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Writing Introductions Research Dissertations

The introduction is the first chapter of your dissertation and thus is the starting point of your dissertation. You describe the topic of your dissertation, formulate the problem statement and write an overview of your dissertation.

Purpose of the dissertation introduction:

  • Introduce the topic. What is the purpose of the study and what is the topic?
  • Gain the reader’s interest. Make sure that you get the reader’s attention by using clear examples from recent news items or everyday life.
  • Demonstrate the relevance of the study. Convince the reader of the scientific and practical relevance.

Parts of the introduction

A clear introduction often consists of the following parts:

Motivation (Problem indication)

What is the motive for your research? This can be a recent news item or something that has always interested you. By choosing an interesting example, the reader is immediately encouraged to read the rest of your introduction.

Scope

Based on the motivation or problem indication, you describe the topic of your dissertation. Make sure that you directly define the topic of your research. Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to research too much, but rather always look for a niche.

Theoretical and practical relevance of the research

Using arguments, state the scientific relevance of your research. You can do this by citingscientific articles and combining them. Also, highlight here the discussion chapters of studies that you are going to use for your own research.

Next, explain the practical use of your research. If you find this difficult to do, then try to pose the question of your research’s use to friends or acquaintances. They often have a completely different view of your topic.

When you are writing a dissertation for a company, you will find that the scientific relevance is much more difficult to demonstrate. On the other hand, it should be easier to show the practical benefit. Don’t think just of the company at which you are doing an internship, but think of, for example, practical applications for the entire industry.

Scientific situation related to the theme of your research

In this element of the introduction, you specify the most important scientific articles that relate to your topic and you briefly explain them. Thus, you show that many studies have been conducted around the topic, and that you won’t get stuck due to finding too little information on your topic.

Objective, problem statement and research questions

In this part, you describe the objective of your study and the problem statement that you have formulated. Pay attention: there is a difference between the objective and the problem statement. To answer the problem statement, you can use research questions. These are sometimes also called sub-questions. If you use hypotheses instead of research questions, you can also note them here.

The basis of the hypotheses is the conceptual framework. However, sometimes you are not yet able to formulate hypotheses, because you are first going to conduct a literature review. In this case you develop the hypotheses and the conceptual framework later, after the literature review.

Brief description of the research design

Later in your research, you develop the research design in detail. However, in the introduction you also provide a brief summary of your research design. How, where, when and with whom are you going to conduct your research?

Dissertation outline

Here, you briefly describe how your dissertation is constructed. Summarize each chapter briefly in one paragraph at the most, but preferably in one sentence. Make sure your dissertation outline is not repetitively phrased because it does not vary its word choice.

Begin with your research proposal

Often, the research proposal or the action plan is a good start for writing your introduction. You will notice that you already have written many parts of the introduction in your research proposal.

Although the introduction is at the beginning of your dissertation, this placement doesn’t mean that you must finish the introduction before you can start the rest of your research. The further you get in your research, the easier it will be to write a good introduction that is to the point. Thus, it’s no disaster if you can’t write a perfect introduction right away. Take up the introduction again at a later time and keep writing and editing until you arrive at a nice whole.

Verb tenses

To introduce your subject and indicate what you wish to discuss, you should use the simple present tense. Background information is written in the simple past tense or present perfect tense.

Length of the dissertation introduction

There are no specific requirements with regard to the length of your introduction. Thus, there’s no need to squeeze everything together on just one page, like with the abstract.

But you do need to write to the point. Don’t repeat yourself and only write down what’s actually important to introduce your topic and research.


* It is possible that you are first going to conduct the literature review before you formulate the conceptual framework.
** It is possible that you are not yet able to formulate the hypotheses because you are first going to conduct a literature review.

The introduction to your dissertation or thesis may well be the last part that you complete, excepting perhaps the abstract. However, it should not be the last part that you think about.

You should write a draft of your introduction very early on, perhaps as early as when you submit your research proposal, to set out a broad outline of your ideas, why you want to study this area, and what you hope to explore and/or establish.

You can, and should, update your introduction several times as your ideas develop. Keeping the introduction in mind will help you to ensure that your research stays on track.

The introduction provides the rationale for your dissertation, thesis or other research project: what you are trying to answer and why it is important to do this research.

Your introduction should contain a clear statement of the research question and the aims of the research (closely related to the question).

It should also introduce and briefly review the literature on your topic to show what is already known and explain the theoretical framework. If there are theoretical debates in the literature, then the introduction is a good place for the researcher to give his or her own perspective in conjunction with the literature review section of the dissertation.

The introduction should also indicate how your piece of research will contribute to the theoretical understanding of the topic.


Drawing on your Research Proposal

The introduction to your dissertation or thesis will probably draw heavily on your research proposal.

If you haven't already written a research proposal see our page Writing a Research Proposal for some ideas.

The introduction needs to set the scene for the later work and give a broad idea of the arguments and/or research that preceded yours. It should give some idea of why you chose to study this area, giving a flavour of the literature, and what you hoped to find out.

Warning!


Don’t include too many citations in your introduction: this is your summary of why you want to study this area, and what questions you hope to address. Any citations are only to set the context, and you should leave the bulk of the literature for a later section.

 

Unlike your research proposal, however, you have now completed the work. This means that your introduction can be much clearer about what exactly you chose to investigate and the precise scope of your work.

Remember, whenever you actually write it, that, for the reader, the introduction is the start of the journey through your work. Although you can give a flavour of the outcomes of your research, you should not include any detailed results or conclusions.

Some good ideas for making your introduction strong include:

  • An interesting opening sentence that will hold the attention of your reader.
  • Don’t try to say everything in the introduction, but do outline the broad thrust of your work and argument.
  • Make sure that you don’t promise anything that can’t be delivered later.
  • Keep the language straightforward. Although you should do this throughout, it is especially important for the introduction.

Top Tip:


Your introduction is the reader’s ‘door’ into your thesis or dissertation. It therefore needs to make sense to the non-expert. Ask a friend to read it for you, and see if they can understand it easily.

 

At the end of the introduction, it is also usual to set out an outline of the rest of the dissertation.

This can be as simple as ‘Chapter 2 discusses my chosen methodology, Chapter 3 sets out my results, and Chapter 4 discusses the results and draws conclusions’.

However, if your thesis is ordered by themes, then a more complex outline may be necessary.


Drafting and Redrafting

As with any other piece of writing, redrafting and editing will improve your text.

This is especially important for the introduction because it needs to hold your reader’s attention and lead them into your research.

The best way to ensure that you can do this is to give yourself enough time to write a really good introduction, including several redrafts.

Do not view the introduction as a last minute job.