Saul Greenberg

back to Structure of a Chapter 1

Almost all chapter 1's contain the following structure. You can use this as a 'formula' to create your own draft of Chapter 1. Of course, you can alter and deviate from this formula, but only do so if you have a good reason for it.

Context and Motivation

Almost every Chapter 1 begins with a section that sets the scene and that motivates the problem being studied. It describes some domain, and indicates a problem in general terms.

Some questions you should be able to answer after reading the motivation section are:

  • What is the general area being addressed?
  • What is the motivation for studying a particular problem?
  • What makes it worth the effort?
  • Is it a 'real' problem in everyday life?
  • Is it a 'theoretical' problem that is worth solving?
  • Would anyone care if I solved this?

Background / Literature review

Some authors provide a miniature literature review to give the reader enough background to understand the context of the research; a full review is usually deferred to the second Chapter of the thesis. Other authors actually do the full review in the Chapter 1, but that is rarer.

Some questions you should be able to answer in general terms after reading this section are:

  • What is the research context and discipline that the thesis chapter fits within?
  • In general, who has looked at this area before?
  • In general, what other work complements this research?
  • What is the motivation for studying a particular problem?
  • What makes it worth the effort?
  • Is it a 'real' problem in everyday life?
  • Is it a 'theoretical' problem that is worth solving?

Hypothesis / Thesis / Problem statement

This section provides a very concise statement of your hypothesis / thesis / problems. The hypothesis or thesis is the highest-level problem or goal you are going to address. The specific list of problems --- usually a handful, although sub-problems are sometimes given --- are things that need to be solved if you are going to satisfy your hypothesis/thesis. Problems should be stated unambiguously. The importance of the problem should be mentioned if it hasn't already been done so in the prior sections. Of course, the problem must be worthy of a thesis.

Goals and methods

While the above section details the problems, your job is to then translate those problems into research goals. Each goal should briefly indicate how you are going to solve the problem i.e., the method you will use to solve it. Note that some authors sometimes combine problem statements / goals / methods into a single section, while others separate it. Goals should be operational, i.e., if you later claim to achieve your goal, you should be able to match your solution against the goal statement.

I cannot overstate how important it is to have clear goals. Most examiners highlight these goals, and after reading the thesis they then go back to see if you have actually accomplished your goals. If you have not, then you have a big problem in your thesis. Even worse are theses where problems and goals are not clearly stated, for it means people are trying to evaluate your solutions in a vacuum.

Results / Contributions

Some theses, particularly PhDs, contain a section that summarizes the most important findings, and casts these as contributions to the research field. These usually match the goals. They also include a short description as to why these findings are valuable.

Thesis overview.

The chapter often ends with an overview of the remainder of the thesis. This is usually done by summarizing each chapter as a brief paragraph. Good chapter descriptions will relate the contributions of that chapter to particular goals of your thesis.