How (and When) to Write the Background Section of a Manuscript

The related posts: How to Review a Manuscript, How to Write a Manuscript, How (and When) to Write the Background Section of a Manuscript.

The background of a paper may have different names depending on your field. It might be called the introduction, or the literature review, or the theoretical framework. Certainly, you should be familiar enough with existing research BEFORE you start a study to know that your work aligns with accepted studies and offers something new. However, WRITING the background should be your LAST step in writing a paper.

  1. As always, look at example papers from the journal you are targeting.
    • How many paragraphs are typical for backgrounds in this journal?
    • What is the purpose of each paragraph?
    • How many sentences are each paragraph?
    • Do backgrounds have subsections?
    • What is the purpose of each subsection? How long? ETC.
  2. Write the literature review backwards. Many people recommend the hourglass method for writing articles. I recommend it for the literature review and discussion. The hourglass starts broad, becomes narrow, and then broadens again. For the literature review, you are writing a broad and narrow piece. For the discussion you are writing narrow and then getting broad.
    • Write the narrowest part of the introduction first. What is your research question? This is the last paragraph of your background (or a separate section depending on the journal)
    • Who in your community cares about this specific research question and your specific findings? Focus in on work that speaks to your specific findings. Someone WITHIN your community has done something similar. Discuss that similar work. This is towards the end of your background.
      • For example, imagine you studied the role that the availability of LEGOS plays in shaping girls’ notions of gender roles. Someone in your community (the TOY-GENDER community) has likely studied LEGOS, or other types of toys, and their impact on gender role notions among girls and boys.
    • What other communities might care about this specific research question and findings? Focus in on work that speaks to your question and findings. Someone OUTSIDE OF your community has done something similar. Discuss that similar work. This is in the middle of your background.
      • Someone outside of your community (in the CAR-GENDER community or the TOY-ETHNICITY community) has likely studied different types of objects (e.g., cars) and their impact on gender role notions among girls and boys; or, the impact of toys on societal role notions among different ethnic groups.
    • In your discussion points, you should have thought beyond your specific question and findings to discuss the broader implications of your work. Other communities studying other concepts related to your work will be interested in the implications of your work. This is near the beginning of your background.
      • People who study TOYS or GENDER (but not necessarily both) or WORKFORCE or PLAY or IDENTITY-BASED PERCEPTIONS (but not necessarily of gender) would be interested in your TOY-GENDER findings in a broad sense. Describe this prior work.
    • The very first paragraph of your paper should set up why your work is so vital. This should be written like this: FACT, FACT, FACT, PROBLEM, HEY – I CAN SOLVE THAT PROBLEM! Like this (I am totally making this up, but in real life there would be references. And don’t judge me – again, I made this up as an example of a first paragragph): Many careers are outside of the reach of young girls, not because of ability, but because of societal expectations. Often, these expectations are transmitted when we are quite young, in the objects we encounter. For example, the toys we play with can instill a sense of how we – as gendered individuals – are expected to engage with the world as we age and begin to work. In the western world, toys are often labeled by the gender group we expect to use them, up to and including use of specific colors (pink, purple) for toys deemed appropriate for girls. This labeling can encourage unconscious bias among parents and children alike, and can shape how young girls view themselves as workers. Reshaping how children play, and what they play with, can have far reaching implications for women in the workforce.
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