The thesis introduction, usually chapter 1, is one of the most important chapters of a thesis. It sets the scene. It previews key arguments and findings. And it helps the reader to understand the structure of the thesis. In short, a lot is riding on this first chapter. With the following tips, you can write a powerful thesis introduction.
- Elements of a fantastic thesis introduction
- Ways to capture the reader’s attention
- Emphasising the thesis’ relevance
- Formulating a compelling argument
- Providing a captivating preview of findings
- Presenting a crystal clear thesis structure
Elements of a fantastic thesis introduction
An introductory chapter plays an integral part in every thesis. The first chapter has to include quite a lot of information to contextualise the research. At the same time, a good thesis introduction is not too long, but clear and to the point.
A powerful thesis introduction does the following:
- It captures the reader’s attention.
- It presents a clear research gap and emphasises the thesis’ relevance.
- It provides a compelling argument.
- It previews the research findings.
- It explains the structure of the thesis.
This list can feel quite overwhelming. However, with some easy tips and tricks, you can accomplish all these goals in your thesis introduction.
Furthermore, 15 examples below show you how to nail each of these goals in practice!
Ways to capture the reader’s attention
A powerful thesis introduction should spark the reader’s interest on the first pages. A reader should be enticed to continue reading! There are three common ways to capture the reader’s attention.
Open with a (personal) story
An established way to capture the reader’s attention in a thesis introduction is by starting with a story. Regardless of how abstract and ‘scientific’ the actual thesis content is, it can be useful to ease the reader into the topic with a short story.
This story can be, for instance, based on one of your study participants. It can also be a very personal account of one of your own experiences, which drew you to study the thesis topic in the first place.
|On August 29, Shofika fled her village in Myanmar, together with her two children. Traumatised and exhausted, they found temporary shelter in the world’s largest refugee camp around Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Undocumented and impoverished, Shofika is now dependent on humanitarian aid for survival. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees share Shofika’s fate.|
This thesis discusses the international humanitarian response to the massive refugee influx to Bangladesh following events in Myanmar in August and September 2018. It particularly focuses on the service provisions for undocumented Rohingya refugees like Shofika and her children.
Start by providing data or statistics
Data and statistics are another established way to immediately draw in your reader. Especially surprising or shocking numbers can highlight the importance of a thesis topic in the first few sentences!
So if your thesis topic lends itself to being kick-started with data or statistics, you are in for a quick and easy way to write a memorable thesis introduction.
|Each year, 8 million tonnes of plastic waste enter our oceans (Our World in Data, 2022)! While awareness of marine pollution is increasing, there is a lack of concrete actions to tackle this environmental problem. In this thesis, I provide a comparative analysis of interventions to reduce marine pollution in five European countries.|
Begin with a problem
The third established way to capture the reader’s attention is by starting with the problem that underlies your thesis. It is advisable to keep the problem simple. A few sentences at the start of the chapter should suffice.
Usually, at a later stage in the introductory chapter, it is common to go more in-depth, describing the research problem (and its scientific and societal relevance) in more detail.
|Endometriosis is a medical condition that affects up to 10 % of American women. Yet, it often remains undetected. One of the key reasons for this is the limited knowledge of the condition among medical professionals. This thesis sets out to explore how to address this problem through an updated curriculum in medical school.|
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Emphasising the thesis’ relevance
A good thesis is a relevant thesis. No one wants to read about a concept that has already been explored hundreds of times, or that no one cares about.
Of course, a thesis heavily relies on the work of other scholars. However, each thesis is – and should be – unique. If you want to write a fantastic thesis introduction, your job is to point out this uniqueness!
Define a clear research gap
In academic research, a research gap signifies a research area or research question that has not been explored yet, that has been insufficiently explored, or whose insights and findings are outdated.
