Parts of a Manuscript Part 2: Introduction

Last time I introduced you to the front matter of a manuscript (generally a thesis or dissertation). Today, I will discuss the Introduction, or more generally Chapter 1. In this chapter the topic of study is posed to the reader. In general, the parts are divided into sections with headings demarcating the various topics. The first chapter is also your first foray into academic writing or APA writing style.

Don’t panic; I know that blue book causes the strongest PhD student untold stress, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Academic writing differs from other form in what it lacks and what it has. It lacks suspense, blind alleys, red herrings, plot twists (there is no plot), flowery language and a host of other writing techniques you can save for your first novel, if you aspire to one. Given that you are reading this article, you most likely are interested in job in academia. You won’t be writing novels, but you will write for academic journals. The dissertation is the dry run for that. You can also use the dissertation in an interview as a gold mine to impress a host of department chairs and academic deans.

What does the dissertation or journal article have? Most important, it is clear and direct; it doesn’t beat around the bush or skirt the issue. Don’t make your reader guess or do any more work other than read the words on the page. Lay the whole enchilada out so everyone can see it. Paint a picture. It follows university and APA guidelines for publication. Oh, and the university trumps APA every time. I won’t get into the minutiae of APA publication formatting, but be familiar with the basics of academic writing.

Background

In this section, the writer gives the reader enough background on the study topic as necessary to understand why the study is warranted. Too much background will possibly bore the reader or become so repetitive that boredom will be guaranteed. So how much is enough? Enough to get your audience interested.

That raises another question: Who is your audience? First, they are all the experts on your committee. You might want to include your mother, your best friend or your spouse. Why? Because if the can understand what you are writing, then others who are not experts will, too. You will bring a clarity to your dissertation that would otherwise be absent.
Examples of some background information could be a bit of history; the context, including geography; a bit of current state of research; and some reasons why the topic needs more research. Include some information concerning the population: demographics and location.

Problem Statement

This section is usually quite formal. The format and the language are often determined by the university or by the department. However the language, the problem statement should include the following: what is the problem, who does it affect, why is it a problem, how might it be solved. Here you situate the topic, give a preview of the current research, another preview of your methodology.

Literature Review

This section is a preview, but a full-blown lit review. That’s Chapter 2. Include the literature gap and how your research fits in advancing understanding in your field.

Methodology

Again another preview

Summary

Go back, collect your thoughts; summarize what you have written in a few sentences. Then summarize the Chapters that follow. This is crucial; it tells the reader which chapters they might want to read first. In fact, many people, except for your committee, your mom, or your spouse will ONLY read this part of the introduction.

How Long?

As long as it MUST be, and not a word longer. Remember the word boredom? Avoid it like the plague. Two writing faux pas elicit boredom. Rambling and repetition.

What Next?

Now you know what to include; how and when do you write it? As you go along and after everything else has been written. The introduction, like the abstract, is reverse-engineered. Develop a file for ideas that might fit and as you write, dump the ideas in the folder. When you are done writing, look at the file: Do any of the ideas fit in the intro? Organize them and actually write the introduction at the end of your writing process.

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