How To Write An Introduction To A Phd Dissertation

November might be over, but we know your thesis is still there. Writing the introduction and conclusion sounds like a breeze after wrestling with all the other chapters, but these two might be tricky… Emma shares some fantastic advice on writing the Introduction Chapter. 

To clarify this blog is about the introduction of the thesis, not about the introduction for each thesis chapter (which is blogged about already).

I could not find a blog on introductions, perhaps because they are usually written last, near the end, when no one wants to write anything additional by that point.

 

But I have been struggling with the introduction. Introducing someone to your work in an interesting way yet ticking all those thesis boxes is tough. I rapidly realised that my introduction was becoming a literature review. I was confused where to situate the study because my method was exploratory, involving storytelling. The study was conducted with a school, but was also connected to several other areas such as theatre and drama studies, arts in education, psychology, and youth studies, to name a few.

I had written 15 pages of rubbish and needed help. I showed my work to someone that knows about writing. They advised me to start again.

From my experience no one can tell you exactly how to write the introduction because they are all different. But here are some tips to get started which will enable your supervisor to polish it further to fit with the rest of your thesis.

  1. Imagine that you are telling someone you have just met about the motivation or inspiration for your study. Aim for 250 words or a page. Don’t look at your thesis questions or anything previously written. Write on a sheet of paper if that helps.
  2. Take the time to select one area to connect your work to, even if it connects to several areas. Summarise this in a paragraph from your head (yes, again that means without looking at all those carefully taken notes and previous scribbles).
  3. Are you using an epistemological stance/theoretical point of view? Tell the reader about it in a paragraph.
  4. Rethink and add your research questions (you can look at previous drafts here, depending on the field your research questions may have changed quite a bit).
  5. Write an outline of what is being discussed in the thesis chapter by chapter. Have a look at some thesis documents from your field in the Modern records centre part of the library/online to see how others do this.

This won’t write your introduction for you, but it does provide a place to work from. Now show this to someone who knows nothing about your work. See what questions they have and address them in the text.

Don’t worry if you get comments like this:

  • needs transition
  • structure of ideas is not right/I don’t understand what you mean here

Put it in a draw, have a break, now go back to it. Now check the order, summarize what each paragraph is about or how it fits into your analysis as a whole.

Are there transitions for the reader? You can find examples of transition words here.

Then work on connecting ideas, and paragraphs, using transition words. There is help on how to use the transition words if you get stuck.

So you’ve done a first draft, checked the order, and used transition words to help the readers follow your ideas.

The next step is to look at how you have started the chapter, referring to the usual route in your field this could be with a vignette, or the methods.

If you are not sure about the order ask:

Does this make the thesis sound interesting? Is the most important point first or at the forefront of the argument?

Now show your draft to your supervisor.

These are some ideas to get you started; of course your supervisor will have some better suggestions once you have a basic outline.

Good luck!

Emma Parfitt is a PhD researcher in Sociology at the University of Warwick, otherwise known as the storytelling researcher. Her research interests include storytelling, creative writing, emotions and behaviour. She has a degree in Environmental Science and an MA in literature from St Andrews University. Emma had also published an Ebook called Temptation and Mozzarella. Read more about her research in Emma’s publications and blog.

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An introduction is a funnel into your work, bei it a paper or a thesis. The basic idea is to start by providing the wider scope within which your work resides.You then focus in on your part of the field or research question through a few steps.

The wider perspective of the beginning should also be the perspective in which you will later put your own results, to show how they feed back into some more general perspective. This part should allow the reader to focus in on relevant research and obtain a firm backgroudn of the current knowledge in the field. Once you have established the background you should identify for the reader the gap of knowledge which you have tackled. you then finish of by stating you plan for solving the problem so that your choices of methods etc. can be seen from the perspective of knowns and remaining problems to be solved. We can summarize the text as

Background

Gap

Your approach for a solution

Writing a thesis and a paper can mean this approach can be accomplished in several ways. In a research paper all of this usually goes into a single heading "Introduction". When you write a thesis the introduction may be many pages log and it is not uncommon to either have the list above as subheadings under introduction or to outline this part slightly differently.

When you have a lengthy introduction, you may start out by having a chapter called introduction which does what was outlined above but cuts out the backgroudn details and only summarizes what is known and identifies gaps, almost like a sumamry of the whole introduction. You then follow up with a detailed background in a separate chapter and likewise for identifying gaps and providing the outline of your research.

The point is that there are many ways to format or partition an introduction but the general idea is still there regardless of what form of publication you are writing: research paper or thesis.

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