Written by Dr. Hannes Nel
Most universities will allow you to choose a name for your first chapter.
It can simply be “Introduction”.
You can also choose a more descriptive name of the contents of the chapter, for example, “Contextualising the Study.”
Some universities might even allow you to insert a Preface before your first chapter.
You should check with the university first before you add a separate preface to your thesis or dissertation.
I will share a few thoughts on the preface near the end of this post for the sake of clarity.
Each chapter in your thesis or dissertation should have its own introduction, but that is not what I will discuss here, so don’t get confused.
Writing the first chapter is the launchpad for writing a thesis or dissertation.
It points the writing process in the direction it should go and lay out what your research project should achieve.
The following are possible headings for your first chapter:
- Introduction. It might be confusing if you include an introduction to a chapter called “Introduction”, but that should not be a serious problem.
You can discuss the following issues in the introduction:
- Your problem statement, problem question or hypothesis.
- Clarify the problem statement, question or hypothesis.
- Background information on the field in which the study will be conducted.
- You should narrow the wider scope (the background information) down to a viable target group or target area.
- Explain why the problem or hypothesis is important.
- Introduce and develop the topic for your research.
- Introduce the title for your thesis or dissertation.
- Statement of objectives
- Break the purpose down into objectives and objectives into sub-objectives or tasks.
- This breakdown can be useful when you need to prepare questions for interviews or questionnaires that you intend to send to members of your target group.
- Definition of related
- Concepts and words are often understood and used differently by different academics.
- It will often be impossible to determine what the right meanings are.
- Therefore, do your homework to determine as accurately as you possibly can what the concepts and words that you will use mean and then explain how you will use them.
- The motivation for the
- You need to explain why you wish to investigate the problem of your choice.
- Current knowledge of the problem
- Most universities will not even allow you to enroll for doctoral or master studies if you cannot show that you have enough prior knowledge of the topic of your research.
- Potential benefits of
- You need to explain who will benefit from your research as well as how they will benefit.
- This can be integrated with your motivation for the study.
- Ethical issues
- You need to conduct your research and write your report in a manner that will be acceptable to any reasonable person and that does not transgress any legislation, rules or regulations.
- The university will require you to confirm in writing that this is the case.
- The structure of your
- The structure of your research will depend on the university requirements, the research approach, research methods, paradigms, data collection methods and data analysis methods that you will use.
- Your personal style will also play a role.
- Summary of Chapter 1
- Each of your chapters needs to have an introduction and a summary.
- You can add conclusions and recommendations that you gained from the chapter here.
- Cutting and pasting sections from the body of the chapter is not a summary – it is an extract.
- The summary should not contain new information.
- It will, therefore, be unlikely that you will acknowledge sources in the summary.
- You should summarise the chapter in such a way that all the important facts and arguments are given in a concise manner.
Some universities will allow you to include a preface before your first chapter.
You will probably only write the preface after the thesis or dissertation has been completed.
Or you can write the preface while you are writing the rest of your report.
A preface is usually a combination of disparate elements, necessary for the clarification of aspects of the work, but not necessarily concerned with the development of the argument.
Some claim that a good preface consists of three distinct parts – a general presentation of the research problem, the purpose of the research, and stating your position in terms of your capacity and limitations to do the research.
All of this can also be included in the first chapter.
Be careful of not using the preface to rationalize.
Do not use the preface to make excuses for not submitting quality work. If that is the case, no preface can save you – your study leader and external examiners will see that your work is not up to standard.
You may wish or need to supply information on the historical or literary background of your research topic, intellectual climate and biographical material relevant to a fuller understanding and appreciation of the research material.
Do not use the preface to put the blame for your challenges on your family, your employer, study leader, the university, the world.
The first chapter of your thesis or dissertation prepares the reader for the scientific argumentation and evaluation of the information that you will gather and analyse.
You should use the first chapter to contextualise your study.
It explains the importance of your research topic, how you will investigate the problem or hypothesis that you formulated, the area and target group for your research and what your research project should achieve.
Although you will need to show what you expect to achieve, you need to guard against showing that you have already decided what the results of your research will be.
You need to be objective and conduct research with an open mind.
Some universities will allow you to include a preface before your first chapter. The best way to write a preface is to write it while you write your thesis or dissertation.
Go back to the preface when you think of something that you desperately need to write but that does not fit into the structure and layout of your thesis or dissertation.
Do not use the preface for anything that might damage your end-product.