How to write an introduction for your dissertation?

Gepubliceerd op 12 januari 2024 om 12:00

Your articles have been written and by far most of the work has been done! But for your dissertation itself, you also always write an introduction and discussion about your overall PhD research. Our tips for writing the overall discussion can be found here. In this blog we provide some tips about things you should or should not do in your general introduction. ‘To do or not to do, that is the question!’

Do: Describe reason for the research

In the general introduction, you always first describe the background of the research. Why was this research needed? What is the problem and how big is the problem exactly? What is the current state of the art in this research area? Who/what is the target group? Is it a follow-up to a previous study or something entirely new? At the end of your introduction the reader must have a good idea what your scientific research is about.

Do: Aim and introduction of the chapters

After the background of your research, you describe what you hope to accomplish with your research. State the aims (aim 1, aim 2, et cetera) of your thesis and briefly introduce the subject for each study you have done. This is the outline of the chapters in your thesis. Consider in advance what would be a good order for your chapters. It may be that you include your third study as the fifth chapter in your thesis, because this fits the storyline better. So the order in which your papers have been published is not necessarily leading. Sometimes you will also see a Part 1 and Part 2 in a dissertation, if it consists of two different parts. For example, when Part 1 contains experimental studies and Part 2 contains the clinical applied studies.

Do: A practical example

A great way to highlight the reason for your PhD research is to describe, for example, a case study from clinical practice. It can also be a (current) news item, or another societal example. As long as it is something that immediately makes the reader understand the importance of your research. You can come back to this example in the general discussion, by connecting it to the knowledge gained from your studies, thus completing the circle!

Do: Get inspired by your predecessors

It is recommended to read several introductions of other dissertations for inspiration. If you read a dissertation with a good introduction, take it as an example for your own dissertation. Look at the structure of the introduction, for example, and adapt these to your own research. Think hard about why you liked this introduction so much and incorporate this in your own introduction.

Do not: Copy the individual introductions

For the general discussion, you generally use the information from all discussions of your articles to come to a broader and deeper discussion, because you address the findings of your research in here. This approach does not work very well for the general introduction. The introductions of your separate studies are written for that particular study and therefore often too specific for your more general introduction. Conversely, in the introductions of your papers you often have no space to include information that is interesting and relevant, but not essential to that specific study. It is this kind of information that is particularly interesting to include in the general introduction of your thesis, to provide a good foundation for your dissertation.

Do not: Be too elaborate or too brief

How long should a general introduction be? There is no golden standard for it, but usually it varies between 10 and a maximum of 20 pages. Slightly more towards the 10 than the 20 pages. You really don't have to name every detail in the general introduction. An introduction of a dissertation is different from a detailed systematic review article.

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