Dissertation Introduction Chapter


Most students write their dissertation introduction chapter last, just like most do with essays and papers. The reasoning is that after you have the whole picture of your piece, you are better able to introduce it better. In this respect, writing a dissertation introduction is similar to other academic writing. But there the comparison stops. A dissertation introduction is lengthier and far more complex.

The general elements of the introduction are pretty standard across most institutions, and the order is as well. Here are those elements.

Finding a Topic That Best Represents You
  • 1

    A General Overview. This will be a brief description of the background which prompted you to select the research question you did. Remember when you were formulating your research question, you began with a more general topic area. This is what you will address in this first small section.

  • 2

    Statement of Your Research Question. This is nothing new to you. You crafted that as a part of your proposal. You can pretty much just repeat it now.

  • 3

    Justification/Purpose. What do you believe you will contribute to your field through the study you are doing? I effect, you are going to demonstrate that your research is valuable.

  • 4

    Definitions of Terms. Especially in many STEM areas, there may need to be some definitions. But don’t discount the need in other areas as well. For example, if your research involves at-risk students, how are you defining the term “at-risk” and what criteria are you using to identify this population? This is important especially if a future researcher will be replicating your study.

  • 5

    Your Procedures. Here is where you provide a brief summary of your research design and methodology. You will define your study as quantitative or qualitative; you will describe your population or sampling; you will describe the environment and, briefly, the instruments and implementation, along with the data you intend to gather.

    If this is sounding a lot like your proposal, you are right. It does have the same elements.

    The final part of this section will explain how you intend to analyze your data to get at significance.

  • 6

    Constraints and Limitations. It is a good idea to let your reader know up front those things that you have identified that may limit your results and conclusions. In your actual conclusion, you may suggest how future researchers can avoid this issues.

Points to Think About
  • 1

    Your introduction will probably run from 6 – 10 pages, and, yes, it will be the shortest chapter of your work

  • 2

    The initial section of your introduction can be a bit more personal, because it speaks to why you had an interest in the research you conducted.

  • 3

    The overall purpose of your introduction is to whet the appetite of a reader. You want your enthusiasm for your research to be clear.

Do and Don`t
  • Do express your personal interest, but do not get too casual in your composition. At all times, your language should be somewhat formal
  • Do follow the guidelines established by your department, including the sequence of the sections
  • Keep in close contact with your advisor as you craft this chapter. S/he has read many introductions and can provide valuable advice
  • Read the introductions of other dissertations you have used in your literature review, and especially those that have come from your department
  • Have a trusted peer review your introduction and give feedback on your ability to stimulate interest in the work.
  • Don’t give away too much. You want the reader to be intrigued
  • Don’t ignore terms that need to be defined. There will be those that are very specific to your research
  • Use the content in each chapter and identify what details should be included
  • Don’t finalize the introduction chapter, if it has not been reviewed and edited by a trusted third party
  • Don’t wing it if you really do not understand every detail of how to write a dissertation introduction. Get some help.
Mistakes to Avoid
  • Some students just give away too much in the introduction, especially the conclusions of their research. This “spoils” the ending for the reader. Summarize how you are going to analyze your data, but do not go beyond that.
  • You may struggle with explaining the purpose and significance of your study in a way that will excite the reader. If you are having a hard time with your words, consider turning over what you have done to a professional writer – someone who can provide some creativity
  • Failing to be forthright with the limitations of your study is not ethical and could lead future researchers into similar studies “blind.” Every research study has limitations – it is not something to be ashamed of.
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