The purpose statement is made up of three major components: (1) the motivation driving your dissertation; (2) the significance of the research you plan to carry out; and (3) the research questions you are going to address. Starting the first major chapter of your dissertation (usually Chapter One: Introduction), the purpose statement establishes the intent of your entire dissertation. Just like a great song that needs a great "hook", the purpose statement needs to draw the reader in and keep their attention. This article explains the purpose of each of these three components that make up the purpose statement.
Your choice of dissertation topic should be driven by some kind of motivation. This motivation is usually a problem or issue that you feel needs to be addressed or solved. This part of the purpose statement aims to answer the question: Why should we care? In other words, why should we be interested in the research problem or issue that you want to address?
The types of motivation that may drive your dissertation will vary depending on the subject area you are studying, as well as the specific dissertation topic you are interested in. However, some of the broad types of motivation that undergraduate and master's level dissertation students try to address are based around (a) individuals, (b) organisations, and/or (c) society.
Individuals face many problems and issues ranging from those associated with welfare, to health, prosperity, freedoms, security, and so on. From a health perspective, you may be concerned with the rise in childhood obesity and the potential need for regulation to combat the advertising of fast food to children. In terms of welfare and freedoms, you may be interested in the introduction of new legislation that aims to protect discrimination in the workplace, and its implications for small businesses.
Organisations also have a wide range of problems and issues that need to be addressed, whether relating to people, finances, operations, competition, regulations, and so forth. From a people perspective, you may be interested in how organisations use flexible working options to alleviate employee stress and burnout. In terms of regulations, you may be concerned with the growth in Internet piracy and the ways that organisations are dealing with such a threat.
Society is another lens through which you can view problems and issues that need to be addressed. These may relate to a wide range of societal risks or other problems and issues such as factory farming, the potential legalisation of marijuana, the health-related effects of talking on cell phones, and so forth. You may be interested in understanding individuals? views towards the potential legalisation of marijuana; or how these views are influenced by individuals? knowledge of the side-effects of marijuana use.
When communicating the motivation driving your dissertation to the reader, it is important to explain why the problem or issue you are addressing is interesting: that is, why should the reader care? It is not sufficient to simply state what the problem or issue is.
Whilst the motivation component of your purpose statement explains why the reader should care about your dissertation, the significance component justifies the value of the dissertation. In other words: What contribution will the dissertation make to the literature? Why should anyone bother to perform this research? What is its value?
Even though dissertations are rarely "ground-breaking" at the undergraduate or master's level (and are not expected to be), they should still be significant in some way. This component of the Introduction chapter, which follows the motivation section, should explain what this significance is. In this respect, your research may be significant in one of a number of ways. It may:
Capitalise on a recent event
Reflect a break from the past
Target a new audience
Address a flaw in a previous study
Expand a particular field of study
Help an individual, group, organisation, or community
When writing your purpose statement, you will need to explain the relationship between the motivation driving your dissertation and the significance of the research you plan to carry out. These two factors - motivation and significance - must be intrinsically linked; that is, you cannot have one without the other. The key point is that you must be able to explain the relationship between the motivation driving your dissertation and one (or more) of the types of significance highlighted in the bullets above.
The motivation and significance components of your Introduction chapter should signal to the reader the general intent of your dissertation. However, the research questions that you set out indicate the specific intent of your dissertation. In other words, your research questions tell the reader exactly what you intend to try and address (or answer) throughout the dissertation process.
In addition, since there are different types of research question (i.e., quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods research questions), it should be obvious from the significance component of your purpose statement which of these types of research question you intend to tackle [see the section, Research Questions, to learn more].
Having established the research questions you are going to address, this completes the purpose statement. At this point, the reader should be clear about the overall intent of your dissertation. If you are in the process of writing up your dissertation, we would recommend including a Chapter Summaries section after the Research Questions section of your Introduction chapter. This helps to let the reader know what to expect next from your dissertation.