The introduction to your dissertation or thesis may well be the last part that you complete, excepting perhaps the abstract. However, it should not be the last part that you think about.
You should write a draft of your introduction very early on, perhaps as early as when you submit your research proposal, to set out a broad outline of your ideas, why you want to study this area, and what you hope to explore and/or establish.
You can, and should, update your introduction several times as your ideas develop. Keeping the introduction in mind will help you to ensure that your research stays on track.
The introduction provides the rationale for your dissertation, thesis or other research project: what you are trying to answer and why it is important to do this research.
Your introduction should contain a clear statement of the research question and the aims of the research (closely related to the question).
It should also introduce and briefly review the literature on your topic to show what is already known and explain the theoretical framework. If there are theoretical debates in the literature, then the introduction is a good place for the researcher to give his or her own perspective in conjunction with the literature review section of the dissertation.
The introduction should also indicate how your piece of research will contribute to the theoretical understanding of the topic.
Drawing on your Research Proposal
The introduction to your dissertation or thesis will probably draw heavily on your research proposal.
If you haven't already written a research proposal see our page Writing a Research Proposal for some ideas.
The introduction needs to set the scene for the later work and give a broad idea of the arguments and/or research that preceded yours. It should give some idea of why you chose to study this area, giving a flavour of the literature, and what you hoped to find out.
Don’t include too many citations in your introduction: this is your summary of why you want to study this area, and what questions you hope to address. Any citations are only to set the context, and you should leave the bulk of the literature for a later section.
Unlike your research proposal, however, you have now completed the work. This means that your introduction can be much clearer about what exactly you chose to investigate and the precise scope of your work.
Remember, whenever you actually write it, that, for the reader, the introduction is the start of the journey through your work. Although you can give a flavour of the outcomes of your research, you should not include any detailed results or conclusions.
Some good ideas for making your introduction strong include:
- An interesting opening sentence that will hold the attention of your reader.
- Don’t try to say everything in the introduction, but do outline the broad thrust of your work and argument.
- Make sure that you don’t promise anything that can’t be delivered later.
- Keep the language straightforward. Although you should do this throughout, it is especially important for the introduction.
Your introduction is the reader’s ‘door’ into your thesis or dissertation. It therefore needs to make sense to the non-expert. Ask a friend to read it for you, and see if they can understand it easily.
At the end of the introduction, it is also usual to set out an outline of the rest of the dissertation.
This can be as simple as ‘Chapter 2 discusses my chosen methodology, Chapter 3 sets out my results, and Chapter 4 discusses the results and draws conclusions’.
However, if your thesis is ordered by themes, then a more complex outline may be necessary.
Drafting and Redrafting
As with any other piece of writing, redrafting and editing will improve your text.
This is especially important for the introduction because it needs to hold your reader’s attention and lead them into your research.
The best way to ensure that you can do this is to give yourself enough time to write a really good introduction, including several redrafts.
Do not view the introduction as a last minute job.
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.|