Writing your dissertation introduction can be a real challenge. On the one hand, you should provide enough information to engage the reader. But, on the other, you shouldn’t overload them with too much waffle.
So, how can you find a happy medium? Well, it often helps to break the introduction down into 5 manageable chunks:
- Set the scene
- Introduce the key debate(s)
- Pinpoint the research question and emphasise its relevance
- Describe the methods
- Outline the structure
Generally speaking, each chunk should be about a paragraph long, though this is not a hard-and-fast-rule. After all, the most important thing is to make sure that all the points are covered. That said, let’s explore each of these points in a bit more depth.
1. How to set the scene
A good introduction grabs the reader’s attention from the get-go. On a more practical level, it also provides the reader with relevant background information.
To ‘set the scene’ for your dissertation, first ask yourself:
- What is the broader topic of my dissertation?
- Why is the topic interesting?
- What is the historical context? How did this topic come about, and what came before it?
- What would a reader need to be able to know in order to understand my research question?
Once you have this information, you can start writing the opening paragraph for your dissertation. Remember, there’s no need to explain everything on this topic; pick and choose the most relevant information.
2. How to introduce the key debate(s)
Once the introductions are out of the way, now’s the time to bring in the key debate(s). There’s no need to summarise your entire literature review here. Rather, just introduce theories or debates that are crucial for contextualising your dissertation.
Unfortunately, deciding what information to put here can be really tricky; say too much and you’ll confuse the reader, but say too little, and your reader won’t be able to grasp the significance of your dissertation.
If you’ve already written most of your dissertation, choosing which theories/debates to put in the introduction will be a lot easier. Often, it’s the theories that appear in the literature review and then reappear in the discussion/conclusion that are most relevant.
3. How to pinpoint the research question and emphasise its relevance
The last two paragraphs were all about contextualising your dissertation. Now’s the time to pinpoint your exact research question. You should also briefly describe how your research project is relevant to the aforementioned theories/debates. Don’t assume that the relevance is implied – it’s best to be as clear as you can.
In many cases, your research project will be relevant either because:
- It replicates an existing study in a new setting or with a new sample type
- It engages with an existing debate and seeks to find evidence to support/refute one side of the debate
4. How to describe the methods
Next, you should provide a brief description of how you’ll be approaching the research question(s) and what methods you’ll be using.
Remember, the methodology section will describe your approach in detail, so there’s no need to be too specific in the introduction.
5. How to outline the structure
Now that you’ve outlined your dissertation topic, it’s time to outline the structure of the dissertation. This is a form of ‘signposting’ that will help to keep your reader on track. Essentially, provide a very brief summary of what the reader can expect from each and every chapter. One or two sentences per chapter will suffice.
The outline paragraph shouldn’t give too much away, but try to drop some hints. This will keep your reader focused and allow them to clearly follow your line of argument. So, instead of saying,
You could say,
Tips to remember
Here are some pointers to keep in mind when writing your dissertation introduction:
- Write it last – You’ve probably heard this piece of advice 100 times before, but that’s because it’s so important! The introduction should always be written last because you won’t know what information is most important for the reader until the very end. You may, of course, write a draft of the introduction, but this will need to be extensively edited before you submit your dissertation.
- Try to add a bit of style – Although a dissertation is a formal, academic project, an engaging writing style can enhance your work. So, rather than beginning with a dry statement like “This dissertation will explore…” try to ‘set the scene’ for your reader, instead. Writing in an academic yet engaging style can be tricky, so if you need a helping hand, our disseration writing service is available to help.
- Keep it succinct – Many students make the mistake of writing an introduction that’s too long. The introduction should be succinct and compelling so as not to bore or confuse the reader. Remember, most of your background reading will go in the ‘literature review’ chapter, so try not to overload the introduction.
- Edit, edit and edit – You should spend time editing and re-editing the introduction until it’s as succinct and compelling as you can make it. After all, if you nail the introduction, you’ll be setting the tone for the entire dissertation!