Every thesis needs a crystal-clear research gap. Spell it out instead of letting your reader figure out why your thesis is relevant.
|“Although previous studies have sought to understand different categories, precursors, and features of toxic behavior, the psychological mechanisms underlying such toxic behavior remain largely uninvestigated. This research gap can be broken down into two questions: (a) what are people’s intrinsic motivations for their in-game toxic behavior? And (b) from a theoretical perspective, how should scholars understand how online gaming environments foster toxic behavior?” (Liu and Agur, 2022: 2)*.|
* This example has been taken from an actual academic paper on toxic behaviour in online games: Liu, J. and Agur, C. (2022). “After All, They Don’t Know Me” Exploring the Psychological Mechanisms of Toxic Behavior in Online Games. Games and Culture 1–24, DOI: 10.1177/15554120221115397
Describe the scientific relevance of the thesis
The scientific relevance of a thesis highlights the importance of your work in terms of advancing theoretical insights on a topic. You can think of this part as your contribution to the (international) academic literature.
Scientific relevance comes in different forms. For instance, you can critically assess a prominent theory explaining a specific phenomenon. Maybe something is missing? Or you can develop a novel framework that combines different frameworks used by other scholars. Or you can draw attention to the context-specific nature of a phenomenon that is discussed in the international literature.
|The scientific relevance of this thesis lies in its unique interdisciplinary approach, combining insights from engineering sciences, sociology and anthropology. Different disciplinary perspectives on equipment design form the foundation of a novel theoretical framework for the analysis and assessment of human engineering.|
Describe the societal relevance of the thesis
The societal relevance of a thesis highlights the importance of your research in more practical terms. You can think of this part as your contribution beyond theoretical insights and academic publications.
Why are your insights useful? Who can benefit from your insights? How can your insights improve existing practices?
|Analysing responses to the Covid19 pandemic at a regional level is important to define the shortcomings of regional crisis management. This knowledge, in turn, can help public sector officials to enhance their regional cooperation, and to improve their capacity to act more efficiently in the future.|
Formulating a compelling argument
Arguments are sets of reasons supporting an idea, which – in academia – often integrate theoretical and empirical insights. Think of an argument as an umbrella statement, or core claim. It should be no longer than one or two sentences.
Write down the thesis’ core claim in 1-2 sentences
Including an argument in the introduction of your thesis may seem counterintuitive. After all, the reader will be introduced to your core claim before reading all the chapters of your thesis that led you to this claim in the first place.
But rest assured: A clear argument at the start of your thesis introduction is a sign of a good thesis. It works like a movie teaser to generate interest. And it helps the reader to follow your subsequent line of argumentation.
|In this thesis, I argue that health insurances’ practices of covering homeopathic treatments increase the credibility and uptake of Alternative Forms of Medicine (AFM). Due to the growing popularity of the latter among cancer patients, governments should rethink their regulation of alternative health care provision.|
Support your argument with sufficient evidence
The core claim of your thesis should be accompanied by sufficient evidence. This does not mean that you have to write 10 pages about your results at this point.
However, you do need to show the reader that your claim is credible and legitimate because of the work you have done.
|In-depth interviews with 45 cancer patients revealed the significant influence of health insurances’ coverages of homeopathy on their treatment choices. Interviewees frequently considered health insurance providers as medical authorities, whose opinions were more than that of individual doctors. If health insurances cover AFM expenses, according to many interviewees, these forms of treatment provide viable alternative treatments to surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.|
Consider possible objections
A good argument already anticipates possible objections. Not everyone will agree with your core claim. Therefore, it is smart to think ahead. What criticism can you expect?
Think about reasons or opposing positions that people can come up with to disagree with your claim. Then, try to address them head-on.
|Proponents of Alternative Forms of Medicine (AFM) will point out their complementary effects on cancer treatments. While this is certainly true in some cases, a growing body of research shows that people believe cancer can be cured through AFM alone. The resulting delay or refusal of standard cancer treatments results in higher death rates. As my research clearly connects the influence of health insurance providers’ coverages of homeopathy on cancer patients’ perceptions of AFM and treatment choices, governments are still advised to regulate health insurance providers’ AFM coverages.|
Providing a captivating preview of findings
Similar to presenting a compelling argument, a fantastic thesis introduction also previews some of the findings. When reading an introduction, the reader wants to learn a bit more about the research context. Furthermore, a reader should get a taste of the type of analysis that will be conducted. And lastly, a hint at the practical implications of the findings encourages the reader to read until the end.
