May 26, 2015

The Introduction section of research articles should evolve with a maturing field.

In the early going, every new lab that jumps into an emerging sub-sub-field of investigation tends to review the same arguments from a limited set of evidence. As time elapses, review articles are written and the body of prior work pretty much covers the bases.

So Intros should become shorter and simply reference that prior material.

Particularly when the current work is as much motivated by ongoing findings as it is by the original problem or question which motivated the original sub-sub-field. 

This can be a problem for latecomers who want to showcase all of the beautiful justification and background that they have been writing up. This is especially problematic for graduate students who have been writing at dissertation length and are loathe to kill-their-babies (as the real writers say).

It is generally problematic for trainees because they have so few of their sentences, paragraphs and pages published at this point of their career.

As a reviewer I try as best I can to be tolerant to these issues. You can generally tell when a long Intro section comes from dissertation writing so I try to be kind. 

Likewise, even though I lean for a substantial Intro myself, if someone wrote sparely with clear reference to the motivating literature, well I try to resist demanding comprehensive background. 

I had a recent review of one of our manuscripts which demanded repetition of what is now a substantial body of Introductory material across many, many papers. The two semi-district tracks of prior research we are bringing together each have enough papers and reviews to make all the points clear. I had thought that in fact we were risking someone telling us to cut a paragraph off of our Introdiction, frankly. 

That’s the great thing about peer review, I suppose.

You get all kinds.