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How to Write a Dissertation Introduction

What is a Dissertation Introduction?

Most pieces of academic writing composed according to standard form will have an Introduction chapter. An Introduction chapter establishes the relevance of the study and provides certain essential information which the reader will need to contextualise and understand the rest of the dissertation. For this reason, learning how to write a dissertation introduction is an important skill for the university student. In order to do this, you need to know what functions an Introduction is supposed to fulfil. Put in the simplest terms, the Introduction is an answer to the reader’s question: what is this work all about and why does it matter? Your first priority, then, is to makes life easier for readers: by telling them what the general subject matter is. Secondly, unless the research topic is generally well known, you might also need to provide additional background information to help guide and set up the issue. How much background will depend on the specific subject matter and what you can assume about your intended audience. Remember, after having read the dissertation introduction, the reader should know exactly what this dissertation is about, what its main arguments are, and the relevance of those arguments within the field. The Introduction, then, is supposed to remove ambiguity; it clarifies all the essential information required to understand the rest of the work.

State Your Thesis

As the first order of business, the Introduction must make clear the principle thesis (the core argument) of the dissertation. It is essential that when you state your main thesis the reader have a good idea of what you are saying and why. Hence an Introduction might begin something like this:

This paper looks at whether (insert research question). It does this by examining (insert research topic). In addressing this issue, this paper employs (insert methodology), arguing that (insert proposition).

As you can see, the Introduction is very expository: it gets key information across quickly and plainly. Following the above format, within the first few sentences, the reader has ascertained a great deal of information about the academic study. They know what the core themes are, the main research question, subject matter, methods of data collection and crux of the argument. Now that they now what the paper is all about, you might want explain how you intend to organise and expand upon the above component parts of the thesis. Thus the Introduction might maps out the rest of the dissertation, acting as a guide which lets the reader know what to expect in the remainder of the work. Accordingly, the Introduction establishes a set of expectations for the reader. This is good practice because it brings the reader to a certain interpretive stance, one which you have determined in advance. You want to do your best to fulfil those expectations, so make sure that you actually do in the essay you said you would do in Introduction. Or, put another way, make sure that on completing the dissertation that you correctly describe in the Introduction what it is you have done.  Because the Introduction is intended to pull the threads of the dissertation together, it is generally written after the rest of the work is completed. This is because, on completing the core research, you will have a better idea of what the precise significance of your study and findings was. An important aspect of identifying significance is locating a niche for your work, showing how your work fills a certain gap in the scholarly knowledge. Thus you are outlining your research territory and situating your thesis specifically within that territory, as bridging a specific knowledge gap.

The Structure

While the above passage offers a template, it is not prescribed or mandatory; it is only a suggestion. There are many ways to write an Introduction; it really depends on the genre of the research project. You may wish for instance to start your writing with an intriguing quote or a bold statement, something that catches the reader’s attention and sparks their interest. Do not forget that your readers will have to dedicate time and energy into reading your work. You need to persuade them, to win them to your side. For this reason, merely reeling off expository statements may come over as rather dry. Rather, you want to find a balance between conveying information and exhibiting some element of verbal flair. A good way to go about finding this balance is to start with the above template and then build upon it. Get all the key information down first and then work at putting some sheen on the prose. Good writing will help in creating a persuasive argument. As long as the Introductions includes a statement of the core problem, the primary research questions, an outline of conceptualisation and methodology, and perhaps something on the scope and significance of the work, you can arrange it any structure you wish.

Recap

So, the Introduction sets the stage for the rest of the discussion and structure of the document. It is not the place to begin describing in detail arguments, analysing data, or providing other kinds of information that really belong in the main body of the essay. The Introduction is for setting up the main argument, providing background and context so the reader is best prepared to understand and follow the arguments which follow in later chapters. Hence the dissertation introduction should be reasonably brief, like an opening statement. In a dissertation of 8000 to 10,000 words, it usually will carry an approximately 10% weighting.

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