How to write the background of the study in a thesis research?

By Riya Jain & Priya Chetty on September 25, 2021

The preliminary requirement of completing thesis research is the formulation of the background of the study. The background of the study is typically a part of the Introduction chapter of the thesis. In fact, every research paper begins with the background of the study. It offers key information about the research. It consists of three main elements:

  1. Latest information about an issue.
  2. A review of existing research and areas explored.
  3. Relevant history of the area.

The background makes the study results more reliable and effective. The well-written background of the study prompts the readers to read the rest of the thesis research and provide the study with a context. It is thus essential to make it impactful. However, among authors and researchers, the most common problem has been to distinguish between the background and literature review. In order to understand the difference, understand the role each section plays in thesis research.

What is the purpose of giving a background of the study?

The main purpose of giving a background to the study is to make the reader aware of the context of the thesis (Sachdev, 2018). It compiles the research problem, information on the topic, and the proposed argument for the research problem. It helps justify the need for the thesis. The figure below summarises the purpose of the thesis background of the study section.

Purpose of giving a background to the study in a thesis reseach
Figure 1: Purpose of giving a background to the study in a thesis research

It is helpful to decide the length and structure of the background of the study before writing it.

How to structure the background of the study in thesis research?

The Introduction chapter accounts for roughly 10% of the total word count (Australian National University, 2021).


In a PhD thesis of around 80000-100000 words, the Introduction chapter should consist of 8000 – 10000 words. Of this, at least 70% of the word count must be devoted to the background of the study section.

An ideal structure of the background of the study in a thesis research
Figure 1: An ideal structure of the background of the study in a thesis research
  1. Overview of the study: The section should start with an overview of the study, i.e., what is the main area of focus? For example, if the thesis research deals with the problem of customer satisfaction with a brand, then start with the importance of customer satisfaction today, followed by the relevance of the brand in question. Cite the sources and avoid plagiarising text.
  2. Key data or statistics: Introduce some key statistics pertaining to the main problem. For instance, for a thesis on the attrition problem in the information technology industry, talk about the % of people who quit the top 5 IT services companies last year and the overall attrition rate in the country. This part needs the most references, so cite every figure or statistic.
  3. Gaps that need to be addressed: Explain what is lacking in the existing research. Bring focus on the main problem head-on. Identify at least 2 gaps to make the study stronger and to justify your hypothesis. This section is brief, only about 400-500 words. This section does not need references.
  4. Significance of addressing the gap: Establish the importance of the thesis research. For this, remember who, what, when, where, why, and how. This section too is brief, i.e. 400-500 words. This section does not need references.
  5. Methodological approach to addressing the gap: Lastly, explain how the goal of the study will be achieved. What methodology is employed? Keep this section brief because there is a separate chapter for explaining this in detail.
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The main goal should be to keep the reader engaged, illustrate relevant details, and demonstrate knowledge and passion for the study. Hence, before finalizing the background, answer the following questions:

  • Are there any concepts, ideas, terms, or theories which the targeted audience may be unfamiliar with, and additional explanation about them is required?
  • Is there any historical data which provides context to the emergence of the current issue that needs to be shared?
  • Are there any other concepts that are from other disciplines and thus need an explanation?

Avoid making these common mistakes

  • Just the specification of preliminary data about the topic. Instead, delve deeper into the topic’s key concepts.
  • Providing information without references.
  • Do not make the background with too much data and a long drag. It causes a loss of the reader’s interest and deviation from the topic.
  • The information in the background should not digress into a broad literature review or deviate too much from the topic. Instead, all ideas should be presented to the reader in form of a story.
  • Discussion of theories. Theories should be discussed in the literature review instead. Only pivotal aspects like gaps, novelty or need for study should be discussed.
  • Avoid repetition and lack of flow. The content should not be disorganized. An inadequate format prevents the delivery of relevant information to the reader, thus, all themes should be presented chronologically.