How to write an introduction chapter

This blog post looks at how to write an introduction chapter for an academic research report such as an undergraduate final year project, an MSc dissertation or a PhD thesis.


What is the point of an introduction chapter? Why is it needed? For me, the job of the introduction chapter is to set up the Research Questions for the report. Research Questions are powerful tools and, once fully formed, create a foundation for writing the rest of the report.

Research Questions are typically a list of three questions that the report is studying. This is important as this is a research report, and the key task is to demonstrate the research which is taking place.

All other questions about the content of the report then simply refer back to the research questions. What should be in the Background section of the Introduction chapter? Well, anything that the reader needs to know in order to understand the Research Questions. What should be discussed in the Literature Review? Further background, explanation and previous research on anything covered by the Research Questions. How should the Results chapter be structured? How about three subsections, one for each of the Research Questions.


The basic structure of most Introduction chapters looks like this:

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.1. Background (2 to 3 pages)
1.2. Research Problem (1 page)
1.3. Research Questions (3 questions, each question is a paragraph of text)
1.4. Aims and Objectives (one aim, 5-6 objectives, each objective is a paragraph of text)
1.5. Outputs of this Research (0.5 to 1 page)
1.6. Structure of this Report (1 page)

Tips for clarity

Always put yourself in the mind of a person who is reading your report for the first time. Help them to quickly work out what is going on and how the different things fit together.

For example:

  1. Use numbered lists for Research Questions and Objectives etc.
  2. Introduce Research Questions and Objectives with a simple sentence such as ‘The three research questions studied in this work are: …’
  3. Give a sentence to explain every new term when it is first used in the text.
  4. Make sure the first sentence of each section explains what is going on in this section.
  5. Try to make it so the first sentences of each paragraph could be read by themselves and the reader could still follow the outline of the story.

Tips for depth

Creating depth in writing uses skills such as critical thinking and reflection.

Here are some tips:

  1. When writing a Research Question or Objective, do two things. First state the Research Question or Objective itself in a single sentence (perhaps in bold text). Second write a paragraph directly below the Research Question or Objective which answers questions such as:

    • why is this Research Question or Objective important?
    • what do the various terms mean?
    • what are some examples of how this might be done?
  2. In the Background and Research Problem sections, try starting sentences with the following:

    • “The challenges in this field of study are…”
    • “The limitation of the previous work are…”
    • “One explanation for this is…”
    • “It is clear that…”
    • “The strengths of such an approach are…”
    • “This is important because…”

Simple mistakes to avoid

Here are some simple mistakes which should be avoided:

  1. The Background section contains text which has nothing to do with the research questions. Always ask yourself if the content you are writing is relevant to the Research Questions. If not, then take it out.
  2. The Title contains terms which aren’t explained in the background section. If the Title contains a term such as ‘Thermal Comfort’ or ‘Overheating’ then it’s important to give a definition of these terms.
  3. The Research Questions are stated as a single sentence with no further explanation. Instead provide a paragraph for explanation for each Research Question.
  4. Several ‘aims’ are introduced throughout the chapter - make sure only one Aim is given.
  5. The Aim introduces new terms or concepts which haven’t been previously introduced in the Title or the Research Questions. Instead make sure the Aim is simply rephrasing the information already provided.


The Introduction chapter is one of the most important chapters in a report as it sets the scene and the tone for the reader. Keep it well structured, easy to follow and full of explanations, and try to provide the reader with the answer to the questions “what’s going on here?” and “why is this important?”.