How to Write the Introduction Chapter of a Dissertation or Thesis

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How to Write the Introduction Chapter of a Dissertation or Thesis

The introduction chapter of your dissertation or thesis is the one in which you establish basic information and goals that the reader will need to understand moving forward.  Such things as the background of your research, how you came to research your topic, what your topic is, how the topic relates to the world around it, and what kind of general principles and methodology you will be using to research your topic and evaluate your hypothesis are all examples of what you will cover in the introduction chapter.

To start writing your introduction chapter, come up with a simple one sentence summary of the goal of your research.  The reader will come to the first chapter of your thesis expecting a statement of purpose.  This statement should tell the reader what the topic of the project is and what you hope to achieve.

Next, you can talk about the background of the project.  How did you choose the project?  What kind of greater historical context does the research that you are engaged in exist within?  You may want to talk about any related experiments or research that specific people have done in the past, including landmark research cases which are related to the topic at hand.  This gives the reader a sense of how your research fits into the greater scheme of things, and lets the reader compare what you are about to present to the research which they may or may not already be familiar with from leading figures in the historical record of the field.

Now tell the reader what your hypothesis is, as well as your basic reasons for believing in the hypothesis.  How does your knowledge of the reality of the field make you lean towards one hypothesis or another?  Explain to the reader how you will be able to prove or disprove the hypothesis that you set out with through the course of your research.  Talk about any particular relevant issues that could affect the course of the research, or any basic questions or problems that people might have regarding the topic and how you will go about your research process.  Try to anticipate how people will react to your hypothesis and make sure that you are able to start your project on a strong heading.  It may be best to have the opening paragraph of your thesis reviewed before you embark on the research process, to make sure that you are on the right track (or at least that the track makes sense to others) before you set off and put a lot of effort into collecting data.

Finally, give the reader a sense of how the report will be organized.  Provide some kind of chapter by chapter breakdown to tell the reader what can be expected so that the reader will be able to scan the report at first and have a good sense of what ended up happening.  Use solid principles of organization throughout your paper, in addition to hitting all the above topics in your introductory paragraph, to make your dissertation as readable as possible.

Viewpoint #2

A dissertation introduction is the first chapter of the lengthy research document.  A dissertation introduction is different from the introductions of other texts that a student may compose in the course of his or her graduate studies because it follows a very specific format in keeping with standard dissertation composition.  As with all elements of an academic composition, a student should follow the stylistic guidelines set forth by his or her department, institution, and discipline.  However, most dissertation introductions will include five primary components:

  • a presentation of the problem the report will address;
  • an overview or background of that problem;
  • an explanation of the purpose of the study;
  • the research questions that the report will seek to answer;
  • hypotheses regarding the study's answers to those research questions.

The introduction may also include, if applicable, an overview of the limitations of the study, a list of the researcher's assumptions regarding the study, and a listing of terms relevant to the study and its discussion.

The first element of dissertation introductions—the presentation of the problem the report will address—simply explains the specific topic of investigation the report research is examining.  The second element—the overview or background of that problem—gives a brief but complete explanation and contextualization of the research problem, perhaps through the referencing of an authoritative scholarly source that delineates the problem's definition and context.  The third section of the report introduction—an explanation of the study's purpose—outlines why the researcher is undertaking the study, usually by noting the specific relevance of the problem outlined in the first section.  

Following these explanatory sections, dissertation introductions should present the research questions the report will attempt to answer and the researcher's hypotheses regarding the outcomes to those questions.  If the thesis is reporting the researcher's originally-designed study, the report introduction will outline the limitations of the study—aspects of the study's methodology or procedure that prevent the results from being generalized to the entire group the participants represent—and the assumptions of the study—aspects of the research that the research assumes is evident and accepted.  A definition of terms may be included to inform the reader about specific terminology or particular interpretations of words used in the study.  

As with all aspects of the report, the report introduction should be written using formal language that avoids the use of the first person and projects a professional, academic tone.

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