CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION
All research reports (including dissertations) begin with an introduction describing the
problem under investigation and its background, its relevance to the field, and the
assumptions and the limitations of the study. This section of the Guide outlines the main
sections required in Chapter One. This Chapter One Guide is organized according to the
sections found in most dissertations. Each section explains the terminology and identifies
the issues that need consideration in that section. As a general guideline, Chapter One is
typically 15-20 pages long.
Chapter One should discuss seven specific points: 1) an introduction describing the
background of the problem; 2) the statement of the problem; 3) the purpose and
significance of the study; 4) the research design; 5) the research questions; (6) the
assumptions and limitations of the study; and 7) definitions of terms used in the study.
There is also a final section where you will summarize Chapter One and describe the
organization and general content of the rest of the dissertation.
Use this Guide to help you write Chapter One. It describes each section to help you ensure
that you have covered the necessary material. You are encouraged to refer to your
approved Dissertation Research Plan to guide your content for Chapter One.
Before beginning the first section, “Background of the Problem” write an introduction to the
chapter that begins directly after the CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION heading. The introduction
should identify the research topic and the main points of Chapter One. The Dissertation
Template provides all of the necessary headings and sections required for your dissertation.
It is recommended that you use it for all work.
Background of the Problem
As the first section of your dissertation, you want to begin by providing your reader with a
broad base of understanding of the research topic. In “Background of the Problem” the goal
is to give the reader an overview of the topic, and its context within the real world, research
literature, and theory.
This section articulates the following four main points:
1. What is the general issue of interest to the researcher? In what setting(s) does it
occur, and whom does it affect? What are positive and negative aspects of the issue?
2. What did the researcher find in the literature about the issue? What is already
known? What are the current best explanations of the problem and its solutions?
How strong is the underlying evidence supporting the current explanations and are
there problems with those studies? What issues remain to be understood? These
questions would be answered only briefly, in summary, form, in this section. They
will form the backbone of the discussion in the next section (“Statement of the
Problem”). The complete literature review will be presented in Chapter Two.
3. What interests the researcher in choosing this problem on phenomenon for
4. What general theory is the study going to conduct the research to understand the
problem or understand the issue?
This section also should identify the theoretical framework of the study (which will be fully
discussed in Chapter Two). This is the basic explanation of the problem currently accepted
by the researchers who have been working on the problem. This simply means that one
uses an already-accepted account of the wider problem as the framework for considering
new information about the problem. Naturally, like everything in a research design, the
theoretical framework needs to be justified. Showing the following will justify the choice of a
1. Show that all the other design elements are consistent with the theory.
2. Show that the theory is used by other researchers investigating the same or similar
kinds of problems.
3. Show that the theory supports the investigation of the problem.
Statement of the Problem
This section focuses on the research problem. The research problem is often referred to as
the “gap in the research literature” that your study addresses. It is often stated as
something that is unknown or has not been previously researched.
This section should clearly articulate how the study will relate to the current literature. This
is done by describing findings from the research literature that define the gap. Typically,
researchers will approach this by indicating that previous studies have found “A,” “B,” and
“C;” but “D” had not been investigated.
This section need not be lengthy,but should be very clear what the research problem is and
why it should be solved.
Researchers needing more information on the general problem and the research problem,
see Appendix A.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of any quantitative research study is to solve the research problem, to fill the
gap in the research literature. In this section, you will discuss in more detail how your study
will add to the knowledge base.
Focus on solving the general problem and the research problem. To do this, you will need to
address both senses of the word “problem.” Essentially, the broad purpose of your study is
to help the wider community of interest to investigate an issue it considers important, by
means of solving the more narrowly focused research problem. Here, you will lay out your
argument that your research problem must be solved (i.e., the gap in the research literature
needs to be filled) in order to contribute to the broader knowledge about the problem.
To make that argument, you will refer to the current literature and research
evidence, showing how your study takes the next step, fills in an important gap, or corrects
a previous mistake or flaw. It is the general purpose of your study to contribute to
knowledge about the wider issue, and the specific purpose to solve the research problem. A
strong purpose section shows how the transition from the general issue to the research
problem is logical.
