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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
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.


Dont 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.
Dont try to say everything in the introduction, but do outline the broad thrust of your work and
Make sure that you dont promise anything that cant be delivered later.
Keep the language straightforward. Although you should do this throughout, it is especially
important for the introduction.

Top Tip:

Your introduction is the readers 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.

Find more at:

Goals of the Introduction

If someone reads only one section of your dissertation, itll be the introduction, so the introductions
primary goal is to demonstrate the importance, interest and originality of your research project. Above all,
it should include a statement of the research question that your project investigates. This statement should
give readers a broad sense of the current research on your topic, whats at stake in learning more about
the topic and how your specific project changes what people know about the topic. The introductions tone
should be confident without being arrogant or dismissive. Finally, the introduction should define key terms
youll use throughout the study, as well as map out the rest of the dissertation.

Goals of the Background

The background section is often called the literature review. The literature refers to other research on
your topic. The background synthesizes current knowledge on your research question in far greater detail
than your introductory section does. Its goal is to articulate patterns within the literature and to describe
unresolved issues or questions, then to show how your study fits into the larger body of work in your field.
You can organize your overview of other research in several ways, including in chronological order, by
significant issues, or from broad information about your field to specific studies on your topic.

Separate Introduction and Background

Some disciplines organize the introduction and background as separate sections of the dissertation.
Dissertations in the social sciences, for instance, frequently have an introduction followed by a literature
review. The hard sciences also tend to follow this format, with each subsequent chapter representing a
published article related to the broad research question.

Background Within the Introduction

In many humanities disciplines, the introduction will include a section called Background or Literature
Review, which provides a history of criticism on your topic. Individual dissertation chapters then contain

further discussion of the criticism related to specific texts that the chapter investigates. Its crucial to
consult your adviser to find out how youre expected to organize the introduction and background.

April 16, 2012 By James Hayton

The introduction to your thesis is the first thing the

examiner will read.
It is your only chance to form a first impression, if the
examiner doesnt already know you.
It sets the background, context and motivation for your
work. And so its at least as important as every other
And yet a lot of people leave writing the introduction till
last. It s an afterthought, and if youre near the deadline,
itll be written in a rush. This is a mistake.
If you write your introduction as a hurried afterthought, or
as just a dry list of things that will be covered later then
they will want to skim read it to get to the proper work in
later chapters.
It is far better to write an engaging introduction, having
spent time thinking about why your research matters and
why anyone would want to read about it.

Why you might write the intro last

If you are writing chapters but you dont yet know the full
story, then it might make sense to write the introduction
If youre doing this, I guarantee you will be stressed in the
run up to submission. Why? because youre trying to finish
the research and the writing all at the same time.

Its like cooking for a dinner party and constantly running

out to buy ingredients while the guests are arriving. Its not
going to end well!
Stop, finish your research, then resume writing once you
know what youre going to say.

Writing an engaging thesis introduction

The job of the introduction is to make the reader want to
read the rest of the thesis.
Examiners are busy people. When your thesis arrives on
their desk, there will be that moment of dread will this be
an interesting read, or will it be like wading through wet
A good thesis introduction will set up a sense of
Why is this work important? And why should anyone care?
Here are a few tips to help you write an engaging
introductory chapter:

1. Start with the big picture

Start with an idea of how the whole thesis will be
structured. What will be covered in each subsequent
chapter? Then when you talk about specific concepts in
the intro, you can say this will be discussed further in
chapter .
Without these references to what you will cover later, the
examiner might be wondering, why are you telling me

2. General > specific > general

A good structure to follow for the chapter is to start broad.
Why does your field of research matter to the wider world?
Then you can talk about specific things related to your
niche, and say why those matter to your field of research.
Then at the end of the chapter, try to link your specific
niche back to the general, wider world again.

3. Give them something unexpected

Examiners have read a lot about your subject, but they
dont know you.
Give them something unexpected; a unique perspective,
something that interests you or that you find fascinating,
and they will be interested to read more.

4. Set boundaries
At some point early in the chapter (but not necessarily the
first paragraph) tell the reader what you will cover in the
In my thesis, I included the following paragraph after a
brief introduction of about 2 pages as to why nanoscience
and nanotechnology matter:
Though there are several excellent general reviews of
nanoscience and technology
(36), each to some extent reflects the authors personal
research interests
and expertise. Due to the pace of development and
breadth of research,

a truly comprehensive review is probably impossible, and

certainly beyond
the scope of this thesis. The following brief review presents
the properties
of semiconductor and metal nanostructures, in addition to
the principles of
self-assembly and self organisation.
So I set out clearly what the review would cover, while
pointing the reader to more general reviews for reference.
This meant I could be highly focused on specific principles,
but also relate these back to the general motivation of the
It helps if you know what you want to cover, and how it
relates to your research!

5. Relate your work to the best in the field

When you talk about the state of the art in your field, focus
on the very best work.
This not only reduces the number of papers you have to
reference, but it gives your thesis a feeling of quality by
association. It shows that you have some standards and
appreciation for good research.
Say why that work matters, and you help to justify your

6. Where are the gaps?

Once youve talked about the best work in the field, what
gaps in the knowledge remain?

This is where you introduce your work:

Although giant strides have been made in recent years in
the field of , there remains an open question as to
The work described in the following chapters attempts to

7. Tying it up and introducing the next chapter

Your introductory chapter needs a conclusion, but it also
needs to set up a sense of anticipation. You want the
examiner to want to read the rest of your thesis (or at least
the next chapter).
So its good to summarise the general principles you have
just introduced, state a problem or question that needs an
answer (and why it matters in relation to the general aims
of your research field), and give a quick hint of how the
next chapter will help to answer that question.
If man-made nanostructures are to follow a similar path [to
nature], exploiting guided self-assembly to rapidly form
functional structures, we must study both the physics of
structure formation at the nanoscale and the influence
of structure on function, specifically optical and electronic
Scanning probe techniques provide a versatile means of
characterisation of these structures.
Specifically, scanning near-field optical microscopy
provides a means of optical characterisation with
resolutions beyond the classical diffraction limit, in parallel
with topographic information. These techniques, along with

synchrotron based spectroscopy to probe deeper into the

electronic properties of nanostructured assemblies, will be
discussed in the following chapters.

Does this structure work?

My examiner wrote in his report that the first chapter of my
thesis was one of the best introductions to the subject he
had ever read, including those published in the literature.
I was never a particularly good physicist, compared to
some of the people I have worked with. But first
impressions count, and introductions matter.