Step by step to the introduction – and to your own research room (dr. Kerstin maupate-steiger, writing consultant and editor)

This text will assist you in how to arrive at an introduction in stages. The individual steps build systematically on each other, so that you approach your goal without getting bogged down. After a brief description of the three stages, here are some helpful tips on how to avoid pitfalls and avoid mistakes.

You know more about it than you think.

Before even the first word of a thesis is written, EVERY writer knows how important the introduction is to one’s work, even if one has never written such a thing oneself before. However, this is exactly what prevents us from getting started. Sentences like "I still have to …" or "I can’t …" are like pop-ups: They come up faster than any Windows window opens and paralyze your fingers unintentionally. The significance of the introductory chapter for the entire work makes us as writers ponder, pause, doubt – and often stagnate.

But this doesn’t have to be the case at all, if you consider three conceivably simple points that writing researchers John Swales and Christine B. Feak 2011 in their book "Creating Contexts" for the construction of an introduction as essential describe. Once you imagine your field as a house, it is important to find a research space for yourself in this building with several rooms.

The motto for the introduction is: Create a research space for yourself!

Procedure master thesis introduction step by step

1. Set out a research area!

The first step is to stake out your research territory ("establishing a territory"). Here you describe how your topic is to be located in the respective discipline, why it is relevant and is currently being discussed or should be discussed in your field of expertise. You provide the reader with a first introduction and access to the topic. A famous quote is often a good starting point (but be careful: there is a risk of plagiarism)! – see tip 9).

2. Find a niche!

In a second step, you present your research niche in front of this neatly staked out research area ("establishing a niche"). After all, your room also has several corners – but which of them do you now want to take a closer look at in your work, and most importantly: which ones do you not?

To do this, you need to reveal piece by piece the research gap, d. h., You give a short lecture (!) the previous findings on your research topic resp. The theoretical approaches within your research area. However, the main part is reserved for a detailed discussion of the state of research. Nevertheless, you have to inform the reader already in the introduction about central results or. Inform previous approaches to this research topic so that you can either 1) distinguish yourself from them or 2) confirm them according to the research tradition or else 3) raise further questions. You only need to refer to previous work and discussions in your discipline insofar as you can adequately describe the research gap with it.

BUT ATTENTION: Your research corner should not already be teeming with occupied chairs. If many researchers have worked on the topic you have chosen, then it is difficult for you to contribute something independent to it resp. describe. Therefore, you have to show in the introduction that there is still a need to catch up in the respective discipline with regard to your research topic. one aspect has not yet been sufficiently dealt with. In the case of bachelor’s theses, however, the demand for innovation is lower here than in the case of master’s theses or dissertations.

Sometimes it is enough to look for a new group of test persons or to choose a different method. This step means in the words of Sonja K. Foss and William Waters, to "identify the significance of your study.". Merely pointing out that no one has done what you are doing before is not considered very helpful by the two authors (cf. Destination Dissertation, S. 57-58). If there exists e.g. B. already do a reception study on your topic with adolescents, then you could do this with young children. If the reception behavior of children has already been analyzed with a video recording, then you could switch to participant field observations. If you have recorded infants only in laboratory situations, then you could make up for it in the family setting in your living room at home. For example, if studies with multilingual toddlers have only been conducted in America, then you could implement this in a different setting in Germany. Find your corner and use it to create your research gap!

3. Make yourself comfortable in your research corner – occupy your niche!

In the last step – you guessed it – it is important to specifically NAME your research contribution ("occupying a niche") and not only – as in the step before – describe the need to catch up. Now, if you have already found a relatively empty corner for yourself in the room, then of course you need to say which chair you would like to sit on while doing your work: What will you do with your work resp. Do a study?

In short: It is nothing else than the presentation of your research project, with all the trimmings: with the research goal/purpose, i.e. the interest in knowledge, with the central research question, possible hypotheses as well as with the method and the structure of the work. That question, thesis, and objective are not the same thing, and everything (!) is wonderfully described in the classic by Otto Kruse "Keine Angst vorm leeren Blatt" (there from S. 127). Usually this paragraph begins with: "In the present study …" So your readers take you by the hand here and tell you which chapters they can expect to find in the paper and with what content. In this way, you enter the unfamiliar research space together with your readers.

