Firstly, writing retrospectively means that your dissertation introduction and conclusion will ‘match’ and your ideas will all be tied up nicely.
Secondly, it’s time-saving. If you write your introduction before anything else, it’s likely your ideas will evolve and morph as your dissertation develops. And then you’ll just have to go back and edit or totally re-write your introduction again.
Thirdly, it will ensure that the abstract accurately contains all the information it needs for the reader to get a good overall picture about what you have actually done.
In this guide, we’ll run through each of these chapters in detail so you’re well equipped to write your own. We’ve also identified some common mistakes often made by students in their writing so that you can steer clear of them in your work.
As a general rule, your dissertation introduction should generally do the following things:
Provide preliminary background information that puts your research in context
Clarify the focus of your study
Point out the value of your research
Specify your specific research aims and objectives
While the ‘background information’ usually appears first in a dissertation introduction, the structure of the remaining three points is completely up to you.
There are opportunities to combine these sections to best suit your needs. There are also opportunities to add in features that go beyond these four points. For example, some students like to add in their research questions in their dissertation introduction so that the reader is not only exposed to the aims and objectives but also has a concrete framework for where the research is headed. Other students might save the research methods until the end of the literature review/beginning of the methodology.
In terms of length, there is no rule about how long a dissertation introduction needs to be, as it is going to depend on the length of the total dissertation. Generally, however, if you aim for a length between 5-7% of the total, this is likely to be acceptable.
Your introduction must include sub-sections with appropriate headings/subheadings and should highlight some of the key references that you plan to use in the main study. This demonstrates another reason why writing a dissertation introduction last is beneficial. As you will have already written the literature review, the most prominent authors will already be evident and you can showcase this research to the best of your ability.
The background section
One of the main purposes of the background section is to ease the reader into the topic. It is generally considered inappropriate to simply state the context and focus of your study and what led you to pursue this line of research.
The reader needs to know why your research is worth doing. You can do this successfully by identifying the gap in the research and the problem that needs addressing. One common mistake made by students is to justify their research by stating that the topic is interesting to them. While this is certainly an important element to any research project, and to the sanity of the researcher, the writing in the dissertation needs to go beyond ‘interesting’ to why there is a particular need for this research. This can be done by providing a background section.
You are going to want to begin outlining your background section by identifying crucial pieces of your topic that the reader needs to know from the outset. A good starting point might be to write down a list of the top 5-7 readings/authors that you found most influential (and as demonstrated in your literature review). Once you have identified these, write some brief notes as to why they were so influential and how they fit together in relation to your overall topic.
You may also want to think about what key terminology is paramount to the reader being able to understand your dissertation. While you may have a glossary or list of abbreviations included in your dissertation, your background section offers some opportunity for you to highlight two or three essential terms.
When reading a background section, there are two common mistakes that are most evident in student writing, either too little is written or far too much! In writing the background information, one to two pages is plenty. You need to be able to arrive at your research focus quite quickly and only provide the basic information that allows your reader to appreciate your research in context.
The research focus
The research focus does two things: it provides information on the research focus (obviously) and also the rationale for your study.
It is essential that you are able to clarify the area(s) you intend to research and you must explain why you have done this research in the first place. One key point to remember is that your research focus must link to the background information that you have provided above. While you might write the sections on different days or even different months, it all has to look like one continuous flow. Make sure that you employ transitional phrases to ensure that the reader knows how the sections are linked to each other purchase a dissertation introduction.
The research focus leads into the value, aims and objectives of your research, so you might want to think of it as the tie between what has already been done and the direction your research is going. Again, you want to ease the reader into your topic, so stating something like “my research focus is…” in the first line of your section might come across overly harsh. Instead, you might consider introducing the main focus, explaining why research in your area is important, and the overall importance of the research field. This should set you up well to present your aims and objectives.