What Is a Dissertation Preface? Meaning, Writing Tips and Examples

Being a vital entryway to scholarly pursuits, a dissertation preface provides readers with insights into the researcher's journey, motivations, and the significance of their work. This section is often overlooked, although it establishes the study’s tone and offers valuable glimpses into the researcher’s thought process. In this article, we’ll explore the preface’s meaning and purpose, components, effective strategies, and examples to help students complete an engaging writing piece and enhance the value of their dissertation. 

What is a dissertation preface? 

Before we delve into details about how to write a preface, let’s clarify the meaning of this term. A preface is an introductory section, which allows sharing the author’s experiences while completing a thesis or dissertation with the audience. This chapter should be written in the first person and is typically completed when a dissertation is finished, serving as a final reflection and a bridge between the researcher and readers. A dissertation preface has the following purposes: 

  • Establishing context: Outlining the research's relevance, situating it within the broader academic or professional context, and helping readers grasp its purpose and scope.
  • Expressing motivations: Articulating personal motivations, such as experiences, interests, or concerns, that inspired the research.
  • Acknowledging contributors: Recognizing the support and contributions of mentors, advisors, colleagues, or family members who played a significant role.
  • Revealing the thought process: Providing insights into the researcher's intellectual framework, theoretical perspectives, or methodologies related to the study and explaining their choices.
  • Creating a connection with readers: Sharing personal reflections and experiences to establish rapport, engaging readers emotionally and intellectually, and making the research relatable and accessible.

Can a dissertation have a preface? 

Yes, a dissertation can have a preface. It’s an optional section at the beginning that allows the author to introduce the study, acknowledge contributors, and provide context. 

What information should be included in a preface?

As with writing a dissertation introduction, completing a preface requires understanding this chapter’s structure. It typically includes the following elements:

  • Personal background: Provide a concise overview of your background to give readers context about your academic journey.
  • Motivations: Write some sentences about your experiences or circumstances that inspired you to complete this academic work.
  • Target audience: Mention the intended readership or target group for whom your thesis or dissertation was written.
  • Your name, place, and date: Indicate your name, the place where you wrote the preface, and the date of writing at the end of the preface.

Note: Frequently, it is customary to include either a preface or an acknowledgements section in written works, but not both.

Does the preface mean the same as the acknowledgements? 

No, the preface chapter and acknowledgements in a dissertation are distinct. The preface appears at the beginning, allowing the author to introduce the study, explain its purpose and scope, and offer context. The acknowledgements is a separate part or may be included in a preface at the end. This section expresses gratitude to individuals or institutions who contributed to the research project. While serving different purposes, both parts of the thesis provide context and acknowledge contributions to the dissertation.

How to write a preface for a dissertation?

  • Avoid writing the preface beforehand.

It’s recommended to write the preface after finishing your work. Treat it as your final effort on the dissertation. This way, your preface will be well-grounded and compelling.

  • Structure your preface effectively.

A well-crafted preface begins with a captivating introduction. Provide a concise overview of the topics you intend to discuss in your research paper and explain your approach. Keep the introduction brief, consisting of a few sentences, while ensuring it informs readers about the content they can expect. Include a thesis statement highlighting the central argument or purpose behind your thesis.

  • Encourage reader engagement.

A compelling preface goes beyond summarizing a research topic; it actively involves the readers. It should arouse their curiosity and motivate them to delve further into your work. To achieve this, consider incorporating suitable anecdotes or intriguing data that pique readers’ interest. Since the preface is the first thing the audience will encounter, making it exciting and engaging is crucial. Use this opportunity to introduce yourself, explain the context of your thesis, and the reasons behind doing this research.

  • Avoid including everything in the preface.

The preface should primarily convey essential information about your dissertation's topic. Other chapters, like the introduction or conclusion, can include additional details. The preface is a concise introductory paragraph, offering background information and laying the foundation for the subsequent body paragraph. The preface’s length depends on the number of details you want to include. If space is limited, keep your remarks brief and concise.

Dissertation preface example

Welcome to my master's thesis, "Painting Parisian Identity: Place and Subjectivity in Fin-de-siècle Art," the culmination of my academic journey in Art History at American University in Washington, DC. This thesis represents my dedication and fulfillment of the graduation requirements, with the research and writing process spanning from October to May 2023.

As I progressed in my studies, I realized that I tended to remain within my comfort zone. To challenge myself and expand my skills and expertise, I deliberately chose this topic. Through this endeavor, I embarked on an exploration of unfamiliar aspects, delving into the intricate world of Parisian art, unraveling the intricate relationship between place and subjectivity, and deciphering the nuanced artistic expressions of the fin-de-siècle period.

I owe deep gratitude to my supervisor, Dr. Christopher Johnson, whose invaluable guidance and unwavering support have been instrumental throughout this research journey. Their expertise and mentorship provided me with the necessary tools to navigate the complexities of my study effectively.

I am also indebted to the research lab at the Department of Art for their provision of invaluable scripts. Their contributions facilitated the alignment, analysis, and transformation of my data, significantly enhancing the depth and quality of my research.

Lastly, I want to express my deepest appreciation to my family and friends, whose unwavering support sustained me during this transformative process. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to each one of them. And to you, dear reader, I sincerely hope that within the following pages, you will find both enjoyment and inspiration.


John Walling

Washington, May 25, 2023

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