Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
Ok … so what constitutes an introduction? How do I summarise, without necessarily generalising, the objectives of my 80,000 plus thesis; remembering not to go into too much detail, whilst not neglecting important factors. It seems a tall order to me …
I was working on the premise that as the thesis unfolded so would my argument? No?
Apparently not – I need to be far more methodical in my approach so I turned to some tipsters for their advice ..
What is an introduction?
- A statement of the goal of the paper: why the study was undertaken, or why the paper was written. Do not repeat the abstract.
- Sufficient background information to allow the reader to understand the context and significance of the question you are trying to address.
- Proper acknowledgement of the previous work on which you are building. Sufficient references such that a reader could, by going to the library, achieve a sophisticated understanding of the context and significance of the question.
- The introduction should be focused on the thesis question(s). All cited work should be directly relevent to the goals of the thesis. This is not a place to summarize everything you have ever read on a subject.
- Explain the scope of your work, what will and will not be included.
- A verbal “road map” or verbal “table of contents” guiding the reader to what lies ahead.
- Is it obvious where introductory material (“old stuff”) ends and your contribution (“new stuff”) begins? (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~martins/sen_sem/thesis_org.html#Introduction)
This raises a few questions then – the Abstract – do not repeat it? So what should I say in the abstract?
- A good abstract explains in one line why the paper is important. The final sentences explain the major implications of your work. A good abstract is concise, readable, and quantitative.
- Length should be ~ 1-2 paragraphs, approx. 400 words.
- Absrtracts generally do not have citations.
- Information in title should not be repeated.
- Be explicit.
Use numbers where appropriate. (N/A- Humanities rarely want numbers!)
- Answers to these questions should be found in the abstract:
- What did you do?
- Why did you do it? What question were you trying to answer?
- How did you do it? State methods.
- What did you learn? State major results.
- Why does it matter? Point out at least one significant implication.
- It all sounds so very simple doesn’t it …
So – I have the body of my research done, the majority of it drafted out into chapters, a little muddled in parts and crying out for rewrites, two small chapters to be written (which is normal) and my supervisor wants an introduction, to set out the thesis to help me restructure (makes sense right?) …
Sooooo – it should be easy! It should! Oh yes it bloody well should!
So why am I sitting here scratching my head, scrabbling for words to describe what I can so “eloquently” (her words not mine) discuss when I am in a session with her?
Oh – the things that beleaguer us are often so minuscule, so inscrutable, so quixotic, what chance do we , mere mortals, stand of ever pinning them down …
Well if they can do it so can I!
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.