Conducting Educational Research
Step 14: Write Introduction

Now that the research methods have been described based on the research questions and hypotheses, a bona fide research study has now been conceived! It is important to first describe the research methods so you know it is possible to collect empirical data to answer the research questions and hypotheses. Now, it is time to return to writing the remaining portions of Chapter 1 (or the introduction to a research study). After Chapter 1 is finished, then the related literature that has already gathered will be summarized and reviewed in Chapter 2. Additional literature will also be added from more in-depth literature searches.

When writing both Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, keep the following advice from APA in mind.
Assume that the reader is knowledgeable about the field for which you are writing and does not require a complex digest. A scholarly review of earlier work provides an appropriate history and recognizes the priority of the work of others. Citation of and specific credit to relevant earlier works are part of the author's scientific and scholarly responsibility and are essential for the growth of a cumulative science. At the same time, cite and reference only works pertinent to the specific issue and not works of only tangential or general significance. If you summarize earlier works, avoid nonessential details; instead emphasize pertinent findings, relevant methodological issues, and major conclusions (APA, 2001, p. 16).

Writing the research methods in Chapter 3 is relatively straight-forward, so it is easy to give advice on exactly what is necessary to include in each section. (Note that the results and discussion in Chapters 4 and 5, respectfully, are similarly straight-forward.) However, the introduction (Chapter 1) and literature review (Chapter 2) are a bit more complex, so there is no simple formula that can be given on what must be included in these sections. What is written in the introduction and literature review will depend on the topic of study, and researchers have more freedom to be creative in how they structure these sections. The most important thing to remember when writing Chapters 1 and 2 is the piece of advice that my doctoral advisor, Prof. Lohman, always told me: "Tell a story." The role of the introduction and literature review is to describe the setting (background), characters (key variables under study), and the plot that has been uncovered so far (review of literature). The purpose of Chapters 1 and 2 is to tell this story.

Each paragraph should logically flow into the next paragraph, and each paragraph should be directly related to the problem that you are addressing (aka your key variables). When writing these sections, use academic language, but weave the lines of reasoning together, just as you would to tell a story. Furthermore, when writing Chapters 1 and 2, make sure that readers have all of the necessary background information before introducing a new concept. When telling a story, you would not talk about what happened to a character before you describe the character first. In the same fashion, do not start talking about how self esteem is related to academic achievement before explaining what self esteem is.

When you are writing, put yourself in the place of your reader and ask yourself the following questions:

Theses written at the University of Jos should include the following sections in the following order:

*Depending on the nature of the research study, some projects may not have either Research Questions or Research Hypotheses.

The Purposes, Research Questions, and Research Hypotheses have already been developed in Purpose of Study. The Operational Definition of Terms were written in Developing the Instrument. The rest of this page will describe what each remaining sub-section of Chapter 1 should include.

Background and Statement of the Problem

The purpose of the Background section is to provide foundational information that will help the reader understand the research study. The purpose of the Statement of the Problem section is to explicitly state the problem under study. Therefore, both sections will focus on the key variables in the study. Both sections should flow together like a story. Although each research study is different, there are two general ways that these two sections can be conceptualized.

If you are conducting an experimental, quasi-experimental, or causal-comparative design, then you have both independent (the treatment, or the cause) and dependent (the effect) variables. Typically, the Background will explain the importance of the dependent variable. First give a brief definition of your dependent variable. Then explain one of two things: 1) Why is the dependent variable important? or 2) Why is the dependent variable in a state of crisis? Then the Statement of the Problem will provide the rationale for why you think that your independent variable will influence your dependent variable. For example, in a study examining the effect of motivation on academic achievement, the Background would focus on why academic achievement is important and/or why academic achievement is low. The Statement of the Problem would then explain why motivation should influence academic achievement.

However, descriptive and correlational designs do not have independent and dependent variables. For these studies, the Background will typically consist of defining and explaining the importance of the key variables in the study. Then the Statement of the Problem provides the rational for why studying these variables are important. For example, the Background could explain the concept of motivation and its importance. The Statement would then explain why academic achievement might be related to motivation.

