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How to write an introduction for your Thesis or Dissertation

The introduction to your thesis or dissertation usually takes up “Chapter One”. It comes after the Acknowledgments, Abstract and Table of Contents. It’s actually not that hard to write an introduction for a research paper or thesis, because it’s expected to have certain parts. As long as you’re organized and know what your paper is about, it should be like ‘filling in the blanks’

When should I write the introduction for my Thesis or Dissertation?

Some people suggest that you should write the whole thesis or dissertation first; after all, once you know what happens in your thesis, it will be much easier to write the introduction. The problem with this logic is that it means you’re writing your thesis with no plan of action, no idea what you’re talking about or where you’re going, and you won’t find out what you’ve said until you’re finished! This is hardly a smart way to write anything, especially not a document that proves your academic ability. Your introduction is only a few pages long, why not work on that until you really know what you want to say and in what order? I guarantee writing your thesis or dissertation will be 1000x easier if you take the time to carefully organize the content first.

How to write the introduction to my Thesis or Dissertation

An introduction to a research paper generally has the following parts – which can actually be divided into sections, with headings:

1) Research background and motivation – A brief intro into the topic or field, the history of research, gaps in the literature; also why you’ve chosen this topic, why is it necessary, why does it matter. This is the WHY. Often this part will include personal information; such as anecdotes or stories about how you became involved in this field, what first attracted your interest, the problems you encountered and what that made you think about… This is your chance to ‘hook’ the reader with some strong writing. (First person, (“I”) writing is always more interesting than research material.)
2) Research project – An expanded summary of your thesis. Much like your abstract, but a little longer, this should describe what you did or hope to do and why, as well as your results or conclusions. This is the WHAT. Don’t be afraid to be detailed here. Don’t hold onto your cards until later; give readers upfront the biggest, most amazing and exceptional claims that you’re going to make, along with some evidence to back them up. This will entice them to actually read further.
3) Research structure – An outline of the whole thesis: a chapter by chapter summary. List the chapters and the main points of that chapter (again, while it may be easier to write this after you’ve written the chapters, it’s so much better to plan the chapters out in advance anyway.) Be specific and detailed. Reveal the most interesting things about each chapter – things that may surprise the reader. This is the HOW.

Tips for writing the introduction for your thesis or dissertation:

    Make it flow. Although you’ve broken the introduction into several parts, they should still flow into each other smoothly. Don’t repeat a lot of the same information.

    Look at the introductions from similar papers in your field. Find some papers that are similar to yours. Read their introductions and model your own from theirs. Of course all the details should be very different, but the organization, the connector words or sentence patterns can be very useful.

    Notice the introductions of published non-fiction books. Most non-fiction books have this same structure. They will start with personal stories about how they became interested, then talk about how the project grew more specific and developed into a research problem, throw in a lot of the big, major questions or inconsistencies in the field that need to be resolved, talk about their aims and methods, and then give a chapter by chapter summary. See if you can identify the parts, even though they are probably not clearly labeled.


    Here’s a sample from the “Research Project” Section of my own Thesis:

    The initial purpose of this paper is to acquire more understanding of the nature of and motivation behind___________, by examining the connections between the____________________. Our method of research will be__________________. We will begin with an overview of the ___________________, including an outline of the __________________, and a call to explore the nature and source of _____________. Next we will recognize that the key distinguishing factor between ________ is _________, and investigate whether this claim is fully justified. To understand the underlying motivations surrounding this complex subject, a thorough literature review of the debate surrounding_______________________, an introduction to_________________________, and an examination of the evidence traditionally used in support of ____________________are required. Specifically, we will focus our attention towards _______________, the ___________________________, and the _____________________________.

    Good luck writing your thesis or dissertation introduction!


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