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  • Writer's pictureCatie Phares

The misunderstanding that shrinks your career and impact

If I could only share one piece of advice with business academics (heck, all academics) after editing their research for 14 years now, it’s this: make sure you understand the purpose and value of a paper’s introduction. Sadly, no one talks about this. Not many people are even aware of it. Instead, they’re operating under a grave misunderstanding that limits their impact and success.

Let me explain.

Publications are currency in academia, and any published manuscript is ultimately a description of some research you conducted, right?

Right and right.

So, the introduction to a manuscript is just going to be a clear, condensed version of that description, right?


And this is the heart of the problem. Your introduction is not just a preview or summary of your paper—it is also, above all, a sales document. 

Only instead of convincing someone to buy a product, you are convincing them to buy into your thinking and into the value of what you’re contributing to your field. And instead of persuading someone to part with money, you’re persuading them to part with something that might be equally precious to them right now: their time. The time it’s going to take them to consider your paper, figure out what you’re saying, and decide whether they want to engage with the idea further.

So when you inadvertently write your introductions for a fellow expert on the topic (say, the reviewer you expect to handle the paper) or even just copy and paste pieces from other sections and throw that up front and call it the introduction, you’re squandering your opportunity to submit to top journals. Worse, you’re throwing away those career-changing chances to get your ideas beyond journals out into the “real world,” where they’ll make an even bigger impact. 

In short, selling your ideas successfully means making a great first impression among everyone, not just your fellow scholars. 

Anecdotally, from reading business research for a living, I knew this misunderstanding about the purpose and value of the introduction was a problem, but a 2017 article by Hubbard and Dunbar helped me better understand why this might be happening. (Admittedly, this article comes from a journal on medicine rather than business. But it still offers some vital insights into academics’ perceptions of their literature generally.) In particular, take a look at Figure 2:

As you can see, the article found that people immersed in academia pretty consistently think the introduction is the easiest section of a paper to read and one of the least important. 

Why is this a problem?

Because it means that within academia, everyone writing introductions thinks that they’re easy to read and relatively unimportant. But outside academia, we all know it’s a different story. There’s an overwhelming consensus that academic writing is very difficult to read. And the introduction, by default of its position, influences every reader’s impression of the whole paper’s quality, which makes it pretty darn important!

This misalignment in perceptions is keeping millions of researchers stuck in the notorious loop of producing research that’s only ever seen by a handful of other researchers. I’ve seen it first-hand, time and time again. Even when their data and ideas are groundbreaking, without readable papers—and particularly introductions—scholars inevitably struggle to engage a wider audience (and yes, that “wider audience” includes the journal editors you’re trying to reach, who are rarely experts in the exact same topic that you’re investigating).

Now if you’re fine with that or you’ve never had a problem reaching readers and getting papers accepted—amazing, I’m thrilled to hear it! Please stop reading this blog and carry on with exactly what you’re doing. 

But if you’re still not getting the number of publications and having the impact that you hoped to in your academic career, then I would strongly encourage you to do one of two things this week:

  • Set aside a couple hours and take my Outstanding Introductions masterclass before it goes behind a paywall on April 30. This is an asynchronous class that you can do from anywhere, at any time, containing some of the most valuable information you can have in terms of knowing how to communicate your research effectively. It also comes with templates so you can whip up superb intros that much more quickly and easily. 

  • Reach out to me and my team for a comprehensive edit of your next important document. We call our signature service “The Works” because (a) it includes every type of improvement we can make, from correcting punctuation to refining the introduction, and (b) it works! We have countless testimonials from satisfied clients about how our edits helped them finally get the publications, promotions, and awards they deserved—like this one:

It’s wins like these that keep me loving my job and excited to help broaden the business literature with a wider variety of perspectives on pressing issues.

Wishing you great introductions and a wonderful rest of the month!

-Catie Phares


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