How To Write CaRS Introductions

A flow chart of the CARS model for academic paper introductions from
The Workflow for the CARS model.

In today’s newsletter, we'll be discussing the CaRS framework created by John Swales. In issue 3 I already touched on this on the surface but never went in-depth, so here is the deep dive finally. I will outline the essential subsections of the introduction section, which are typically found in research papers. By the end of this newsletter, you will have a clear understanding of the CaRS framework and the necessary components to include in your research paper's introduction. I also have a cool ChatGPT prompt to generate titles based on your abstract for you.

Poor introductions damage research papers during peer review. These failing introductions are excessively broad, vague, and lack context and background. They may overlook the research difficulty or literature gap and focus too much on the author's work rather than the field. They may also use too much technical language or jargon and make unsupported statements. They can also be too long, repetitious, and unclear about the paper's topic or organization.

When writing a research paper, the introduction serves as a critical component that sets the tone for the entire paper. It's an opportunity to capture the reader's attention, convey the importance of the research, and provide an overview of the paper's purpose and key findings.

The CaRS Model, also known as Create a Research Space, is a framework that helps researchers structure their paper's introduction. The model comprises three primary moves:

  1. Establishing a territory
  2. Establishing a niche
  3. Occupying the niche

Let's learn more about each of these moves. The CARS model helps you focus on these three aspects of an introduction section:

  • Your research question is the foundation of your study. You must invest time creating an engaging and relevant research question. A precise research question can help you find the information you need. It will also help you establish your study scope and data needs. So, your study question should be focused, specific, and practical.
  • Communication requires context. Context aids comprehension. This can assist people in understanding and following your message. Before diving into details, provide background. This can help your audience grasp your message's importance. Use examples or analogies to demonstrate your thesis. Context should also take audience demands and knowledge into account. Speaking to a group of specialists in an area may require less context than speaking to a general audience. Providing context helps your audience understand your message.
  • Use persuasive language and strategies to persuade your audience. Credibility is gained through exhibiting your experience, qualifications, and subject matter understanding. Your message should also address your audience's wants and ideals (the research field you are aiming to publish in). Emotional arguments also persuade readers. You can motivate readers by appealing to their emotions. Vivid descriptions, anecdotes, and emotive language can do this. Finally, substantiate your claims with evidence. Statistics, expert opinions, and real-world examples can all be referenced through related work or self-collected data. You may strengthen your point by providing hard evidence. Persuasive writing should persuade readers to act or agree with you, not deceive them.

Step 1: Establishing a Territory

The first step is to define the area by giving background information about the larger field where the research is being done. Most of the time, this step has the following subsections:

  1. Background: I call this part the 'Lay of the land' - it always comes first. This section covers the research field's current situation. Give a brief bit of history if necessary. Exploring the field's current situation might also reveal current research trends, difficulties, and possibilities.
  2. General problem: The significance of your research cannot be overstated. It is crucial that the reader clearly understands the problem you are addressing and its importance in the field you are publishing in. Providing context or background information may help. Discussing previous research and identifying gaps that your research fills can also be useful. Expanding on these topics will help the reader comprehend the significance of your research and its potential impact on the field.
  3. Specific Problem: This subsection details the paper's specific research problem. The paper can analyze the topic better by focusing on one element. Clearly state the problem you are addressing. You want to make it clear that your paper adds to the literature and sheds light on your particular issue. This part establishes the paper's significance and relevance by clearly describing the study challenge and approach.