Significance of the Study
In this section, once again you should keep in mind the problem. Here you also will focus on
any other intended audiences or the stakeholders in your study. What will your study offer
You will show how your study will be meaningful or valuable to:
• The wider community who have a vested interest in the problem or issue. In the first
part of the significance section, you will discuss how important the problem is to
groups in the wider communities. Avoid sentimental statements in favor of using
evidence that makes your case. By filling the gap in the research literature, the study
created knowledge that can be used by others. When the relevant community is
wider, the significance of the study is greater. One should never make claims of
wider significance that the study will not deliver.
• The professionals in your discipline who are interested in your problem (as shown by
the existence of a body of research relevant to it). Here you focus on the research
problem, and the community within your discipline or specialization interested in
that. You can also include professionals in another field who may be impacted by
your findings. Do not simply assert that your findings will potentially be valuable to
professionals in your field–explain why you think so. The surest way to do this is to
cite research that calls for the type of study you plan to do.
• The knowledge base and theories of your discipline. Next, you will turn to how
important the knowledge generated by solving the research problem is, and explain
how the study was an advancement in terms of rigor and how it contributed new
information to the knowledge base and theory. Present a justification that the
findings make a meaningful contribution to the knowledge base and to the
advancement of the theory (or theories) that provide the framework for your
research. Make a clear case, supported by relevant sources, that your research
increased understanding the research population and relationship among the
variables and research population.
In this section, list each research question from your approved Research Plan. Wherever the
research questions appear in the dissertation, they must be exactly the same as they appear
Researchers needing more information about research questions should see Appendix B.
Definitions of Terms
Identify each variable included in your research questions, and provide a construct,
variable, and operational definition of each. For each variable that is connected to a
construct, provide a construct definition that is connected to the theoretical framework for
the study. Also provide the variable definition, which aligns with the construct definition, as
well as the operational definition. Lastly, include the operational definition for each variable.
Also, define all of the participant characteristics that characterize your research population
(inclusion and exclusion criteria) along with demographic variables you collected in order to
describe your sample. This should be written in a glossary format, where the terms are
listed in alphabetical order.
In this section, identify and describe the methodology, approach, and design that you used
to solve the research problem. Include support for why the chosen methodology, approach,
and design were appropriate for solving the research problem or addressing the need for the
study, and answering the research questions. Provide support that these are appropriate and
acceptable for research in your discipline and your research topic. This section is typically 1
page in length.
If you need more information on research design, consult Appendix C.
Assumptions and Limitations
Your study, like all research, necessarily takes many things for granted. In legal
terminology, it “stipulates” them. This means that everyone agrees without more ado to
accept them as true without going through the tedious business of proving them to be true.
But this acceptance does not mean that assumptions must not be defended; like every
other element of your dissertation, they must have some support.
Two issues must be addressed about your assumptions: (a) Where do they come from? (b)
How far down the “chain of assumptions” must you go in identifying them and supporting
Where do assumptions come from? There are a number of sources of your assumptions. We
can list them as general methodological assumptions, theoretical assumptions, topic-specific
assumptions, and assumptions about measures.
General methodological assumptions
First, in any methodology, generations of methodologists before you have done the tedious
work of identifying some important and basic assumptions one must make to do the kind of
research you are setting out to do. For instance, you must assume participants will answer
questions truthfully. This and many similar assumptions are “universal research
assumptions” and you will find them in the advanced methodology articles devoted to your
particular study’s methodology. Your particular design and sample may imply certain
assumptions as well. For instance, you might have to assume that they can read at a certain
specified level in order to answer your questionnaire. Think carefully about all elements of
your design to make sure you understand what you are assuming or taking for granted by
In general, all methodologies make a number of critically important assumptions about the
nature of reality (ontology) and the nature of knowledge (epistemology) which you need to
be familiar with and to identify in your prospectus. These fall into the following categories:
• Ontology: Is reality a single phenomenon, or are there multiple realities? (Most
quantitative studies assume that reality, measured in units, is the same for
everyone; qualitative studies assume that one person’s reality may be independent,
socially constructed, or different from another person’s reality).
