The introduction is the first chapter of your dissertation and thus is the starting point of your dissertation. You describe the topic of your dissertation, formulate the problem statement and write an overview of your dissertation.
Purpose of the dissertation introduction:
- Introduce the topic. What is the purpose of the study and what is the topic?
- Gain the reader’s interest. Make sure that you get the reader’s attention by using clear examples from recent news items or everyday life.
- Demonstrate the relevance of the study. Convince the reader of the scientific and practical relevance.
Parts of the introduction
A clear introduction often consists of the following parts:
Motivation (Problem indication)
What is the motive for your research? This can be a recent news item or something that has always interested you. By choosing an interesting example, the reader is immediately encouraged to read the rest of your introduction.
Based on the motivation or problem indication, you describe the topic of your dissertation. Make sure that you directly define the topic of your research. Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to research too much, but rather always look for a niche.
Theoretical and practical relevance of the research
Using arguments, state the scientific relevance of your research. You can do this by citingscientific articles and combining them. Also, highlight here the discussion chapters of studies that you are going to use for your own research.
Next, explain the practical use of your research. If you find this difficult to do, then try to pose the question of your research’s use to friends or acquaintances. They often have a completely different view of your topic.
When you are writing a dissertation for a company, you will find that the scientific relevance is much more difficult to demonstrate. On the other hand, it should be easier to show the practical benefit. Don’t think just of the company at which you are doing an internship, but think of, for example, practical applications for the entire industry.
Scientific situation related to the theme of your research
In this element of the introduction, you specify the most important scientific articles that relate to your topic and you briefly explain them. Thus, you show that many studies have been conducted around the topic, and that you won’t get stuck due to finding too little information on your topic.
Objective, problem statement and research questions
In this part, you describe the objective of your study and the problem statement that you have formulated. Pay attention: there is a difference between the objective and the problem statement. To answer the problem statement, you can use research questions. These are sometimes also called sub-questions. If you use hypotheses instead of research questions, you can also note them here.
The basis of the hypotheses is the conceptual framework. However, sometimes you are not yet able to formulate hypotheses, because you are first going to conduct a literature review. In this case you develop the hypotheses and the conceptual framework later, after the literature review.
Brief description of the research design
Later in your research, you develop the research design in detail. However, in the introduction you also provide a brief summary of your research design. How, where, when and with whom are you going to conduct your research?
Here, you briefly describe how your dissertation is constructed. Summarize each chapter briefly in one paragraph at the most, but preferably in one sentence. Make sure your dissertation outline is not repetitively phrased because it does not vary its word choice.
Begin with your research proposal
Often, the research proposal or the action plan is a good start for writing your introduction. You will notice that you already have written many parts of the introduction in your research proposal.
Although the introduction is at the beginning of your dissertation, this placement doesn’t mean that you must finish the introduction before you can start the rest of your research. The further you get in your research, the easier it will be to write a good introduction that is to the point. Thus, it’s no disaster if you can’t write a perfect introduction right away. Take up the introduction again at a later time and keep writing and editing until you arrive at a nice whole.
To introduce your subject and indicate what you wish to discuss, you should use the simple present tense. Background information is written in the simple past tense or present perfect tense.
Length of the dissertation introduction
There are no specific requirements with regard to the length of your introduction. Thus, there’s no need to squeeze everything together on just one page, like with the abstract.
But you do need to write to the point. Don’t repeat yourself and only write down what’s actually important to introduce your topic and research.
* It is possible that you are first going to conduct the literature review before you formulate the conceptual framework.
** It is possible that you are not yet able to formulate the hypotheses because you are first going to conduct a literature review.
What types of information should you include in your introduction?
In the introduction of your thesis, you’ll be trying to do three main things, which are called Moves:
- Move 1 establish your territory (say what the topic is about)
- Move 2 establish a niche (show why there needs to be further research on your topic)
- Move 3 introduce the current research (make hypotheses; state the research questions)
Each Move has a number of stages. Depending on what you need to say in your introduction, you might use one or more stages. Table 1 provides you with a list of the most commonly occurring stages of introductions in Honours theses (colour-coded to show the Moves). You will also find examples of Introductions, divided into stages with sample sentence extracts. Once you’ve looked at Examples 1 and 2, try the exercise that follows.
Most thesis introductions include SOME (but not all) of the stages listed below. There are variations between different Schools and between different theses, depending on the purpose of the thesis.
Stages in a thesis introduction
- state the general topic and give some background
- provide a review of the literature related to the topic
- define the terms and scope of the topic
- outline the current situation
- evaluate the current situation (advantages/ disadvantages) and identify the gap
- identify the importance of the proposed research
- state the research problem/ questions
- state the research aims and/or research objectives
- state the hypotheses
- outline the order of information in the thesis
- outline the methodology
Now read the following two examples from past theses, noting which stages are included in each example. How does example 1 differ from example 2?
