How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation Introduction

The introduction is the first section of your thesis or dissertation, appearing right after the table of contents. Your introduction draws your reader in, setting the stage for your research with a clear focus, purpose, and direction on a relevant topic.

Your introduction should include:

How to start your introduction

Although your introduction kicks off your dissertation, it doesn’t have to be the first thing you writein fact, it’s often one of the very last parts to be completed (just before your abstract).

It’s a good idea to write a rough draft of your introduction as you begin your research, to help guide you. If you wrote a research proposal, consider using this as a template, as it contains many of the same elements. However, be sure to revise your introduction throughout the writing process, making sure it matches the content of your ensuing sections.

Topic and context

Begin by introducing your dissertation topic and giving any necessary background information. It’s important to contextualize your research and generate interest. Aim to show why your topic is timely or important. You may want to mention a relevant news item, academic debate, or practical problem.

Example topic
Attitudes of young people toward climate change.
Example context
Share a recent news story about a children’s climate strike, or the increasing importance of youth engagement in climate politics.

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Focus and scope

After a brief introduction to your general area of interest, narrow your focus and define the scope of your research.

You can narrow this down in many ways, such as by:

  • Geographical area
  • Time period
  • Demographics or communities
  • Themes or aspects of the topic
Focus and scope example
Engagement of American teenagers with current climate policy

Relevance and importance

It’s essential to share your motivation for doing this research, as well as how it relates to existing work on your topic. Further, you should also mention what new insights you expect it will contribute.

Start by giving a brief overview of the current state of research. You should definitely cite the most relevant literature, but remember that you will conduct a more in-depth survey of relevant sources in the literature review section, so there’s no need to go too in-depth in the introduction.

Depending on your field, the importance of your research might focus on its practical application (e.g., in policy or management) or on advancing scholarly understanding of the topic (e.g., by developing theories or adding new empirical data). In many cases, it will do both.

Ultimately, your introduction should explain how your thesis or dissertation:

  • Helps solve a practical or theoretical problem
  • Addresses a gap in the literature
  • Builds on existing research
  • Proposes a new understanding of your topic
Relevance and importance example
Young people will determine the future of climate policy, so it is essential to gain an in-depth understanding of their engagement with this issue. While there has been research on youth attitudes toward climate change in general (Corner et al., 2015; Holmberg & Alvinius, 2019; Lee et al., 2020), little has focused specifically on how teenagers understand and respond to current climate policy.

The increasing prominence of youth climate activism suggests that teenagers are highly aware of the issues at stake. However, it is unclear to what extent they directly engage with government policy in this area. To fully understand the current state of climate politics, it is important to gain a more complete picture of young people’s knowledge and perceptions of domestic climate policy.

Questions and objectives

Perhaps the most important part of your introduction is your questions and objectives, as it sets up the expectations for the rest of your thesis or dissertation. How you formulate your research questions and research objectives will depend on your discipline, topic, and focus, but you should always clearly state the central aim of your research.

Note
While you can briefly mention the research methods you used to answer your questions, don’t go into too much detail here if you are including a separate methodology chapter.

If your research aims to test hypotheses, you can formulate them here. Your introduction is also a good place for a conceptual framework that suggests relationships between variables.

Example research question
How do American high school students engage with the domestic policies on climate change?
Example objective
  • Conduct surveys to collect data on students’ levels of knowledge, understanding, and positive/negative perceptions of government policy.
  • Determine whether attitudes to climate policy are associated with variables such as age, gender, region, and social class.
  • Conduct interviews to gain qualitative insights into students’ perspectives and actions in relation to climate policy.

Overview of the structure

To help guide your reader, end your introduction with an outline of the structure of the thesis or dissertation to follow. Share a brief summary of each chapter, clearly showing how each contributes to your central aims. However, be careful to keep this overview concise: 1-2 sentences should be enough.

Note
If your research is more complicated, or does not follow a conventional structure, you might need up to a paragraph for each chapter.

For example, a humanities dissertation might develop an argument thematically, rather than dividing the research into methods/results/discussion. If your structure is unconventional, make it clear how everything fits together.

Thesis introduction example

Introduction example

I. Introduction

Human language consists of a set of vowels and consonants which are combined to form words. During the speech production process, thoughts are converted into spoken utterances to convey a message. The appropriate words and their meanings are selected in the mental lexicon (Dell & Burger, 1997). This pre-verbal message is then grammatically coded, during which a syntactic representation of the utterance is built.

Speech, language, and voice disorders affect the vocal cords, nerves, muscles, and brain structures, which result in a distorted language reception or speech production (Sataloff & Hawkshaw, 2014). The symptoms vary from adding superfluous words and taking pauses to hoarseness of the voice, depending on the type of disorder (Dodd, 2005). However, distortions of the speech may also occur as a result of a disease that seems unrelated to speech, such as multiple sclerosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

This study aims to determine which acoustic parameters are suitable for the automatic detection of exacerbations in patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by investigating which aspects of speech differ between COPD patients and healthy speakers and which aspects differ between COPD patients in exacerbation and stable COPD patients.

Introduction checklist

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Frequently asked questions about introductions

What should I include in a research paper introduction?

The introduction of a research paper includes several key elements:

When should I write my research paper introduction?

Don’t feel that you have to write the introduction first. The introduction is often one of the last parts of the research paper you’ll write, along with the conclusion.

This is because it can be easier to introduce your paper once you’ve already written the body; you may not have the clearest idea of your arguments until you’ve written them, and things can change during the writing process.

What is a research objective?

Research objectives describe what you intend your research project to accomplish.

They summarize the approach and purpose of the project and help to focus your research.

Your objectives should appear in the introduction of your research paper, at the end of your problem statement.

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George, T. & McCombes, S. (2022, November 15). How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation Introduction. Scribbr. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/introduction-structure/

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Tegan George

Tegan is an American based in Amsterdam, with master's degrees in political science and education administration. While she is definitely a political scientist at heart, her experience working at universities led to a passion for making social science topics more approachable and exciting to students. A well-designed natural experiment is her favorite type of research, but she also loves qualitative methods of all varieties.