What Should Be in a Dissertation Introduction?

March 29, 2018 - Essay Writing Tips
Content what should be in a dissertation introduction

“What should I write in my dissertation introduction?” is a question we commonly get.

Students who are completing their dissertations have a pretty clear idea of what the other chapters in their dissertations should include. The chapter titles actually drive exactly what should be included – literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion. But the dissertation introduction is more nebulous. It doesn’t have a specific, detailed description of what should be included. And it really is dependent upon the “meat” of the dissertation and the actual research project that has been undertaken.

Still, there are some commonalities in a dissertation introduction that all students should include.

What to Write in a Dissertation Introduction

First, it must be understood that the introduction should be written last – after the dissertation is fully completed. Why? Because until that work is complete, it will be difficult to have the holistic picture, so that you can prepare a reader for what is to come.

This does not mean, though, that you don’t think about your dissertation introduction during the production process. You should be making notes all along of the points you want to introduce to the reader in that first chapter. And as you move along, you will want to add, revise, and modify those points. Now, on to what common factors should be included in any dissertation introduction.

  1. All dissertations have a research question and, depending upon specific requirements, perhaps a hypothesis. But the point is that you will need to state the research question in the introduction.
  2. A dissertation introduction should also include a justification for the research project that is to follow. How will it serve the field of knowledge to which it relates? In short, why is it important?
  3. You should also, in just a paragraph or two, briefly summarize the research that will follow in your next chapter or section. Sometimes this occurs in conjunction with your justification for the project you selected.
  4. The introduction should also state the objectives you established at the beginning of our project.
  5. If there is some theoretical controversy related to the topic, you should describe the history of it briefly and provide your own opinion on the matter, as a result of the research you have completed.
  6. You should also introduce your research design and methodology. You will want the reader to know whether your study was qualitative or quantitative; whether you had experimental and control groups, random samplings, etc.  All of this will be described in detail in your methodology chapter, so don’t give a lot of detail.
  7. You should also state the objectives that you established as you developed your question and began your research. Sometimes these are stated at the beginning of the section that speaks to your methodology. At other times, it can be included in that portion that introduces your research question and/or hypothesis.

Use Your Dissertation Proposal for ideas

If you are unsure about what to write in a dissertation introduction, look back at your research proposal. That proposal “introduced” your advisor or committee to your project and contained many of the same sections that will be in your introduction – a clear statement of the research question, a justification of the importance of that question, how you intend to go about answering that question through the methodology you have designed, and how you intend to analyze the results of your research.

The one thing your proposal includes that your introduction will not is a more detailed summary of the literature you had reviewed up to that point. The introduction should summarize that research much more briefly and should not include the numbers of citations, etc. that your proposal had.

How to Start a Dissertation Introduction

Think of all that you have learned about writing an introduction to an essay or paper as you went through your undergrad and graduate work. You learned what an introduction should include – an engaging and compelling opening statement that immediately piques the interest of the reader, and, in that same paragraph, your thesis statement.

So, as you think about how to start a dissertation introduction¸ what can you say that will truly intrigue your reader? Is there some shocking statistic that you can reveal? Is there some anecdote from your research that you can speak to without revealing the outcomes of your research?

There are Differences

Dissertation introductions will vary somewhat according to the academic discipline of the research. Thus, those who want to know how to write a dissertation introduction in English literature or law will have very different issues than those who are trying to figure out how to write a scientific dissertation introduction. Their research will be very different – one laboratory based and one based in a particular period of literary history or a point of law.

To write a good introduction, whether in physics, sociology, psychology, law or fine arts, one of the best things to do in preparation is to read a number of introductions that have been written in your field. You will get a feel for the content, the tone, and the structure, and this will help a lot.

To Summarize

As you write your introduction, keep these things in mind:

  1. You need a compelling opening that will grab attention of your readers
  2. Do not reveal too much. Give an outline of the “meat” of your work and how you went about introducing your research.
  3. Never, never, never reveal the conclusions of your research in your introduction.
  4. Keep your language and vocabulary very straightforward and simpler than the language in your following chapters. But do not be too informal. Find the right balance.
  5. You may write several drafts of your introduction before you get the one you are really happy with. Accept this and keep writing those drafts.

And a Checklist

So, here is a quick checklist to make sure that you have included everything that you need to in your introduction.

  1. You have identified a problem – what is it? State it clearly
  2. Why is this problem/question important to your academic community?
  3. What is your hypothesis about the outcome of your research?
  4. Who stands to benefit from the research you have conducted and how will they benefit?
  5. How, briefly, do you plan to answer this research question?
  6. What methods (in general) will you be using to get to your answer? And how have you analyzed the data you collected?
  7. What limitations are there to the study you conducted? (These should only be briefly stated – your conclusion will cover them in detail).

If you use this checklist, review the introductions that others in your field have written, and understand that you will be writing many drafts before you get one that works, you will have an introduction that works.

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