The introduction should answer the following questions for the reader:
- What is your topic area?
- What is your purpose?
- Why is this topic important?
- What do you / do you not include? (scope)
- What will be included in the thesis (map/overview)
The introduction should make it clear how the thesis contributes to the field by explaining the research objectives, showing that the research is important and placing the study in the context of previous research. One model which is often discussed is the CARS model - Create a Research Space by John Swales. He describes three moves:
- Move 1: Establish the topic and its significance
- Move 2: Establish need for present research
- Move 3: Introduce the present research
See here for some commented example introductions from civil engineering:
Introduction 1: Modelling and analysis of urban flooding
Introduction 2: Parameters affecting the occurrence of bicycle accidents
Introduction 3: Tamping planning in railway maintenance
See here for some commented example introductions from computer science:
Introduction 1: Cloud Service Analysis
Introduction 2: Extracting Data from NoSQL Databases
Common elements of an introduction (be aware that different disciplines can have different requirements/ expectations for which subsections are included in the introduction)
|Context||Defines topic and makes its relevance clear|
|Presents a brief history of the subject, significant work in the field; gives the reader information needed to understand the report. Often a longer background can come in the next section. |
|Indicates the need for the present research. Could be by showing a gap in the previous research or by raising a question about previous research or by proposing an extension of previous research. |
|Problem statement / description||Defines the problem to be discussed in the thesis. This section can include the aim and research questions. |
|Purpose / Aim||Describes what you intend to achieve with the thesis and why it was written|
|Research questions||Key questions that the thesis will answer. Typically more than 2 questions and less than 5.|
|Scope / Limitations||Outlines scope of the work (what has been included) and why certain limitations have been made (what has been excluded)|
|Notes the type of scientific inquiry taken. (Sometimes included though not common)|
|Key results ||Highlights the key findings of the thesis. (Sometimes included though not common)|
Describes the structure of the thesis and thereby orients the reader to the text; indicates the progression of points and sections
Describes the thesis' contribution to this area of research. This subsection is typical within computer engineering theses.
Of the elements listed above, the following headings are typically found in an introduction:
- Background; Purpose or Aim; Research questions; Scope and /or Limitations; Thesis outline
- The introduction starts on page one (p. 1) immediately after the table of contents.
- If an introduction is longer than a page, it can be divided into subsections by using some of the categories above. Sometimes, there is a separate background and/or theory/ literature review section (see Theory / Literature review) where there is more detail. As usual when creating subsections, aim for a reasonable length i.e. at least one paragraph and not more than 2 pages.
- Since introductions are short but have very many elements, they have to be very clear and direct.
- The introduction often contains many references because the thesis is being centred in other areas of research.These are to show that you are familiar with the field (Move 1) and how your research contributes to the field (move 2).
- The present tense frequently appears in introductions, especially when current ideas in the field are being described.
For useful phrases to use in the introduction, click here for the University of Manchester's Academic Phrasebank