Read the following sample sentence extracts from Honours theses Introductions. When you have decided what stage of the Introduction they belong to, refer to the stages in a thesis introduction and give each sentence extract a number. Then check the suggested answer to see if your answer agrees with ours.
Example 3: The IMO Severe-Weather Criterion Applied to High-Speed Monohulls (School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering)
Example 4: The Steiner Tree Problem (School of Computer Science and Engineering)
What does this tell you about thesis introductions?
Well, firstly, there are many choices that you can make. You will notice that there are variations not only between the different Schools in your faculty, but also between individual theses, depending on the type of information that is being communicated. However, there are a few elements that a good Introduction should include, at the very minimum:
- Either Statement of general topic Or Background information about the topic;
- Either Identification of disadvantages of current situation Or Identification of the gap in current research;
- Identification of importance of proposed research
- Either Statement of aims Or Statement of objectives
- An Outline of the order of information in the thesis
Note: this introduction includes the literature review.
Example 5.1 (extract 1): The effects of Fluoride on the reproduction of three native Australian plant Species (School of Geography)
|Stage 1||Sample sentence extracts (the complete Introduction is 17 pages long)|
|Give some background (p.1 of 17)|
1.1 Fluoride in the environment
Molecular fluorine (F2) is the most electronegative of the elements and therefore is highly reactive. Due to its high reactivity it is never found in its elemental form in nature. It combines directly at both ordinary or elevated temperatures with all other elements except oxygen, nitrogen, and the lighter noble gases (Cotton & Wilkinson, 1980).
Example 5.2 (extract 2): The effects of Fluoride on the reproduction of three native Australian plant Species (School of Geography)
|Stage 2||Sample sentence extracts|
|Provide a review of the literature related to the topic (p.2 of 17)||The main source of elevated fluoride in plants comes from atmospheric industrial pollution. Because of its extensive industrial use, hydrogen fluoride is probably the greatest single atmospheric fluoride contaminant and is generally considered to be the most important plant pathogenic fluoride (WHO, 1984; Treshow, 1965)… However, fluorides can cause damage to sensitive plant species even at extremely low fluoride concentrations(Hill,1969), accumulate in large amounts within the plant and cause disease if ingested by herbivores(Weinstein, 1977).|
|Stages 4 and 5||Sample sentence extracts|
|Outline the current situation; Evaluate the current situation and indicate a gap (p.12 of 17)||Doley (1981) summarized several unpublished studies that compared the sensitivity rankings of 24 species according to the responses of photosynthesis and the development of visible injury symptoms. This analysis showed that for nine species, photosynthesis measurements indicated greater sensitivity than was obvious from visible assessment, and for seven species the converse applied. This indicated that, while it may generally be true that physiological responses occur at lower doses than visible injury, this does not always appear to be the case.|
Example 5.4 (extract 4): The effects of Fluoride on the reproduction of three native Australian plant Species (School of Geography)
|Stage 7||Sample sentence extracts|
|State the research problem(p.4 of 17)||In many Australian plant species, young expanding leaves appear much more severely injured by gaseous fluorides than are old leaves. This suggests, either that the young leaf tissues are more sensitive to fluoride than mature tissues, or that sufficient fluoride enters the tissues directly through the cuticle to disrupt normal leaf development before the stomata have fully developed and opened(Doley, 1986a). This question has not been resolved due to the inability to accurately localize low concentrations of fluoride(Doley, 1986a)|
Example 5.5 (extract 5): The effects of Fluoride on the reproduction of three native Australian plant Species (School of Geography)
|Stage 8||Sample sentence extracts|
|State the research aims and /or research objectives (extract p.16 of 17)||Knowledge of the effects of fluoride on the reproductive processes of species within a forest community will help predict potential changes within the community following an increase in atmospheric fluoride due to additional industrial sources, such as aluminium smelters. For these reasons, this project was designed to investigate the reproductive processes of selected species in a woodland near the aluminium smelter at Tomago.|
Example 5.6 (extract 6): The effects of Fluoride on the reproduction of three native Australian plant Species (School of Geography)
|Stage 11||Sample sentence extracts|
|State the outline of the Methodology (extract p.17 of 17).||Germination trials were performed on seeds collected from each species along the fluoride gradient to determine if fluoride has an effect on their viability and hence the regeneration fitness of each species. A density study was used to determine if there were any differences between numbers of mature and immature trees, number of trees producing seed follicles and the number of trees flowering in this season along a fluoride gradient. By using soils collected at various distances away from the smelter the study also investigated differences in germination from the natural soil seed reserve along a fluoride gradient.|