Theoretical or Conceptual Framework

The purpose of the Theoretical/Conceptual Framework is to build a case from psychological theory or practice about why the research study should succeed. This section should be entitled Theoretical Framework if a psychological theory, perhaps Piaget's theory of cognitive development or Self Determination Theory is used. However, if an appropriate theory is not available, then a Conceptual Framework should be used. For example, I supervised a project that examined the effect of early childhood education on social development. This student used a Conceptual Framework because a key principle of early childhood education is that it should foster social development. This is not a theory; but instead the conceptual framework of early childhood education guided the study.

Regardless of whether a Theoretical or Conceptual Framework is used, only one theory or concept should be described. Oftentimes, I will read a project that uses two or three theories or concepts. This is unnecessary and confusing. Choose only one theory or concept. To choose the theory or concept, look for theories or concepts about the key variables. Typically, the theoretical framework will focus on the dependent variable (if appropriate for the study). What theory explains how this dependent variable develops? What theory explains what factors influence the key variable? This is the theory that should be selected. Some (but not many) papers might be more meaningful if the theory about the independent variable is described. For example, if a study is examining the effect of cognitive-behavioral therapy on self concept, then the theoretical framework should explain the key theory behind cognitive-behavioral therapy.

When writing this section, first clearly explain the key principles in the theory. Then, explain how the key principles relate to the research study. If the study is causal-comparative or experimental, explain the aspects of the theory that lead you to believe that the independent variable will indeed influence the dependent variable. Just as portions of the research methods (Chapter 3) need to be written in both the theoretical and practical, so too does the Theoretical/Conceptual framework first need to start with a theoretical explanation of the theory, then move to the practical application of the theory to the research project.

Significance of the Study

The purpose of the Significance of the Study is to describe who will benefit from the study. When writing this section, keep in mind that it is not the study itself that will be significant, but the findings of the study. Oftentimes, I read that the participants in the study will benefit. This is incorrect. Once the study is finished and the data is analyzed, you will draw conclusions about the research questions and hypotheses. The key question to keep in mind when writing this section is: How will the answers to the Research Questions and Hypotheses be significant to key stakeholders?

Furthermore, when writing this section, be sure to explain how and why these people will benefit. Some researchers just give a laundry-list of stakeholders who will benefit. This, too, is incorrect. Explain exactly how they will benefit from the findings of the study. Oftentimes, it is best to include one paragraph for each key stakeholder. For example, one paragraph may describe how students will benefit from the findings of the study. The next paragraph may describe how teachers will benefit from the findings of the study, and so on


The purpose of the Delimitations section is to give clear parameters on what topics the study will and will not address. There are three key topics to think about when writing this section. The most well-known topic is the population: what groups of people will the study generalize to? However, two other less-known topics to include in this section are the variables under study and the research methods. No study can cover all of the relevant variables. For example, no study will ever cover the entire breadth of motivation. Therefore, what aspects of motivation will the study focus on? Also consider the research methods. In what way is the study limited by the research design or other methods

Some researchers are tempted to write in either this section or the Limitations section in Chapter 5 that the study was limited by time, resources, and/or finances. This is inappropriate. All research studies are limited by time, resources, and finances.


After writing all of Chapter 1, remember that good writing requires revision, re-revision, and re-re-revision. Read over what has been written and answer all of the following questions. Revise your paper if the answer to any question is "No."

  • Are the key variables clearly identified early in the chapter?
  • Are the subsections written in the appropriate order?
  • Does the Background give a good rationale for the purpose of the study?
  • Does the Statement of the Problem state the major problem addressed by the study?
  • Are the Purposes feasible for one research study?
  • Are the Research Questions and/or Null Hypotheses appropriately stated?
  • Is only one theory or concept explained in the Theoretical/Conceptual Framework?
  • Does the theory/concept in the Theoretical/Conceptual Framework directly relate to the key variables in the study?
  • Does the Significance of the Study explain how the findings of the study will be significant to key stakeholders?
  • Does the Delimitations section accurately describe the limitations of the study?
  • Does the Operational Definition of Terms state how the terms are defined and measured in this study?


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