All three steps must be taken in sequence in an introduction and none must be omitted. The most common mistakes when writing an introduction are to skip a step or two, such as when

  • you only repeat the research findings of others (= step 2) without posing an independent research question (= step 3);
  • You only name one research area (= step 1) without revealing a research gap and without thus developing a basis for a possible research goal (= step 2).
  • if the aim and the basic assumption of the paper remain unclear (= step 3), although you have presented other research results in detail (= step 2).

If you are unsure whether you have really covered all the points in your introduction, and if you lack an outside perspective, get feedback on your text from others early on. This can be fellow students or advisors at a writing center, if that facility is available at your university. Freelance writing consultants and professional editors can also help you do this.

Tips for writing an introduction


Write the introduction on a whim, d. h., You don’t have to struggle with writing out the introduction at the beginning. As a rule, the introduction is reformulated at the end of the paper anyway. However, it is helpful to write down at least some key points for the introduction at the beginning – and exactly to the three points mentioned above. Then you know where the journey is going and you can write the main part in a more targeted and focused way.


Write to All three Points something up, d. h. on the research area, on the research results, and on your own research contribution, because these three points do not mean the same thing! Do not leave out any point, because the more specific you are about these three, the more you will know what you are writing in the main part.


Name only so much literature in the introduction as necessary, To lead up to the topic – but not as much as possible! You don’t yet have to prove in the introduction that you have an overview of the research area in question. This is done in the main body when clarifying basic terms and principles. The goal of the introduction is rather to highlight the relevance and timeliness of the topic and the need for research.

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Name the central key terms in your introduction as well, looking at the working title if you don’t yet know exactly what they might be. Explaining, problematizing, and discussing the aforementioned central concepts then takes place in the main section.


You don’t have to reinvent the wheel – this also applies to the introduction! If you have already written an expose, you can also use parts of the text from it for your introduction, such as the naming of the research question or the research proposal. of the research paper, unless they have changed again during the research process.


Unfortunately, there is no patent remedy for the "right" length of an introduction. This is subject-, discipline- and even topic- resp. methodologically. In a theoretical paper, the reader expects a longer introduction or. Introduction than for an empirical study. But if you have worked through all the components of an introduction, then the introduction is long enough (see tip 7).


And here’s what you need to do for your introduction: show relevance and timeliness of the topic; delineate research area; briefly present research findings on the topic and then highlight your own research contribution; formulate and classify research question; state research method and approach; explain organization and structure of the paper.


Even in the introduction, you should always quote correctly, because examiners read these particularly carefully! Plagiarism errors can easily creep in there, because you think you are supposedly reproducing your own thoughts because you have already read a lot on the topic when writing the introduction.


Think less in terms of chapters and more in terms of writing tasks or steps, like the three steps presented here! You can then work through these one by one and check them off! What later then where stands, is first of all secondary, but it is important that you have something to all points stand.


An introduction is not witchcraft, but simply a description of your research proposal. Work through the three steps chronologically, and you’ll be quite a bit closer to your introduction. If you are unsure whether you have thought of all the necessary steps in your introduction or whether they are actually in the text, ask others to read through your text early on, or discuss your intention with others in a conversation! Take notes on where your interlocutors have difficulty understanding. This provides good clues as to where to touch up or what points are missing. Coaching sessions with professional writing consultants can also quickly identify and address weaknesses in introductions. If you’ve already written your introduction and would like feedback on it or proofreading, proofreaders can also help you do that.

Literature to read in depth

Foss, Sonja K./Waters, William (2007): Destination Dissertation. A Traveler’s Guide to a Done Dissertation. Lanham: Rowman.

Kruse, Otto (2007): No fear of the blank page. Frankfurt: Campus.

Swales, John/Feak, Christine B. (2011): Creating Contexts: Writing Introductions across Genres. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Michigan UP.

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