Step 2: Establishing a Niche

The second step is to find a place for your research by finding a gap in the literature that you want to fill. Most of the time, this step has the following subsections:

  1. Research gap: This subsection identifies the literature gap this research addresses. The effectiveness of the research project depends on identifying this gap, which not only clarifies the research issue but also justifies the investigation. A thorough literature study and analysis of major concepts, theories, and research findings in the field identified this gap. The review conclusively showed that the area of interest is understudied, strongly highlighting the need for the current study. This section briefly describes the gap and how the planned research fully addresses it.
  2. Research question: This subsection is crucial to the research project because it clearly states the core research question and its relevance. Good research questions start with "how" or "why." The trick is to be explicit and succinct. My standard pattern is “How does A influence B.” This part also emphasizes the research question's potential value to the discipline and explains why it's worth pursuing. This part is the study's foundation and starting point.
  3. Hypothesis: This subsection presents the research hypothesis. The hypothesis states that the independent (factors) and dependent (measures) variables are related. The proposed study usually examines the elements that explain this association. The identified relationship may also be affected by moderating variables and boundary conditions. The research design should account for these elements to represent the relationship's complexity.

Step 3: Occupying the Niche

The last step is to fill the niche by explaining the purpose and goals of the paper. Most of the time, this step has the following subsections:

  1. Purpose of the study: This section details the research's purpose. The research seeks to fill knowledge gaps and improve the field. The study answers an unanswered question that is of relevance to the field.
  2. Objectives of the study: This part delves into the research's goals, providing a detailed breakdown of each sub-objective to help readers grasp the overall research aims. It's essential to justify each goal, because this not only clarifies the research's scope but also highlights its impact and contribution to the broader field.
  3. Significance of the study: The importance of this section cannot be overstated. Not only does it justify the research, but it also highlights its potential social impact. For those invested in understanding the phenomena being studied, this subsection offers valuable insights that can inform their understanding and decision-making. Moreover, by contextualizing the paper’s key findings within the broader field, this section provides the necessary groundwork for future research. It is crucial, therefore, to craft this subsection with great care, paying close attention to both its content and messaging, to effectively communicate the research's significance and potential impact. This part can also give a roadmap of what’s to come in the paper for the reader, an outline of its structure.

A great introduction ends with a boom or a strong contribution statement that convinces reviewers (and later the readers) that this research is worth their time reading. Knowing the field where you publish is absolutely crucial for this to ensure this last statement has the right impact on that field.

It is vital to understand the venue in which you are publishing, just as it is crucial to know the results of your paper. By doing so, you give your introduction the necessary relevance for the field you are targeting.

Keep in mind that the job of your introduction is to:

  • Capture the reader's interest.
  • Establish a context for what will happen in the paper.
  • Convince your readers why your research matters.

Bonus: How I Generate Catchy Title Suggestions From My Abstract With ChatGPT

One more thing before I go. After I experimented with larger ChatGPT prompts in the last newsletter, I came up with the following prompt that generates quite catchy paper titles based on your abstract.

Try it out and see how it works for you:


ASSISTANT: Act as a famous copywriter who is also a science professor with the following knowledge and traits.

KNOWLEDGE: You've edited more than 3 million words. Your approach to copywriting is heavily informed by these books: Cashvertising, The Boron Letters, and The Ultimate Sales Letter. You've deeply studied Gary Halbert’s Desperate Nerd From Ohio, Frank Kern’s consulting letter – Would You Like Me To Personally Double… Your Business, For Free?, Joseph Sugarman’s Vision Breakthrough, Martin Conroy’s Two Young Men letter for the Wall Street Journal, Why Haven’t TV Owners Been Told These Facts, from Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz. You have read all of Eddie Shleyner's VeryGoodCopy newsletter.

TRAITS: highly intelligent, complex problem-solving skills, adaptability, creativity, interpersonal skills, PhD in English literature, 10 years copywriting experience, published 300 articles in marketing journals, strong mentoring skills, excellent presentation, and written and verbal communication skills, a growth mindset and excellent networking abilities.

TASK: Generate 15 different research paper titles for the following paper abstract: "[PASTE YOUR ABSTRACT HERE]"

Examples of good research paper title structures with a colon are:

  • Catchy pun: Actual title
  • Tool name or acronym: Things the tool does
  • "Quote from qualitative study": Thematic analyses of thing tells us how to design stuff
  • Long title: Even longer title

OUTPUT: Succinct list of research paper titles with bullet points.

Give it a try for your next paper title and let me know if you have any suggestions for improving this. I always love to hear from you.