Introducing Background, Original Contributions and Ethical Considerations
Providing background information on the topic, problem or phenomenon investigated in doctoral research is an important part of a proposal (or thesis) introduction. This information can take many forms depending on the topic under investigation, including a survey of the history of the occurrence of the problem or phenomenon and a statement or brief review of previous research on the topic. Sometimes an extensive review of relevant literature is included in an introduction, but in most cases, the complete literature review appears as a separate chapter and only a brief overview is required in the introduction.
While you are introducing previous scholarship in your study area, it is essential to identify and explain any gaps, problems, misconceptions and the like in the research that has already been done on your topic, problem or phenomenon. This is your opportunity to outline how your research and the thesis you will write aim to fill the gaps, resolve the problems and correct the misconceptions by presenting new ways of perceiving and understanding the topic, problem or phenomenon on which you are focussing. It is often the case that more experienced committee members will possess prior knowledge about or be able to identify quickly certain problematic issues associated with your project and the wider scholarship – problematic issues of which you are not yet aware – so they may offer advice that helps you refine your comprehension of the significance of your research and the original contribution to knowledge that you intend to make.
An introduction can also provide relevant information on the background of the researcher. This is not the place for an autobiographical record or a report of the educational journey that has led you to your doctoral thesis, but if you think there are certain assumptions, preconceptions, ideals, biases, limitations and so on that might influence your research, it is good to get them out in the open. The members of your thesis committee may have suggestions about how to make good use of or (if necessary) adjust or compensate for your unique perspective.
Any ethical considerations associated with your research and its methodology should also be addressed in your introduction. Generally speaking, ethical issues only arise in research that uses living subjects, whether human beings, animals or, more rarely, plants. Your university will almost certainly have regulations about how such subjects can ethically be used in research (only with informed consent, for instance, in which case you need to acknowledge that you have obtained that consent), and you may have to seek official approval from your university’s ethics board (or a similar body). Be sure to discuss this aspect of your research with your supervisor and other committee members, since they will be to help you avoid problems and obtain the appropriate approval.
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