• Epistemology: Are the knower (researcher) and the known (participants and data)
dependent or independent? (Most quantitative researchers assume them to be
entirely or nearly entirely independent; how the researcher feels or believes is
irrelevant to the outcome of a measurement.)
• Axiology: Should research and researchers be value-laden or value-free?
(Quantitative work assumes a degree of “value-freedom.” But this is an important
assumption to critique as you prepare this section.)
• Generalizations: Is it possible to infer things about one group from knowledge about
another? (Quantitative procedures set stringent rules for generalization.)
• Causality: Do causes exist separately from their effects, preceding them temporally,
or are causes and effects circular and mutually influential? (Quantitative research
focuses on the degree to which causal inferences can be made in a study.)
• Logic: Is it better to search for principles from which to deduce predictions (theory),
or to gather numerous facts and infer meanings from observations? (Many texts
make the broad claim that quantitative analysis is deductive. This is not so clear in
practice, where some of the best quantitative analysis is a mix of inductive and
deductive (sometimes called the “hypothetico-deductive method.”)
When you select a quantitative methodological stance, your assumptions tend to be
positivist. Become familiar with the assumptive sets underlying this intellectual position, so
that you can defend it as appropriate to your research question and articulate, at least, its
Next, your theoretical framework (see the Chapter Two for a full discussion of the
“theoretical framework”) carries with it many particular assumptions. Some of them will
bear on your study, and you will need to identify them.
Additionally, the previous research and literature on your topic may reveal other topic-
specific assumptions made by researchers in your field.
Assumptions about measures
Finally, there may be important assumptions built into the measures you are going to use; if
so, they should be discussed. When using standardized tests, for instance, it is assumed that
standard administration protocols will be followed by all testers, that the participants will
appropriately resemble the norm groups for the measures, and so on. If there is any
deviation from those assumptions, they profoundly threaten the validity of the study. As
such, these assumptions should always be clarified, and reference to the methods section
(Chapter Two) of the dissertation should be made, where the conformity of the sample with
the assumptions can be discussed in detail.
When specifying your assumptions, particularly the major ones, you should refer to literature
where those assumptions are established or where they are simply “stipulated” by
earlier researchers. Any assumptions (indeed, any design element) that have been accepted
in a peer reviewed journal article can fairly safely be made in a dissertation. By convention,
the stopping point is usually described when you have named the main assumptions you are
making about these elements:
• Your methodological stance?
• Your theoretical framework’s main assumptions about the subject matter.
• The main assumptions about your subject matter shared by the previous researchers
whose work you are relying on.
• Assumptions germane to the proper use of your measures or methods of data
In addition to the study’s assumptions, Chapter One also discusses its limitations. There are
basically two forms of limitations you must discuss. The first group comprises any important
issues regarding your research problem which for one reason or another you are not going
to investigate. The second group contains elements of the study that limit its power,
validity, or credibility, its capacity for generalization, and so on. In other words, limitations
in the design.
Limitations that arise from flaws the nature of the design need to be considered carefully. In
this section, address the limitations of the methodology, approach, and design you used for
your research. (Note that in Chapter Five, you will more thoroughly discuss these and more
specific limitations that may have happened during the process of actually performing the
research, such as not getting a large enough sample. Here in Chapter One, focus more on
the design of the research and its limitations.)
The two main criteria for allowing a limitation to stand are these: (a) The design does not
prevent you from doing a study that validly answers the research question and solves your
research problem appropriately and relevantly; (b) the design neither impairs your ability to
draw necessary conclusions nor renders those conclusions suspect.
Delimitations (intentional areas not investigated).
There is a second class of limitations: things that an educated or expert reader might expect
your study to investigate that you are not going to investigate. Put generally, these
limitations are “things the study did not investigate.” (“Things the study did not investigate”
are often called delimitations, because they create artificial boundaries, they delimit, your
study’s focus.) To identify such delimitations, you will usually rely on two main sources:
your literature review of the general problem and your theoretical orientation.
Organization of the Remainder of the Study
In this section, briefly, summarize the contents of Chapter One, and then give the reader an