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|
|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|
|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||
|Passive||use is low||
|Citation||use is high||
|Hedging||use is mid||
|Commentary||use is high||Nearly every statement is commentary. The only “facts” might include:
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.
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.