How to Write a Compelling Thesis Introduction

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The introduction to your thesis is like a first impression: you want it to be great. It is the first chapter and appears before the literature review and after the table of contents. You want the introduction to set the stage for your reader: tell them what you’re writing about, why, and what comes next. So how can you write a compelling thesis introduction?

Structure and elements of a thesis introduction

Before you write a compelling thesis introduction, you need to know what elements belong in this section and how it should be structured. A typical thesis introduction includes:

  • A clear thesis statement
  • An explanation of the context (brief background) for the study
  • The focus and scope of the paper
  • An explanation of the relevance and importance of your research
  • A description of the objectives of your research and how your methodology achieves them
  • A guide to the structure of the rest of the thesis (roadmap)

A thesis introduction is typically about 10% of the total length of your paper. If your introduction includes diagrams or figures, the length may be longer. It is critical to include all of the points above when writing a clear and compelling introduction. You may include additional elements if you feel they are essential in introducing your topic to the audience.

Thesis introduction: Getting started

How should you draft your thesis introduction, and when you should do it?

Despite the fact that your introduction comes first in the structure of your thesis, there is absolutely no need to write it first. Starting your thesis is often difficult and overwhelming, and many writers suffer from blank page syndrome—the paralysis of not knowing where to start. For this reason, some people advocate writing a kind of placeholder introduction when you begin, just to get something written down. You are free to write the introduction section at the beginning, middle, or the end of the thesis drafting process. I personally find it preferable to write the introduction to a paper after I have already drafted a significant portion of the remainder of the paper. This is because I can draw on what I have written already to make sure that I cover all of the important points above.

However, if you do decide to write your introduction first, you can draw on the information in your thesis/dissertation proposal to help construct your draft. Just keep in mind that you will need to revisit your introduction after you have written the rest of your thesis to make sure it still provides an accurate roadmap and summary of the paper for your readers.

Topic and background information

Your thesis introduction should begin by informing the reader what your topic is and providing them with some relevant background information. The amount of background information you provide in this step will actually depend on what type of thesis/dissertation you are writing.

If you are writing a paper in the natural sciences or some social sciences, then it will have a separate background section after the introduction. Not a lot of background information is needed here. You can just state the larger context of the research. However, if your paper is structured such that there is no separate background chapter, then this portion of your thesis will be a bit longer and that is okay.

When you introduce your topic, you want to draw your reader in. Provide them with the reasons your research is interesting and important so that they will want to keep reading. Don’t be afraid to offer up some surprising facts or an interesting anecdote. You don’t need to be sensationalist, but your writing does not have to be dry and boring also! It is encouraged that you try to connect to your reader by offering them a relevant fact or story about your topic.

Example (topic)

Weaknesses in financial regulatory systems in the United States

Example (context):

Highlight some news stories about banks allowing money laundering on a massive scale, which financed gangs and led to more street drugs in major American cities. You could include a story about someone personally impacted by drugs in their neighborhood and then connect the presence of drugs to the gangs who were allowed to launder their money through big banks.

Focus and scope of your thesis

Once you have introduced your reader to the broader topic and provided some background information, you might want to explain the specific focus and scope of your thesis. What aspect of your topic will you research in particular? Why? What will your research not cover, and why? While this second part is optional, it is often helpful to be very specific about the aims of your research.


Regulatory capture in the Federal Reserve and how it contributes to lax enforcement of anti-money laundering regulations.

You might write about this by explaining that your study focuses on regulatory capture in the Federal Reserve because they are one of the primary regulatory bodies monitoring the financial institutions, which were caught allowing money laundering. You could further specify that you will be focusing specifically on the role the Federal Reserve plays in monitoring banks for compliance with anti-money laundering laws; however, you will not be talking about the role they play in monitoring for compliance in other areas such as loans or mergers. This prepares your reader for what they are going to read and sets their expectations for what will come next.

Explaining the relevance and importance of your research

This is one of the most critical parts of your introduction. You must explain to the reader why your research matters, and by implication, why your reader should continue reading! Your research does not have to be completely revolutionary or groundbreaking to have value. You don’t need to inflate the importance of the thesis/dissertation you are writing when explaining why the research you have done is worthwhile.


Corruption is an increasingly important issue in the maintenance and promotion of democratic norms and good governance. Without the ability to enforce effective penalties against institutions that turn a blind eye to money laundering, democratic governments like the United States will be threatened by the increasing power of bad actors flouting regulations. With the dollar being the global reserve currency, the US must enforce anti-money laundering legislation at home to have any hopes of shutting down global networks of corrupt operators that rely on its financial institutions. Identifying the presence of regulatory capture in the Federal Reserve sounds the alarm bell for lawmakers and regulators and suggests important interventions for policymakers are needed.

The above example clearly explains the wider impact of the issue without making overly broad statements such as “this research will revolutionize financial regulation in the United States as we know it” or “this research provides a roadmap for ending corrupt financial flows.” Just focus on what made the issue important and interesting to you and clearly state it within the broader context you provided earlier on.

Giving your reader a roadmap

At the end of your thesis introduction, you will want to provide your reader with a roadmap to the rest of the thesis. This differs from your table of contents in that it provides more context and details for how and why you have structured your thesis the way you have. The format of “first, next, finally” is a clear and easy way to structure this section of your introduction.


First, this study reviews the existing literature on regulatory capture and how it impacts enforcement actions, with a specific focus on financial institutions and the history of the Federal Reserve. Next, it discusses the materials used for this research and how analysis was performed. Finally, it explains the results of the data analysis and investigates what the results mean and implications for future policymaking.

Now your reader knows exactly what to expect, and how this fits into your overall aims and objectives. They are primed with the knowledge of your topic, its background, its relevance, and your specific focus in this study.

One common problem people have when writing an introduction to a thesis is actually writing too much. Many students and young researchers fear they won’t have enough to say and then will find themselves with a super long introduction that they somehow need to cut in half. You don’t have to give too much detail in the introduction of your thesis! Remember, the substance of your paper is located in the chapters that follow. If you are struggling with how to cut down (or add to) your introduction, you might benefit from the help of a professional editor, who can see your paper with fresh eyes and quickly help you revise it. The introduction is the first part of your thesis/dissertation that people will read, so use these tips to make sure you write a great one! Check out our site for more tips on how to write a good thesis/dissertation, where to find the best thesis editing services, and more about thesis editing and proofreading services.



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