The genre of research articles: Introduction sections

Photo Credit: Ben K Adams via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Ben K Adams via Compfight cc

Today’s post begins a series on the different sections that make up a research article (RA). I’m tackling the Introduction section first. The Introduction provides a “frame” for the research. It sets the boundaries for interpretation. (See this post for a discussion of the overall structure of the RA.) Based on my 25 or so years of experience writing and teaching others to write RAs, I find Introduction sections the most challenging.

Rhetorical Moves (Structure + Content) in Introduction Sections

John Swale’s Create-A-Research-Space (CARS) model is a widely used description of the arguments writers make in RA Introductions. (My mentor at LSU taught me to analyze rhetorical structure in a parallel way while I was in grad school.) Basically, a document people recognize as an RA includes three rhetorical moves in its introductory section: (a) establishing a territory, (b) establishing a niche, and (c) occupying the niche. The CARS model breaks down each of those rhetorical moves into more detailed descriptions as shown in the table.

Move 1 Establishing a territory Step 1 Claiming centrality or
  • In research
  • In the world
Step 2 Making generalizations or
Step 3 Presenting background information
Move 2 Establishing a niche Step 1A Counter-claiming or
Step 1B Indicating a gap or
  • In research
  • In the world
Step 1C Question-raising or
Step 1D Continuing a tradition
Step 2 Presenting positive justification
Move 3 Occupying the niche Step 1A Outlining purposes (why?) or
Step 1B Announcing present research (what?)
Step 2A Announcing principal findings or
Step 2B Predicting results
Step 3 Indicating RA structure
Step 4 Evaluating findings

Analysis of Rhetorical Moves in a Sample Introduction

Let’s look at the introduction to the sample RA shared in my earlier post. Examples are the best way to grasp the value of rhetorical move structure.

The Introduction of the sample RA includes all three moves, although not all possible steps. (One of the strengths of the CARS model is its ability to describe multiple avenues for creating a frame for the writer’s research.) Move 2, establishing a niche, takes up a little less space than the other moves. The classification of the final move is ambiguous. It seems to do two things at once: establish a niche and occupy it.

Analysis of Style in a Sample Introduction

Because the rhetorical purpose of Introductions differs from other sections of the RA, the way textual elements are used also differs. I introduced this aspect of the CARS model in my earlier post, but I’ve included examples from the Sample RA in the table below to clarify how it applies.

Textual Element Usage in Introductions Examples from Sample RA
Tense  present is high & past is mid
  1. . . . managers must sometimes act . . .
  2. These tasks . . . are necessary . . .
  3. . . . prior work clearly documents . . . 
Passive use is low
  1. . . . managers’ lack of success . . . is well documented
  2. . . . the selection of a referent standard is determined by the employee . . .
Citation use is high
  1. Molinsky and Margolis (2005) called these acts “necessary evils” . . .
  2. Incivility is still a common perception in the workplace (Andersson & Pearson, 1999)
  3. According to Folger and Cropanzano’s (2001) fairness theory . . . 
Hedging use is mid
  1. . . . organizational justice theory has primarily studied . . .
  2. In many cases, subordinates’ subjective response . . .  is anger
  3. We seek to contribute . . . 
Commentary use is high Nearly every statement is commentary. The only “facts” might include:

  1. Molinsky and Margolis (2005) called these acts “necessary evils” . . .
  2. . . . we provide an overview . . . We then explore . . .

I had difficulty applying the concept of “commentary.” Seems obvious that almost every statement in an Introduction is commentary. Surely commentary is the opposite of “fact” . . . I need to look back at Swales’ work to see if I’m missing something.

I’m headed to Baton Rouge tomorrow to visit my alma mater. And one of the things I’ll be talking about is RA Introductions. I’m leading a workshop on the topic for doctoral students in LSU’s Information Systems program.

Research Sources

Samraj (2002).  Introductions in research articles: Variations across disciplines. English for Specific Purposes, 21, pp. 1-17.
Swales & Feak (1994). Academic Writing for Graduate Students. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

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