The Science Of Scientific Writing    Set G      The Introduction     The Pivot Point of the Paper   Challenges to Coherence   Exercise 1     Hand in Glove     Exercise 2      Final Page .

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OVERVIEW: The way to well-written science

How to do the Course


PART I: Paragraphs and Sentences

SET A: Paragraphs: The Maps Behind Them

SET B: Paragraphs: Using Maps to Meet Readers' Expectations

SET C: Paragraphs with Something Extra: Points and Tails

SET D: The Generic Section: Expectations and Maps as Blueprints

SET E: Scientific Sections: The Methods and Results

SET F: Scientific Sections: The Discussion

SET G : Scientific Sections: The Introduction

SET H : Sentences

SET I : The Paper as a Whole



PART II: The Paper and its Sections


SET 1: Argument Parts

SET 2: Indicator Words

SET 3: Refining Claims

SET 4: Locating Arguments in Prose

SET 5: Rationale's Essay Planner

SET 6: Evidence in Arguments: Basis Boxes

SET 7: Assessing

SET 8: More on Assessing

SET 9: Analysis Maps

SET 10: Assessing Again

Synthesis 1: Position-Early Paragraphs

Synthesis 2: Position-Final Paragraphs

Synthesis 3: Writing a Discussion I

Synthesis 4: Writing a Discussion II

Challenges to Coherence

It has already been pointed out that the Frame of Reference part of the Introduction is relatively long (compared to that of the Discussion in particular). Readers are quite happy for the rather delayed arrival of this section's point. They appreciate that the information they are being provided with will probably help them understand the point when it appears. But their patience is not infinite, and the Introduction should have a strong forward "momentum", and should not be burdened with reams of extraneous material. By "extraneous material" I mean the sort of coverage one would expect in a review. An extended review of the literature is the job of a review, not an Introduction! If you include too much background information, your Introduction will lack coherence, because its core function (argument) will be lost amongst all the descriptive material

Authors get trapped into review-style writing in Introductions because of two reasons. First, having researched the literature when writing the paper, they often find themselves in a pretty good position to write a useful review. Resist the temptation! It is not your job - yet : write a wonderfully succinct paper and you will increase your chances of being invited to write the real review. Second, there is an art to not including everything, but still making it clear to your readers that you are indeed aware of everything! Compare these two versions of the opening block of information for the first paragraph of the Asthma paper:

Adults and children are prone to a great variety of respiratory complaints throughout their life, including pneumonia, dyspnea, pulmonary oedema, pleurisy and asthma. Of these asthma is one of the most serious because of its prevalence and debilitating effects. Asthma has a wide range of suggested causative factors including exposure to air of poor quality, infection by Chlamydia, lung irritation due to gastro-oesophageal reflux and overly hygienic environments."

Asthma is one of the most serious respiratory diseases of children and adults. Its prevalence, debilitating effects and wide range of causative factors make it one of the most studied diseases of current clinical medicine.

The first version spells everything out in too much detail. The second suggests all the omitted information (by the phrases: "one of the most serious respiratory diseases" and "wide range of causative factors") without the reader being distracted from the main line of thought. This allusion strategy is most useful in the early part of the Introduction: because it is the most general, it offers the author many opportunities for being side-tracked.

The Psychology of Brevity in the Introduction

A useful analogy for thinking about how to manage the Introduction is with the techniques of door-to-door salespeople. It might seem strange to compare such apparently unconnected activities. But what scientists and salespeople have in common is that they both often need to get people interested in an item that is in direct competition with many other similar items (the products of other salespeople; the papers of other scientists working on similar topics). In door-to-door selling there are two phases: (1) Getting a foot in the door . (2) Demonstrating inside the home. In the first phase, everything is very abbreviated: the salesperson does not mention all twenty odd models, or the multiplicity of purchase plans. Rather the saleperson, having made a rapid assessment of what the customer is most likely to want, proceeds as if that is all they offer. By doing this they are less likely to experience the customer initiating the Door in the Face response! If they can get a foot in the door, and then proceed to an inside demonstration, the whole tenor of the sales pitch changes. It becomes more relaxed, and the salesperson can now expand on the full range of possibilities.

The same difference in approach can be thought of as existing between the Introduction and the Discussion. ..