Address the empirical research context
If you focus on a specific empirical context, make sure to provide some information about it. The empirical context could be, for instance, a country, an island, a school or city. Make sure the reader understands why you chose this context for your research, and why it fits to your research objective.
If you did all your research in a lab, this section is obviously irrelevant. However, in that case you should explain the setup of your experiment, etcetera.
|Empirically, I focus on Galápagos tortoises which are native to seven of the Galápagos Islands. The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of islands in the Pacific Ocean. In the last decades, climate change led to more extreme weather conditions on the Galápagos Islands. As a consequence, the marine and terrestrial ecosystems of the Islands are increasingly disrupted.|
Give a taste of the thesis’ empirical analysis
The empirical part of your thesis centers around the collection and analysis of information. What information, and what evidence, did you generate? And what are some of the key findings?
For instance, you can provide a short summary of the different research methods that you used to collect data. Followed by a short overview of how you analysed this data, and some of the key findings. The reader needs to understand why your empirical analysis is worth reading.
|The thesis’ empirical analysis consists of two parts. First, legal documents addressing copyright claims were collected. Then, I conducted a detailed discourse analysis. Counter expectations, I found that the discourses employed in these documents differed vastly from one another. Second, I conducted 23 semi-structured interviews with legal professionals working on copyright cases. The key discourses identified in the legal documents were rarely taken up by these professionals during the interviews. Instead, interviewees lamented their limited influence on contractual copyright agreements.|
Hint at the practical implications of the research
You already highlighted the practical relevance of your thesis in the introductory chapter. However, you should also provide a preview of some of the practical implications that you will develop in your thesis based on your findings.
|Based on my findings, I develop five concrete policy recommendations for NGOs on donor-funded programmes addressing the Sustainable Development Goals. First, NGOs should be transparent about their donors and donor policies. Second, . . .|
Presenting a crystal clear thesis structure
A fantastic thesis introduction helps the reader to understand the structure and logic of your whole thesis. This is probably the easiest part to write in a thesis introduction. However, this part can be best written at the very end, once everything else is ready.
Provide a reading guide
A reading guide is an essential part in a thesis introduction! Usually, the reading guide can be found toward the end of the introductory chapter.
The reading guide basically tells the reader what to expect in the chapters to come.
|This thesis is structured as follows. Following this introduction, in Chapter 2, I review the existing literature on macroeconomic theory in the global North. Chapter 3 presents my methodology, methods of data collection and analysis. In chapter 4, I contextualise my research setting. Chapter 5 to 7 are the empirical chapters. Chapter 5 focuses on supply dynamics. Chapter 6 focuses on demand dynamics. And Chapter 7 on government regulations. Finally, I provide a discussion and conclusion in Chapter 8.|
Briefly summarise all chapters to come
In a longer thesis, such as a PhD thesis, it can be smart to provide a summary of each chapter to come. Think of a paragraph for each chapter, almost in the form of an abstract.
For shorter theses, which also have a shorter introduction, this step is not necessary.
|Chapter 2 establishes the theoretical and conceptual frameworks of this thesis. First, I review the existing literature on sleep deprivation. I point out a research gap in socio-cultural explanations and present the key reasons for sleep deprivation that scholars discuss in adolescents. Then, I discuss and critically reflect on Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory. Following some adjustments of this theory, I present my own theoretical framework for the chapters to come.|
Chapter 3 represents the first empirical chapter of the thesis. In this chapter, …
Design a figure illustrating the thesis structure
Especially for longer theses, it tends to be a good idea to design a simple figure that illustrates the structure of your thesis. It helps the reader to better grasp the logic of your thesis.