research question (and sometimes, hypotheses) -- the specifics of this research
You might have noticed while reading in the research literature that research reports tend to start immediately – there’s very little “warm up” material involved. However, we are so used to writing this way that it may not be possible to just start at the beginning. If this is the case, go back and cross out the first couple of lines.
Example of student opening line -- note the courageous writer who manages to simply eliminate the first few sentences!
The second step to the introduction is to offer the first bit of persuasion to the reader: show the importance of the topic by offering something of practical or research significance. However, it is very important for the writer to understand that “significance” does not mean an opinion about why the topic is important. Rather, the significance comes from the research literature, too. Read the examples below, then we’ll craft one from the literature on young children and computers.
Calvert, Strong, and Gallagher. Control as an engagement feature…AMERICAN BEHAVIORAL SCIENTIST, Vol. 48 No. 5, January 2005 578-589
New interactive media are now integrated into the fabric of children’s daily lives (Rideout,Vandewater,&Wartella, 2003). Online programs for very young children are routinely accessible, and promises of enhanced learning from this potential new form of education abound. For young children, this means early computer experiences that focus on preacademic skills, such as prereading activities, can be targeted.
Analysis: The first sentence is the topic sentence. The next two point out a practical (real world) significance: first, interactive media are available; second, there may be educational benefits. The reader is now a bit more convinced that research about very small children and computer programs makes sense.
Plowman and Stephen. Children, Play and Computers, British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 36 No 2 2005,145–157
Pre-school education is a particularly interesting area for investigating the use of computers. Pre-school environments offer opportunities to observe the relationship between formal and informal learning, the balance between learner-centred and adult-directed activities, and the use of computers by children who are unable to follow text-based instructions.
Analysis: The topic of the report is laid out in the first sentence. The following sentence provides research significance – in other words, explains why the topic is useful as an environment for scholarly study.
Attitudes Toward Medical and Mental Health Care Delivered Via Telehealth Applications Among Rural and Urban Primary Care Patients
Appropriate health care services are often not available in many rural and remote areas, and this problem is expected to intensify in the near future, exacerbating existing rural health disparities that need to be addressed (Institute of Medicine, 2004). “Telehealth” interventions represent a strategy for potentially addressing such access to care problems. Although telehealth services do not directly address overall shortages of clinicians, they can improve access to health services in rural areas by providing a way for clinicians located in urban areas to deliver care to rural patients in relatively distant locations. Therefore, telehealth applications are becoming widely used to provide much needed medical and mental healthcare services to people in rural areas (Heinzelmann et al., 2005; Jennett et al., 2003).
Analysis: The topic in this case actually occurs in the second sentence as the "reply" to the significance laid out in sentence one. The rest of the paragraph lays out a bit of background on the current state of affairs.
Review the Relevant Literature
Following the first paragraph which introduces the topic and provides significance, the writer must now review the literature for the reader. The literature review (hereafter, “lit review,” the short phrase used by research writers everywhere) accomplishes many objectives at once. First, the lit review informs the reader of the most important research needed to understand the research question. Second, the lit review gives credibility to the writer as someone who knows what they are talking about. Third, the lit review is organized so that the research question is validated; in other words, the review leads the reader to a “gap” or “conflict” in the literature.
This is not as complicated as it sounds. You’ve got the annotated bibliography to help organize the literature you’ve read. You’ve got the research question. The task is to join the two pieces. You'll note as a reader that the lit review is where you see the most citations; you should also be able to see how well synthesized material is! In some longer reports where the research is investigating complex interactions you may see that the lit review is organized using subheadings. Just as often it is not -- instead, the lit review is organized so that each major idea is presented in its own paragraph/s. The conventions governing science still apply: thou shalt make it as easy as possible for the reader to locate information. For this reason, do not "weave" different ideas together in the same paragraph. For complex topics, present each part separately, then write a paragraph that combines the ideas (honestly, this should make it easier to write -- concepts maps are very useful for planning this section of the paper).
Attitudes Toward Medical and Mental Health Care Delivered Via Telehealth Applications Among Rural and Urban Primary Care Patients
Recent reviews of empirical data indicate that psychiatric interviews conducted via telehealth or telepsychiatry are reliable, and that patients and clinicians who use this medium for clinical services generally report high levels of satisfaction (Frueh et al.,2000; Hilty et al., 2004; Monnier et al., 2003; Morland et al.,2003). Although this early research suggests that clinical needs might be met via telepsychiatry among mental health patients, little is known about the acceptance of such applications among broad populations. In other words, although those who actually receive telepsychiatry services are satisfied, we do not know how such services are perceived among people who are not seeking mental health treatment but who might have cause to use such services in the future. Because telepsychiatry programs are rapidly appearing all over the world, health services research that addresses the acceptance of this mode of service delivery is needed to guide development efforts for health care systems (Frueh et al., 2000; Frueh et al., 2007; Hilty et al., 2004; Monnier et al., 2003; Morland et al., 2003; Ruskin et al., 2004).
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) serves as a good test case for telepsychiatry, as this disorder is prevalent in the general population at 6% to 14% (Kaplan et al., 1994), and because (compared with other psychiatric disorders) it is associated with nearly the highest rate of medical service use (e.g., Greenberg et al., 1999; Kessler et al., 1999). Additionally, individuals with PTSD may avoid treatment since avoidance and social isolation are core features of the disorder. Thus, the impact of additional barriers to care is of particular relevance to this clinical population. To date, there is preliminary evidence to support the use of telepsychiatry for PTSD specialty care among combat veterans, including strong levels of patient satisfaction and comparable clinical outcomes with traditional face-to-face care (Frueh et al., 2007).
In a cross-sectional survey we sought to examine attitudes towards medical and mental health care delivered via telehealth applications in a sample of adult rural and urban primary care patients. We also sought to examine attitudes among a sub-sample of patients with PTSD, a group likely to need help accessing a range of relevant clinical services.
Point out the Gap
The “gap” in the literature is a conflict or missing piece of information which your research question will answer. If the research has already been done, then why waste your time and the reader’s time with all this work? The gap also explicitly identifies the contribution a piece of research makes. It’s as though the writer is saying “See, Scientific Community, this is what we know but this is what we do not know.” The reader needs to be shown that this gap exists in order to believe that the research makes a contribution. Providing the gap is part of the writer’s job.
ExampleAttitudes Toward Medical and Mental Health Care Delivered Via Telehealth Applications Among Rural and Urban Primary Care Patients
There are no extant data on how representative patient populations, such as primary care users, view telehealth interventions. Satisfaction with care has only been documented among relatively narrow populations that have already received mental health care via telehealth.
Reveal the Research Question
The final part of the Introduction is the Research Question – this is the part that everything else has been leading to. This is where the writer presents the question that will answer the gap as revealed by the literature to be a missing piece of the topic’s research puzzle! The RQ may be expressed as either an actual question or a declarative sentence. Some journals seem to prefer that research writer’s express the RQ as a question; some prefer the RQ is expressed as statement. Following the research question may be a hint of method, hypotheses, or nothing at all.
Example Attitudes Toward Medical and Mental Health Care Delivered Via Telehealth Applications Among Rural and Urban Primary Care Patients
What remains unexplored is the acceptability of such services to a broad group of people who have not yet tried it but who may face real decisions about how to best access care in the future. These data should yield useful information regarding patients’ beliefs toward telehealth applications and ways in which to address concerns patients may have with this mode of service delivery.