• 3-minute read
  • 2nd December 2016

Dissertation Advice: 6 Tips for Writing the Introduction

As in life, so in dissertation writing: making a good first impression is crucial. And since your dissertation’s introduction section is the first thing the reader will see, it needs to be perfect.

1. Setting the Tone

A snappy opening line, while not essential, can help engage the reader from page one. By comparison, something dry might make them switch off before they get to the good stuff!

Aim for something memorable. One option here is briefly outlining why you were drawn to the research topic. But keep it brief: going on for too long about your personal reasons for studying something can distract from the subject matter.

2. Laying Foundations

The introduction should prepare the reader for the rest of your dissertation. As such, it’s vital to outline the subject area. This includes mentioning key studies (although in-depth explanation should be saved for the literature review) and defining important terms.

And once you've laid the foundations, the building work can begin! (Photo: PIRO4D/Pixabay)
And once you’ve laid the foundations, the (academic) building work begins!
(Photo: PIRO4D/Pixabay)

3. The Research Question

Once you’ve set out the background for your work, you need to state your research question. This means identifying a specific issue that your work will address, explaining why it warrants investigation, and noting what doing so will contribute to the field.

4. Predicting the Future

You may also need to provide hypotheses for your research. This is especially common in experimental studies, where you’ll have to predict the outcomes of whatever you’re testing.

A hypothesis is usually accompanied by a null hypothesis that states the opposite of what you predict. For instance, if you were studying the effect of rainbows on happiness, you might include the following in your introduction:

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Hypothesis (H1) = Rainbows make people feel happier.

Null hypothesis (H0) = Rainbows have no effect on how happy people feel.

Refracted sunlight = joy. (Photo: brigachtal/Pixabay)
Refracted sunlight = joy.
(Photo: brigachtal/Pixabay)

5. Structural Considerations

It helps to treat the introduction like a mini-essay with its own beginning (outlining your topic), middle (explaining key concepts and your research question) and end (stating what you expect to find). This should usually be around 10% of the overall dissertation length, so keep it succinct where possible.

In addition, you should use the introduction to set out the overall structure of your dissertation. This means giving a chapter breakdown detailing what each section in your work will address, showing how they come together to form a coherent whole.

6. A Final Redraft

Finally, although writing the introduction first helps you to get to grips with the overall structure of your dissertation, don’t forget to revisit it during the final stages of redrafting.

The introduction combines with the conclusion to ‘bookend’ your dissertation, so you may find it’s a good idea to rewrite the introduction once you have finished the rest of your work.

Unlike real bookends, you can't replace any part of your dissertation with a cat. (Photo: Lenore Edman/flickr)
Unfortunately, unlike real bookends, you can’t replace any part of your dissertation with a cat.
(Photo: Lenore Edman/flickr)

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