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The best way to write the Study Background

Research articles follow the IMRaD structure, ordered from the Introduction to the Discussion. However, the sequence that is typically followed when writing a paper is MethodsResultsDiscussionIntroduction, i.e., the Introduction is the last section to be written. 

You may be wondering: Where does the background fit in this scheme? The study background is embedded within the Introduction, forming the first part of this main section of your paper. It explains the importance of the study, provides a brief overview of the pertinent research thus far and posits how your research will address existing gaps

Significance of the background

The background tells the reader why a study was taken up. It also contextualises your study and the original knowledge you are contributing within the field. A well-framed background is an indicator of your understanding of the research topic and the particular study. It should be crisp, with no extraneous information. 

Also, the strength and quality of the opening remarks of a research article can influence editorial decision outcomes. A compelling background will encourage the journal editor and peer reviewers to pay close attention to your paper. 

Writing an impactful study background

First, write the background after you have put together all the other sections of the manuscript. That way, you will have all the necessary information at hand, and it will be easier to frame a comprehensive prelude to your paper.

Start by examining the relevant literature, ensuring that the literature coverage is sufficiently wide and up to date. Jot down the relevance of the topic, the gaps in the field and potential contribution of your work to the current knowledge base. Where applicable, include policy implications and potential applications. 

Once you have noted all the main points, string them together in a logical manner, maintaining chronological or sequential order and smooth flow. Use transitional words and phrases to make good sentence connections. Ensure consistency in your use of terminology and abbreviations and in your overall style.

Things to avoid when writing the background

  • The background should not end up being a detailed review of the literature. (You would offer a more detailed discussion in the literature review section of the paper instead.)
  • It should not be disorganised, with unrelated concepts thrust together haphazardly.
  • Do not exaggerate the importance in any way or make claims that have not been met in the study.
  • At the same time, do not leave out any vital information.


Let’s assume your paper is about a novel software application for identifying plant species accurately. You could begin the Introduction by informing the reader of the broad topic. For example...

The identification of plants down to species level is important for foresters, environmentalists and farmers.

However, avoid making statements that are too general, such as...

Plants are vital for life.

Next, provide background information briefly covering the history of species-identification tools (traditional and digital) and their pros and cons. What solutions have been attempted in the past and how did they fall short? Build up to the need for the novel features that your nifty new application might offer.

The Introduction should then wrap up with a clear statement and outline of the specific aims of the study, such as...

...to develop a plant-identification application with a higher accuracy than that of available tools.

Final tip

Have a colleague go over the entire manuscript with a focus on the background. A fresh pair of eyes might spot discrepancies that you missed!


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