Chapter 1

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter One sets the stage for your study and should address the following elements:

Background of the Study

This section highlights the foundations and general context of your study so that your readers understand what your study is about. This section addresses the following questions: What is the topic/general problem? In what settings does this problem occur, and who does it affect? What did you find in the literature about the problem? What is already known? What are the current best explanations of the problem? What issues remain to be understood?  

Problem Statement and Significance of the Study

Problem statement is a general issue, concern, controversy that narrows the topic. It is a rationale for the problem based on past research and practice. What is your study about? What problem(s) is your study going to address, how, and why? Significance of the study places your study in a broader context: What is the study’s significance beyond your immediate sample? What potential contributions/implications can this study have for your field? 

Theoretical Foundations and/or Conceptual Framework

According to Imenda (2014), “the conceptual or theoretical framework is the soul of every research project” (p. 185). It determines how researchers formulate their study problem, purpose and questions, how they investigate the problem, and what meaning they ascribe to the collected data. Studies that use deductive approach (typically quantitative) rely on a theoretical framework to draw upon concepts that they measure; studies that use inductive logic (typically qualitative) construct conceptual frameworks and may use multiple theories that guide the inquiry. Some researchers use the terms interchangeably. Regardless of the approach taken, the conceptual and/or theoretical framework of your study - “the system of concepts, assumptions, expectations, beliefs, and theories that supports and informs your research” - is a key part of your design (Maxwell, 2004, p. 33). It is a visual and/or written product that tells your readers how you understand the phenomenon under study and previous, relevant research which serves as a foundation for your proposed study. Remember that a theoretical or conceptual framework is not a single book or an article you found on your topic, but the web of interrelated ideas, claims, and findings. 

Note: This section is addressed in depth in Chapter Two. In this chapter, your goal is to briefly signal to your readers what conceptual/theoretical framework the study is going to use to understand the problem.

Researcher’s Positionality

This section addresses how you are situated with respect to your inquiry. What you write about and how you write reveals a great deal about your knowledge and interest in your topic: “We can strive to remain objective, but must be ever mindful of our subjectivities. Such is positionality. We have to acknowledge who we are as individuals, and as members of groups, and as resting in and moving within social positions” (Bourke, 2014, p. 3). Tell your readers how you are situated in relation to your topic and your participants: Are you conducting research within your own organization/institution? Do you have established relationships with the research participants? 

Purpose of the Study

A purpose is the major objective or intent of the study used to address the problem. This section clearly defines the dependent and independent variables, relationship of variables, or comparison of groups for quantitative studies. For qualitative studies, this section describes the nature of the phenomena to be explored. The purpose of the study must be aligned with the research questions and methodology. A study could determine, compare, establish a relationship, explore, understand, describe, but it cannot “prove.” 

Research Question(s) and/or Hypotheses

Research questions narrow the purpose of the proposed study into specific questions that the researcher intends to address. Quantitative studies develop hypotheses (declarative statements in which a researcher makes a prediction about the outcome) and variables (both independent and dependent). If the study is qualitative, state the research question(s) the study will address, and describe the phenomenon to be studied. 

Prior to listing the research questions or hypotheses, in one or two brief paragraphs reiterate and/or summarize the problem under investigation and the purpose of the proposed study. Then, include a leading phrase to introduce your specific questions such as, "The following research questions guide this (qualitative) study": 

  • R1:
  • R2:
  • R3:


The following research questions and hypotheses guide this (quantitative or mixed methods) study:

  • R1:
  • H1:
  • H0:
  • R2:
  • H2:
  • H0:

Rationale for Methodology

The Rationale for Methodology section justifies the methodology the researcher plans to use for conducting the study. It argues how the chosen methodological framework is the best approach to address the research questions and the problem statement. This section also contains a description of the research sample being studied, as well as the process that will be used to select and collect the data on the sample. In other words, this section provides a preview of Chapter Three. This section succinctly conveys the research approach to answer the research questions and/or test the hypotheses.

Definition of the Terms

This section addresses the key terms that are central to the dissertation topic and those that readers need to know to understand the proposed study. Typically, only definitions of terms are provided for specialized/select usage and/or for terms with which readers may be unfamiliar. Any acronyms or abbreviations must be written out in the text the first time they are used, as well as defined in this section. Scholarly references are used. 

The term to be defined should be italicized: Definition of the term should appear one space after the colon. 

Another term: Definition of the term here. 

Summary and Organization of the Remainder of the Study

This section summarizes the key points of Chapter 1 and provides supporting citations for those key points. It then provides a transition discussion to Chapter 2 followed by a description of the remaining chapters. For example, Chapter 2 will present a review of current research relevant to the problem and questions to be or that were investigated. Chapter 3 will describe the methodology, research design, and procedures for this investigation. Chapter 4 details how the data was analyzed and provides both a written and graphic summary of the results. Chapter 5 is an interpretation and discussion of the results, as it relates to the existing body of research related to the dissertation topic. 

All this micro-information has macro-story potential

Chapter 1 is the Introduction. This should focus on the problem, the topic, the research questions, the methodology intro and the definition of terms. You must view the template for exact sections to be included in Chapter 1. Read a completed dissertation to see what an example looks like. (10-15 pages).

Begin with Chapter 1. Based on your schedule, try to write Chapter 1 within five weeks from today. This takes commitment. Please try to work at least 90 minutes three evenings a week on your dissertation. Once you have a first draft, send Chapter 1 to just me. I will read it, comment, and share with the committee for additional feedback-- we will give you lots of feedback.  Then once I receive their feedback, I will share it with you—your revisions will demonstrate that we are all clear on the topic, the problem, the research questions and the methodology, we will approve you to go on to Chapter 2. Chapter 1 is not easy to write, some students feel frustrated with the several revisions that occur in chapter 1—do not be discouraged. Throughout, ask yourself: Is my writing clear, concise, complete, accurate, and engaging in a scholarly/professional way?