Introductions and Backgrounds


The information on this page is a general conversation. If you have other specific instructions from your professors, your managers, or colleagues, we would advise that you follow those instructions, using this collection of information to inform your work. It is worth noting that in some fields, the Introduction and the Background are combined.

Elements of the Introduction

Overall, if somebody is reading your work, they will read the Executive Summary and/or the Introduction first. For many readers, this is all that they will read. It is imperative, then, for the Introduction to do important work efficiently, elegantly, and ethically.

The first order of business for the Introduction is to convince the reader of the problem’s existence, the importance of addressing it, and the originality or value of your proposed research/investigation/solution. In broad strokes, your Introduction can also frame the state of the field, what need there is for your specific work, and how your work will contribute to the body of knowledge about the problem at hand.

In the Introduction, a direct statement of the problem is needed.  Outline it quite clearly: What is the problem? When was it identified? Why does it need to be solved?

Different writing contexts (such as term papers, at-work documents, policy statements, lab reports, etc.), have differing traditions for the length of the Introduction. The Introduction can range from one paragraph to several pages. To hit the right tone and length for your work, investigate how other earlier successful pieces in your field accomplish the Introduction. Recognize, too, if Introductions in your field traditionally include references or citations to outside work, and cite them properly if so.

As you are framing a problem (whether alone or in a team), it is common for writers to use personal pronouns in the Introduction, sparingly. Inserting words and phrases such as I, my, our, we, our team make it transparent that the approach is uniquely yours, framed from a specific context and need, and delivered with an end-goal in mind. Do not overuse personal pronouns, however, as your work will sound juvenile.


Elements of the Background

While the Introduction does the quick work, the Background allows the writer to delve into the issues in some depth. This is where research from outside sources can very much strengthen your stance.

In some fields, especially academic ones, the Background will host something called the Literature Review.  Follow this link for more, specifically, on Lit Reviews.

In the Background, it is your job to collect, vet, and synthesize the previous research (the “literature”) concerning the problem outlined in the Introduction. Your job, as the writer, is to produce evidence that shows patterns, themes, and approaches taken by previous work and situate your own research/investigation within those already-existing pieces by experts.

The organizational structure of the Background can vary widely, but common approaches include chronological, thematic, field of concern, or known-to-new patterns.