TEA: Topic, Exigency, Aim
the Introductory Moves in Academic Research Articles

These are central moves many academic writers make in framing their research in the introductions to journal articles. You will also see them made in conference papers, books, chapters, and essays in anthologies. The three broad moves—topic, exigency, and aim—generally appear in some form.  Not every move looks the same.  You may see any number of optional variations listed below.

Any of the moves or variations may appear in any order. Some variations may be made more explicit in the footnotes or endnotes than in the main text. Citation is possible for all variations and likely for many of them, but does not always appear.

Note:  See the attached example, written by a student in my class and subsequently published.  Note that she makes many of the moves in each area below, but that not all are required every time.  intro_Kowalik_ComicsStudies

Topic:  for me, Topic = Subject Matter + Problem or Question.

This MAY include any of the following:

  • Subject matter named or described, or implied by anecdotal narration, quotation, or epigraph
  • Topical problem or issue named or topical question posed or implied strongly from subject matter
  • Nesting,  linking  or elaboration of related topics
  • Topical status quo: state of existing knowledge, conventional wisdom, scholarly research, scholarly consensus, or current discourse about subject or topic (may include summary/quotation of others’ research or claims and/or synthesis of status quo)
  • Defining key terms or concepts


Exigency (the niche or gap move):  this the WHY you write or why it should be interesting to us, your readers.

This MAY include any of the following:

  • Relevance or importance of topic indicated
  • Assessment of topical status quo
  • Identification of a problem with topical status quo: a gap in existing knowledge or a limitation in the current discourse
  • Introduction of new information or overlooked phenomena pertinent to topic
  • Introduction of new complexity within topic (perhaps within subject matter itself)
  • Introduction of new discourses or methods pertinent to topic
  • Application or import of aim (below) indicated


Aim / Agenda:  this is the WHAT you will do in this essay–HOW you will address the question.

This MAY include any of the following:

  • Agenda or line of inquiry of the present article indicated
  • Author’s larger project indicated
  • Structure of the present article described
  • Description of research methods, theoretical approach, or key concepts of the present article
  • Description of the body of (primary) sources and how you are organizing them.
  • Central claims or principle findings stated.
  • Note: contrary to popular believe, many scholars do not state their central claims right up front.  It depends on the discipline, and to some degree on the disposition of the scholar.  In the humanities, we are generally willing to wait for development of your claim, as long as we have a strong sense of your question.



Note:  These moves were first identified in John Swales’s CARS model (Creating A Research Space), which focused on social sciences; see Swales 2004, fig. 7.3 (227); fig. 7.4, (230); fig. 7.5, (232); refined by Lewin, Young, & Fine 2005, table 3.1 (40-41). I have renamed them TEA and broadened them to include the humanities.


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