How Do You Write a Dissertation Preface?

A Dissertation preface

  • Is a brief introductory section where the researcher provides context for their work.
  • Discusses their motivations for the study, acknowledges contributions, and briefly outlines the research journey.
  • Personalizes the academic content that follows, giving readers a glimpse into the researcher’s perspective and setting the stage for the dissertation.

While the dissertation’s core speaks to the scholarly community, the preface serves as a more intimate introduction, where the author can connect with the readers on a personal level. Writing a dissertation preface, therefore, requires careful thought and a touch of introspection. 

In this article, we explore what a dissertation preface is and how to craft a compelling preface that sets the stage for your academic masterpiece.

What Is a Dissertation Preface?

A dissertation preface is a brief introductory section that precedes the main body of your thesis or dissertation. It sets the stage for your research by providing context, motivation, and a personal touch. While not mandatory, a well-crafted preface can enhance the reader’s understanding and engagement with your work.

Purposes of a Dissertation Preface

A dissertation preface, while brief, serves several crucial purposes, each contributing to the overall understanding and engagement of the reader. Let’s explore the various functions this introductory section performs.

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  • Establishing Context: The preface sets the scene by introducing the research topic, its relevance, and the framework of the study. This helps orient the reader and prepares them for what lies ahead in the dissertation.
  • Expressing Motivations: Here, the author shares the inspiration or driving force behind choosing the dissertation topic. Understanding the researcher’s motivations adds a personal touch and makes the study more relatable.
  • Acknowledging Contributors: The preface often includes expressing gratitude towards mentors, colleagues, institutions, or anyone who contributed to the research. Acknowledging support is not only courteous but also emphasizes the collaborative nature of academic pursuits.
  • Revealing the Thought Process: The author may briefly discuss the approach, methodology, or the challenges encountered during the research. This provides insight into the researcher’s journey and the rigor of the process.
  • Creating a Connection with Readers: The preface, written in a conversational tone, aims to establish a connection with the reader. This connection invites readers to engage more deeply with the research, fostering a sense of shared exploration.

Can a Dissertation Have a Preface? 

Yes, a dissertation can certainly have a preface. While it may not be a compulsory section in all academic guidelines, including a preface is often encouraged as it adds a personal touch to the research document.

The preface allows the author to briefly introduce the dissertation topic, acknowledge contributors, and express their motivations and experiences associated with the pursuit of the study. It serves as an entry point, inviting readers into the author’s academic journey.

Does the Preface Mean the Same as the Acknowledgements?

No, the preface and the acknowledgments are distinct sections of a dissertation, each serving a different purpose.

The preface serves as an introduction where the author provides context for the research, outlines their motivations for undertaking the study, and may briefly mention the methodology and challenges faced. It is often a mix of personal reflections and professional insights regarding the research journey.

The acknowledgments section is dedicated solely to expressing gratitude. It’s where the author thanks individuals, organizations, or institutions that contributed to the successful completion of the dissertation. This section is usually a list of thank-you notes to advisors, mentors, colleagues, funding bodies, and sometimes even personal relations like family and friends.

What is the Typical Length of a Dissertation Preface in a Thesis? 

The length of a dissertation preface is generally concise, typically ranging from one to three pages. It’s approximately 300 to 600 words long. It is important to provide a succinct introduction to the research, briefly acknowledging contributions and motivations while ensuring that the content is engaging for the reader. 

What is Included in a Dissertation Preface?

A dissertation preface often includes the researcher’s brief personal background, motivations for the study, the target audience of the research, and a formal closing that includes the researcher’s name, place, and date.

  • Personal Background: The preface may start with a brief introduction of the researcher, including academic background, field of study, and any relevant experiences or qualifications.
  • Personal Motivations: This section delves into any personal experiences or circumstances that led the researcher to pursue this specific area of study. It could mention experiences that sparked an interest in the field, encounters that highlighted a particular problem, or any other factors that led to the choice of the research topic.
  • Target Group: The preface should mention the intended audience for the research. This could include fellow researchers, practitioners in the field, policymakers, or any other group that might benefit from or have an interest in the research findings.
  • Closing Formalities: At the end of the dissertation preface, the researcher typically includes their full name, the place where the research was conducted or written, and the date of completion. This serves as a formal closing to the preface.

How to Write a Dissertation Preface

Writing a dissertation preface involves combining personal insight with a brief overview of the research journey. Here’s a step-by-step guide to crafting an effective preface:

Introduce Your Topic

When you start writing the preface, open with a clear and concise introduction to your research topic. This is where you set the stage by briefly outlining the central theme or question of your dissertation. You don’t have to delve into details, but give enough information to pique the reader’s interest.


"In healthcare, communication between a nurse and a patient often transcends the boundaries of mere exchange of information. This dissertation delves into the critical yet often understated aspect of nursing: the impact of effective nurse-patient communication on the recovery trajectory of patients. The central question guiding this research is: How does the quality of communication from nursing professionals influence the healing process and overall well-being of patients under their care?"

With this introduction, the research topic is laid out clearly, and the significance of exploring nurse-patient communication in patient recovery is underscored.

Express Your Motivations

Delve into what inspired or drove you to undertake this particular research. Was there a personal experience, a gap in existing literature, or a societal issue that piqued your interest? Sharing this can help readers understand your passion and commitment to the topic.


"Growing up in a family deeply embedded in the medical profession, I witnessed firsthand the silent, transformative power of compassionate caregiving. My experiences, particularly observing my aunt, a dedicated nurse, sparked a profound curiosity in me. I was intrigued by the subtle yet significant impact a nurse's words and demeanor had on a patient's spirit and recovery. It was not just the medications and treatments, but the heartfelt conversations and reassuring smiles that seemed to make a difference. 

