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Introduce your thesis

Chapter One is important!

Your first chapter is extremely important because it sets the scene and the tone for the thesis. It is your first real opportunity to highlight the importance and value of your work and to contextualise it, all in a well-written, clear and interesting manner. This is the first impression that the reader or your examiner will get. It will give an indication of the writing style, the depth of research and content, structure, language and complexity. Examiners indicate that they pay considerable attention to the first chapter, which creates a strong initial indication as to the standard of the thesis.

This first chapter must introduce the thesis with an emphasis on its key components, providing a clear statement of the topic or problem under investigation. It generally includes:

  • Context information
  • Theoretical framework
  • Statement of the problem or 'gap' in the research
  • Aims of the project
  • Brief description of your methodology/ research
  • Outline of chapters - Thesis plan

The purpose of the Introduction is to provide a rationale for your research project. It establishes the need for your research within the current knowledge of the discipline, in a clearly constructed logical and explicit argument, clarifying how this work will contribute to knowledge in the field. In addition, the Introduction often discusses why the particular approach taken in conducting the research has been chosen.

To establish the need for your research, you must indicate in precise terms the problem which has not yet been adequately investigated. This is usually done by showing:

  • the limitations of previous research
  • the gaps in the previous research
  • the unresolved conflicts in the field that still require investigation
  • new developments that are required by the current state of knowledge in your field.

You will probably treat these points in more detail elsewhere in the thesis - if you review the literature in a free-standing chapter or in sections of separate chapters, for example - but you still need to present them in summary form in the introductory chapter.

The Introduction generally moves from general information providing background about the research field to specific information about the research project itself, culminating in an outline of the chapters . This finale to the introductory chapter provides a plan of the structure of your project, describing chapter by chapter, the major components of the research and showing how the various threads are woven together. Try to make it interesting and informative as you outline the way the content is organised in each chapter.

When to write the introductory chapter

Write a preliminary draft of the introduction at the start of the research process. It is a good way to clarify your own thinking and the parameters of your project. However, keep in mind that this is only a draft. Review your introduction periodically, but don't worry too much about it until you have finished most of the writing.

When you have completed the whole thesis, then go back to Chapter One. You are now better informed about your research and your findings than you were when you started, and are now in a position to craft a first chapter in accordance with your overview of the whole research, your findings, the literature, and theory, linking all strands and demonstrating its scholarly contribution. Pay particular attention to your choice of language: refine your expression until you believe it is clear and concise, and you have created a well-written and interesting text. You want to ensure that your reader is sufficiently engaged to want to read the whole thesis.

At this final stage in your thesis, when you have completed your research and most of the writing and are really feeling close to completion, you may well be feeling exhausted from the sustained effort, and eager for closure, with little energy to pursue an additional thesis task. But, like the mountain climber so close to the summit, you are well advised to muster all the energy that you have, to focus on Chapter One until it is a really good piece of writing which succinctly encapsulates the essence of the thesis. It is worth the effort!

Be particularly careful with proofreading this chapter; a first chapter with errors suggests sloppy work and the possibility that the research has been conducted in a sloppy manner too.

Use the final paragraph of your introduction to make sure that the sequencing of your chapters is logical. Remember, you are telling a story: the story of your research.

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