Editorial: The Aim of a Good Introduction (October 21, 2005)
A primary goal of Physical Review Letters is to keep a broad spectrum of physicists informed about current research findings in areas outside their specializations. To accomplish this, a Letter needs clearly written introductory paragraphs that are understandable by nonexperts. Communication to a general readership is, however, an ongoing challenge for PRL editors and authors. To aid in this effort, we offer some guidelines to authors for writing the introduction:
1. The introduction should interest people outside the subfield in reading the article. Because it is directed at nonspecialists, it should have a minimum of jargon and acronyms.
2. It should describe the background and history of the problem or research goal addressed in the article. It should explain the importance of this research and of the results being reported, as well as any relevance they have to other areas of physics ("The work described here is motivated by...").
3. A well organized introduction starts with the general discussion described in point (2) and ends with a brief description of the specific results presented ("In this Letter we show..."). Discussions of technical details should be reserved for the main text.
4. In our experience, a good introduction requires a minimum of 1 double-spaced manuscript page, i.e., 32 single-column published lines, and may range up to 2 such pages, or 64 published lines.
Good writing is difficult and requires thought and effort; this is especially true when one attempts to communicate technical results to people outside the field. It would be a useful practice if, before submitting a manuscript to PRL, the authors asked colleagues in other areas to comment on its readability, with particular emphasis on the introduction. Authors who do not feel comfortable writing in English may find it helpful to consult colleagues more experienced in this regard.