The Introduction Chapter of a Dissertation
As the name suggests, the introduction chapter acquaints a reader or evaluator with the contents, main argument(s), and scope of a dissertation. It is the first official chapter of your dissertation and is placed after the table of contents. Think of it as a preview of the whole dissertation, a glimpse into what the project is all about.
Simply put, an introduction chapter should
- Introduce and contextualise your research topic
- Clearly state the focus of your study
- Specify aims, objectives, and method of study
- Justify the value and relevance of this research on a broader level
- Provide an overview of upcoming chapters
When to write the introduction section
Although the introduction is the first chapter that will be read, conventionally, it is written towards the end of the writing process. This is because your research, as you progress, will change course—the methods you use may change, your hypothesis or original research question might become broader or narrower, or you might change its conceptual framework altogether.
Since the point of this chapter is to be introductory (of course), you’ll want to be accurate in letting the reader know exactly what your project entails. Writing the introduction chapter in the end along with the abstract and conclusion ensures that all three sections, and the dissertation itself, are consistent in their ideas and arguments.
Moreover, this saves time. Had you written an introduction beforehand, you’ll be forced to make modifications or rework it altogether.
If you choose to, you can draft an outline first, just to keep you on track, and keep revising it as you go along. (This is also an interesting way to track how your project has developed.)
Keep the original proposal you wrote as a reference, because the components of the two will overlap.
The components of a dissertation introduction
The background and context
Your aim is to generate interest in your research topic and explain why it’s important or timely for this topic to be researched on. Start with a relevant or historically significant incident or news statement. Cite important literature along by way of introduction, so your reader can make a connection to established (possibly even seminal) work in the field.
By setting up a context with this, you’re easing a reader into your topic of study and gently leading the way to the core of your research.
Don’t go overboard with this, though; you have the rest of the dissertation to do that.
All you need to do at this stage is to give some basic information about your topic and field, just enough for the reader to know what’s coming up. Use keywords and terminology important to your field so they have more clarity.
The research problem
After setting the stage for the reader, write about how this context relates to your topic of study. In other words, spell out where the research problem lies in the context you’ve set.
This will lead you to write about the focus, topic, or questions that you have specifically chosen within this broader area of research. Once you have laid that out, clearly state the main argument or hypothesis that you have set out to test as a part of the study.
After this, write about the specific parameters you have set out to answer or analyze the question or problem. This will tell the reader what the scope of the project is, with regard to factors like time frames, geographical areas covered, specific themes, and disciplines your research falls under, and so on.
When you clarify the scope of your research, you should also be clear about what your dissertation will not cover. Address the limitations of your current research. This defines the scope further and helps future researchers continue what you’ve begun.
The relevance of your research
As you’ve already identified the context of your dissertation, this is the apt time to explain the rationale behind the dissertation as well.
The reason original research is given utmost importance in the academic world is because it is one of the most reliable ways of furthering knowledge in a particular field. That’s why it’s important for you to argue its relevance at the onset. What larger value does your research serve (other than finally getting that long-awaited degree, of course)?
Why should future researchers and the scholarly community pay attention to this work? What broader social, political, or scientific applications does your discovery have? Why does your research matter?
These are some questions you should aim to answer.
Draw a connection between the rationale and the context you’ve laid out until this point. A reader, based on this information, should be able to understand how your project has taken the direction it has so far.
An overview of the dissertation
Once you’ve introduced the context, the research area, the specific research question, your hypothesis for the study, and the rationale behind that choice, explain how you will go about the research. State what you aim to do and the objectives to be achieved.
State the methods you have used in the study and briefly summarize its results.
You will have noticed by now that this structure is simply a summary of the entire dissertation. If you’ve reached this point, well done! Anyone reading your dissertation will be clear about what they are going to encounter next.
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