Writing the Introduction of Your Manuscript for the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice

by Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS, FACSM

The Scholarship of Public Health addresses topics relevant to scientific publishing, dissemination of evidence and best practices, and the education of current and future professionals. This column presents some considerations and best practices for writing the introduction of a manuscript for the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.

Writing the Introduction of a scientific articleThe introduction of a manuscript is often the least exciting and most maligned section of them all. I admit that it’s my least favorite to write, simply because so many of my articles address similar topics, and I often struggle to present the justification for each new study on a topic (such as obesity in youth) in a new and exciting way. However, one cannot know where the reader of your article is entering into the literature. If your article is one of the first someone reads on your specific topic, it can be exceptionally important that you give a strong justification for your study. As such, I encourage you to write each introduction as if you’re writing for someone with limited knowledge of your topic area. However, for the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice, it is important to remain concise. While other journals and disciplines employ considerably longer and more verbose introductions, manuscripts submitted to JPHMP should limit the introduction to a few hundred words in most circumstances, so choose your words carefully.

Ideally, introductions should be a string of clearly worded thesis statements that lead into each paragraph in a manner that walks the reader from the problem being addressed to the purpose for the paper. As such, introductions should begin with a presentation of the problem and end with a statement of the question to be answered or the knowledge to be generated. A good introduction is like a string of stepping stones that comprise a path for the reader to follow. For example, in a classic JPHMP article by Levy and colleagues, the introduction begins with a very clear problem statement: “Smoking is the single most preventable cause of premature mortality.” They follow with national and global morbidity and mortality data. They continue in the next paragraph by stating that “Substantial evidence indicates that tobacco control policies, especially when combined in a comprehensive program, can substantially reduce smoking rates.” This second paragraph does a nice job of providing a potential solution, leading to the purpose of their paper, which begins the third paragraph: “This article provides an evidence-based review of the various tobacco control policies that contribute to reduced smoking initiation and increased quitting behavior and success.“ In less that 300 words, the authors do an excellent job of presenting a justification for their paper in a straightforward manner that a novice to the world of tobacco control could easily understand. Levy and co-authors do a similarly nice job in an update of their tobacco control policy work that was recently published in the journal.

In summary, it’s important to lay a solid foundation for your manuscript in the introduction, so that the rationale for your work will be clear to even the novice reader. For JPHMP, the introduction should not be a thorough review of the literature but rather a logical presentation of the existing evidence in a manner that leads the reader to appreciate the reason you conducted your study or implemented your policy or program. In the end, you want to leave the reader with a good understanding of why your topic is important, the purpose of the paper, and desire to learn how you conducted the study. If nothing else, you should be compelling enough to encourage the reader to stick around for the results!

Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS, FACSM, is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice and an Associate Professor in the Department of Implementation Science of the Wake Forest School of Medicine at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, USA. Follow him at Twitter and Instagram. [Full Bio]

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