While existing literature has extensively explored clinical aspects of nursing, I felt a compelling need to delve deeper into the human side of caregiving. My quest led me to investigate how nurse-patient communication could potentially alter the course of a patient's journey towards healing."

By sharing such personal motivations and experiences, you provide readers with a window into your world, allowing them to understand why you chose this path of inquiry. This creates a connection and makes the research more relatable and engaging.

Describe the Research Journey

Describing the research journey in the preface involves giving an overview of the various stages of the research process, the challenges encountered, and any significant turning points that shaped the direction of the study.

To begin with, the journey starts with the initial identification of the research gap and the formulation of a research question. This phase is often characterized by an extensive review of the literature to understand the current state of knowledge in the field. The next step involves designing the methodology and planning how to collect and analyze data.

During the course of the research, several challenges may be faced. These could include issues related to access to data, ethical considerations, or unexpected findings that complicate the research question. The research journey is not always linear, and there may be turning points where the researcher has to reconsider the approach or refine the research question.

Pivotal moments could involve unexpected insights gained from the data, which may lead the researcher to explore new avenues or adjust the focus of the study. These moments contribute to the evolution of the research and can often lead to more comprehensive findings.

Acknowledge Contributions

Acknowledging contributions in the preface of your dissertation or thesis is an important gesture of appreciation and respect for those who have supported your research journey. Even though a more detailed acknowledgment section might be present later in your document, it’s essential to express your gratitude briefly in the preface as well.

In this section, you can acknowledge the invaluable guidance of your advisor, whose expertise and constructive feedback helped shape your research. Mentioning research participants is also crucial, as their willingness to contribute was instrumental to your study. Additionally, acknowledging any funding bodies or institutions that provided financial or logistical support is a sign of professional courtesy.

Provide a Brief Overview

Give readers a roadmap by briefly describing the structure of your dissertation. Mention what they can expect in each section, helping them navigate your work better.

In this part of the preface, you might mention that your dissertation is divided into several sections, such as the Introduction, Abstract, Proposal, Literature Review, Methodology, Findings, Discussion, Presentation and Conclusion. You could explain that the Introduction sets the context for your research, presenting the central question and the significance of your study. The Literature Review delves into existing works relevant to your topic, helping readers understand the academic landscape in which your research is situated.

The Methodology section outlines the research design, data collection, and analysis methods employed. In the Findings section, you present the data collected, while the Discussion interprets these findings in light of your research question. Finally, the Conclusion ties together the key insights and may suggest directions for future research.

Reflect on the Value of Your Work

Reflecting on the value of your work in the preface is a humble way to express your understanding of how your research fits into the broader context and might contribute to the field or society at large. It allows you to contemplate and communicate the potential significance of your findings without making grandiose claims.

In this section, you might mention that you hope your research sheds light on an understudied area or offers a new perspective on a well-established thesis topic. You can express the aspiration that your findings might provide a foundation for future studies or contribute to ongoing discussions within your field. Alternatively, you could reflect on how your research could potentially have practical implications or influence policy-making.

End with a Personal Touch

Concluding your preface with a personal touch allows you to bring the narrative full circle and leaves a lasting impression on your readers. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with your initial motivations, express gratitude, and reflect on your journey.

You might choose to revisit the passion or curiosity that led you to embark on this research path, perhaps mentioning how the journey has enriched your understanding or changed your perspective. You could also take a moment to express gratitude to your readers for their time and engagement with your work. A personal reflection on the challenges, triumphs, and lessons learned during the research process can also add depth to your conclusion.

Review and Revise

Once you have written your initial draft, take a step back and then revisit it with fresh eyes. Check for clarity, ensuring that your ideas are presented logically and coherently. Pay attention to the flow of your narrative, ensuring that your motivations, research journey, acknowledgments, and reflections transition smoothly from one to the next. 

Your goal should be to make your preface accessible and engaging to a broad audience. It can also be beneficial to seek feedback from peers, mentors, or advisors. They can provide an external perspective and might highlight areas for improvement.

Example of a Dissertation Preface

I am Jane Doe, a nursing student with a keen interest in pediatric care and a background in public health. Having spent several years working closely with healthcare professionals, I have seen firsthand the profound impact that attentive and compassionate care can have on patients and their families. This dissertation is the culmination of my passion for advancing pediatric healthcare and my academic journey in nursing.

The inspiration for this research stemmed from my experiences as a volunteer in a pediatric ward, where I observed the challenges faced by nursing staff in managing pain among postoperative pediatric patients. I was deeply moved by the resilience of these young patients and the dedication of the nurses who sought to ease their discomfort. These experiences illuminated the need for an in-depth exploration into effective pediatric pain management post-surgery.

This dissertation, titled "An Examination of Pediatric Postoperative Pain Management Strategies: Enhancing Nursing Approaches," is aimed at healthcare professionals, particularly nurses in pediatric care, educators in nursing schools, and policymakers seeking evidence-based approaches to improve patient care.

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to my advisor, Dr. John Smith, for his invaluable guidance and unwavering support throughout this research journey. My thanks also extend to the nurses and patients who participated in this study and to the XYZ Foundation for their generous funding.

Jane Doe

New York, NY

November 1, 2023

Final Thoughts on Writing a Dissertation Preface

A dissertation preface is a vital introductory section that offers readers a glimpse into the researcher’s journey, motivations, and acknowledgments. It acts as a bridge between the personal and academic aspects of the research, providing context and setting the tone for the dissertation. It is invaluable in grounding the reader, offering insights into the research process, and humanizing the rigorous academic endeavor. 

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