When writing the introduction section of a thesis or dissertation, students often offer too much or too little information, or the wrong sort of information altogether. Don't make your introduction more complicated than it ought to be. An introduction really does “introduce” your dissertation to a reader who might be interested in it. To do that well, it needs to:
- summarize your research question: what is this dissertation about, exactly? (Your thesis statement! The emphasis is on specificity, the narrowness of your focus)
- put your research question/thesis statement in its larger context: this could be historical background, or philosophical background, or describing it in contrast with other similar research, etc. (emphasis on the broader setting of your thesis/research)
- make an argument for the value of your research/thesis. Why is your work important or valuable? In what way is it relevant? What difference might it make? Who might benefit from it, who might be threatened by it? (emphasis on the potential impact of your thesis/research)
- describe how you go about your research, or the approach you take in your argument. If your dissertation has a separate methodology section, just give the general principles you employ; if not, describe your methodology here. (emphasis on the structure of your argument or the conceptual theories and practical methods employed in your research)
- describe, concisely, the structure of your dissertation: this might mean simply giving the title and purpose of each section, or perhaps giving a simple outline of the dissertation in the order that it is written. (emphasis on the order in which your dissertation unfolds)
Do not try to show off your academic vocabulary or your intellectual prowess in your introduction. Describe each of these ingredients as simply as possible, but no simpler. Make your introduction helpful, not impressively erudite; you are introducing your dissertation, not yourself as a scholar.
The idea is to introduce your dissertation in the same sort of way that you would introduce your shy young daughter, a piano prodigy, to a prospective piano instructor: this is her name (thesis statement & title), she has already studied these kinds of music, she is interested in pursuing this other sort of music, she might be invited to play at this or that venue, which could win her a scholarship to this or that college... You speak on behalf of your dissertation to properly introduce it to a scholarly audience so that it can be more quickly understood and appreciated once the reader dives into it.
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