Writing a Dissertation Introduction

It would be difficult to understate the importance of a good introduction to the success of a dissertation. It’s the first thing anyone will read, so you want to get them interested and excited right off the bat. Even if your dissertation is well-argued and has tons of facts and evidence, having a poorly-written introduction will not put a reader in the right state of mind to appreciate it. Rhetoric is important. Your introduction lets readers know exactly what the stakes are, and what you will be proving in your paper.

Here are some things to keep in mind when writing a dissertation introduction:

  • Give a clear account of the context of the paper, that is, what problem or issue the paper will be addressing. You basically need to justify the existence of your dissertation. Why write about this? Why is it important? Are the implications only theoretical, or are they practical. (It’s perfectly fine to only have theoretical implications, as long as you know what they are.)
  • Give a methodological account of your research. How did you go about making your findings? Are there any problems or limitations to the research strategy you chose? If there are, you should address them up front, or doubts will linger in the reader’s mind as they read your paper.
  • Give a preview of what your paper will be claiming, in a step by step way. Make sure the reader knows what the paper will be claiming, what it will not. Giving an account of the scope of the paper prevents the reader from having unrealistic expectations for the paper.
  • Avoid jargon. Write in clear and commonsense language. Even if your paper is dealing in a highly specialized, technical area, the introduction is no pace to be abstract or technical.
  • If your topic is particularly controversial or contentious, you should give an account if what the various viewpoints are, and how the claims of your dissertation should be understood within the context of the larger debate. Every topic in academia has its different schools of thought as well as a history of scholarly opinion. You should familiarize your reader with this history, if for no other reason than to demonstrate the scope of your own knowledge. Don’t spend too much time on this aspect, however, unless your dissertation itself deals with the intellectual  history of the topic.

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