The introduction is an important part of any piece of writing, as it is your opportunity to hook your reader—to get their attention and capture their interest. However, for a dissertation, the introduction serves a fairly specific purpose. Because doctoral papers also have abstracts, your introduction shouldn’t summarize the paper. Instead, it should introduce the field of study and the background or context, state the research question and the hypothesis.
The introduction is a good opportunity to provide background about the subject so that it is accessible to anyone, even if they don’t know a lot about the subject. For instance, if your dissertation is examining the efficacy of teen pregnancy prevention programs, it would be helpful for readers to know how much the rate of teen pregnancy has been declining over the past several decades, and what has contributed to that such as access to information or birth control. In addition to general background on the field of study, an introduction should provide the context of the research—in other words, what other studies have been done that yours builds off of or fills in gaps of.
Dissertations are different than most every other paper you’ll have written in your academic career because they are meant to be primary research, not just a literature review of existing research. Therefor, your paper will work to answer a specific research question. This can be anything from what are recent trends in a subject, to what correlation exists between variables, to what is the impact of one subject on another. Needless to say, research questions will vary greatly across different subjects. The important thing to keep in mind though, is that your research question should be made clear in the introduction of your dissertation. Similar to a thesis statement, the reader should easily be able to pick it out. Also similar to a thesis statement, it will often come toward the end of the introduction.
Depending on your subject, you may also have a hypothesis that your dissertation tests in addition to a research question. Hypotheses are more common in the sciences or and some social sciences than the humanities. The hypothesis is essentially an answer to your research question that you are testing.
The tone of a dissertation’s introduction is also important. It should be welcoming and accessible, but should avoid the kind of sweeping generalizations or universal statements that students often make in introductions.
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