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thesis writing

Thesis writing: how to format an introduction

Jan 23, 2013 - Posted to  Thesis Writing
Even factoring in the many hours spent researching your thesis topic, you may be astounded to discover that when it comes to writing your paper you can barely get past the introduction. Since you are very comfortable with the material and know exactly what needs to be done, why should it be a problem for you to get through a simple introduction? The answer can be a multitude of things. One of them being that you may really not know how to prioritize your information for the introduction. Also you may not know how to synthesize all the details as well as provide an opening for such a large project.
Regardless of the hinderance, a general understanding of the introduction as it relates to the thesis as well as what it comprises should address most, if not all, of your introduction-writing concerns.

Introductions and theses

When writing an introduction for your thesis you may feel pressured to provide a grand entrance to your paper in order to impress reviewers. You also may want to provide a bit of confidence in what is to come of the remainder of your paper. Remember that confidence is good but grandeur is not. Reviewers often respond best to work that is genuine, short and to the point. You can easily exhibit confidence in your research without appearing superficial or as if you're trying too hard. This is done but simply providing the required information for your introduction in a clear, concise and well-structured manner-with no gimmicks attached.
Secondly, the introduction to your thesis is similar to other introductions in that its length should match the body of your text. For instance, if your thesis is 35 pages long, your introduction shouldn't be a page. It would be better to give yourself at least 4-6 pages for a decent introduction - one that shows that you were not just rushing through it in order to get to the body of your paper or better yet because you saved it for the end and want nothing to do with the thesis! This one slip, is probably the most frequent one made with thesis introductions and conclusions. In short, if you're doing a good job of introducing your work the page count for the introduction should reflect that.

So what exactly should be included in the introduction?

In many cases if you know exactly what an introduction contains the construction of it should not be very difficult at all. In some cases introductions for theses may differ depending on the discipline being researched. For instance, literature-based subjects such as English or history may have a different makeup for introductions as opposed to the social sciences for example (possibly due to the empirical element that is involved in many scientific theses). For example, scientific introductions may deal more with methods of data collection whereas a literature-based subjects may be concerned more with the theoretical perceptions of the topic. A typical setup of the introduction for either one may be as follows;

Components of the Introduction

  1. Background information on the study (provide a framework for the study; why is it significant?)
  2. Literature review or theoretical backing for the work
  3. The thesis statement or research question
  4. Methodology used in the research and any limitations or assumptions made
  5. Explanation of any terms to be used; unclear vocabulary
  6. Brief summary of entire thesis previewing what is to come in the corresponding sections

Functions of the introduction

Sometimes its important to point out not only the components of the introduction but also the purpose that the introduction should serve. Knowing its role will hopefully improve your ability to properly structure and develop your introduction. Some main functions of the introduction are to;
  1. Grab the reader's attention
  2. Provide a segway to the topic being introduced
  3. Provide a clear connection to the remainder of the paper
  4. Identify a 'gap' in the field of study (of which the thesis will address)
These among other things are key issues that every thesis introduction should address. And at the foremost of those things is to identify the 'gap' or 'hole' that the thesis fills. In many cases when a thesis or thesis is under review the reviewer(s) often ask the question So what? or Why is this important? This is because part of the job of the student is to know the topic well enough to identify whether or not it is worth pursuing, if it has been attempted before, the result of that attempt and how his/her approach will be any different. This is crucial in clarifying where your research stands amongst all the rest.
Secondly, despite the formality of the thesis, its still important for the first line of the introduction to be 'eye-catching' or enticing enough to encourage the reader to pursue the text. Outside of your reviewers, your thesis may also be read by many others and therefore it should still follow the protocols of an engaging introduction. This along with the previously mentioned point regarding gaps in different fields of study, are two of the main areas in which students fall short in when satisfying the functions of an introduction.

When should you write your introduction?

Lastly, some people may toggle back and forth as to when they should actually start writing their introduction. In most cases, once all your planning is underway, and you've done a significant amount of research on your topic you can begin writing your introduction (even before your research has concluded). This actually should be easy to guess as in most cases a thesis or thesis proposal must first be submitted before the research for a thesis can commence. Likewise, the information contained in the proposal will likely mirror the information presented in the introduction of the actual thesis.Therefore if you think it will help you move your writing along, there should be no problem in writing your introduction first.
Similarly, many students will actually choose to write their introduction at the closing of their thesis for several reasons. One being that, after writing their entire paper as well as finalizing their research, they can more easily and confidently organize their introduction and frame all of the main points in the best manner possible. This can sometimes be quite difficult when writing the introduction first, as there may be just too many unknowns or questionable areas. Therefore writing the introduction last eliminates a lot of guesswork and uncertainties. Though one drawback of this approach, as previously mentioned, is that, sometimes by saving the introduction for the end, the quality of it also suffers. The desire to rush and get through the process altogether may interfere with the overall presentation and planning of this vital portion of the thesis.
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