A dissertation preface is a short introductory section at the beginning of a dissertation or thesis. It serves as a direct conversation between the writer and the reader, providing a glimpse into the author’s personal and academic journey while completing the research. Unlike the nursing abstract, which offers a concise research summary, the preface focuses on the subjective experiences and background that led to the project.

What is Included in a Preface?

  • Your (brief) personal background: It’s essential to provide a snippet of your background, especially in nursing, where personal experiences often shape professional aspirations. Were there family members in healthcare? Did a personal health challenge inspire your journey?
  • Any (brief) personal experiences or circumstances that motivated you to pursue this type of academic work: Perhaps witnessing the dedicated care a loved one received or a desire to improve existing healthcare systems. Nursing students often have compelling stories that drive them to their vocation.
  • The target group for which your thesis or dissertation was written: For nursing students, is it meant for policymakers, hospital administrators, fellow nurses, or patients? Specifying this will help tailor your preface and the content of your research.
  • Your name, the place name, and the date: This personalizes your dissertation, adding a touch of authenticity and grounding your research in a particular time and place.

Can a Dissertation Have a Preface?

Certainly! A preface is especially potent for fields like nursing, where personal experiences often dovetail with academic pursuits. The preface provides readers with a unique insight, allowing them to view the research as an academic exercise and a personal quest for knowledge and improvement. 

Does the Preface Mean the Same as the Acknowledgements? 

No. While both sections offer a more personal touch, the preface introduces readers to the motivations and background leading to the research. In contrast, the acknowledgments offer gratitude. For a nursing student, acknowledgments might include thanks to patients who shared their stories or nursing mentors who provided guidance.

How to Write a Preface for a Dissertation?

Crafting a compelling preface is like opening a window into the researcher’s journey, allowing the readers a glimpse of the passion, curiosity, and dedication behind the academic work. 

Avoid writing the preface beforehand

  • Reflection is Key: It is paramount to pen down the preface after completing the research. This chronological order allows the researcher, especially nursing students, to contemplate their whole journey. It ensures that reflections encompass not only the initial motivations but also the nursing challenges faced, the skills honed, and the lessons learned throughout the research process.
  • Incorporating Evolved Perspectives: As research progresses, so does the understanding and perspective of the researcher. Writing the preface at the end allows for including these evolved viewpoints, making it richer and more comprehensive.

Structure your preface effectively

  • Personal Background: Start by briefly outlining your background, especially any experiences or exposures that guided you toward the nursing field. This foundation sets the stage for the motivations behind your research.
  • Journey and Motivation: Delve deeper into specific experiences, encounters, or realizations that drove you to pursue this dissertation research topic. For nursing students, this could be a particular patient’s story, a healthcare scenario, or an academic curiosity.
  • Target Audience Identification: Clearly define and explain who your research is intended for. Is it other nursing students? Experienced nurses? Healthcare policymakers? This specification helps in orienting the dissertation and the preface.
  • Concluding Personal Touch: End with your signature elements – your name, location, and date, grounding the preface in time and space.

Encourage reader engagement

  • Empathy and Connection: For fields like nursing, the human touch is pivotal. Use a professional and compassionate tone that reflects the core values of nursing.
  • Incorporate Real Experiences: Use anecdotes, patient stories, or specific instances from your practicum that were turning points in your research. Such real-life examples validate your points and make your preface more relatable and touching.
  • Interactive Queries: Pose rhetorical questions or intriguing statements that nudge the readers to ponder, ensuring they are mentally engaged immediately.

Avoid including everything in the preface

  • Concision is Crucial: A preface should be like an appetizer, whetting the reader’s appetite without satiating it. While recounting every significant event or encounter might be tempting, especially in an emotion-charged domain like nursing, it’s essential to exercise restraint.
  • Highlight Pivotal Moments: Focus on the moments, experiences, or realizations that profoundly impacted your research direction or dissertation methodology. These highlights offer readers a roadmap of your academic journey without overwhelming them with details.
  • Maintain Flow: Ensure that the preface has a seamless flow, where each element naturally leads to the next, maintaining a coherent narrative that is easy to follow.

Dissertation preface example

From a tender age, the stories of resilience, determination, and the healing touch I heard sitting at my grandmother's feet became the soundtrack of my early years. She was a retired nurse, and her tales, painted with vivid hues of humanity and professionalism, became my early dissertation introduction to the world of nursing. 

These tales were not just stories; they were life lessons highlighting the sanctity of the profession and the difference one nurse could make in a patient's life.

Fast forward to my college years, I yearned for more hands-on experience in nursing, leading me to volunteer at St. Mary's Pediatric Unit in the summer of 2020. Among the many young souls I encountered, one stood out - Lily, a vivacious young girl with twinkling eyes and an infectious smile, battling a rare genetic condition. 

Every day, I watched her, with fragility and strength, as she navigated her world of medications, tests, and treatments.

However, it wasn't just Lily's journey that captivated me. I was equally drawn to the team of pediatric nurses tending to her. Their care, the warmth of their touch, and the depth of their knowledge made me realize the immense complexities of pediatric care. 

It wasn't just about administering medication or checking vitals; it was about understanding the unique needs of each child, communicating with young patients who might not always be able to articulate their discomfort, and offering solace to anxious parents.

It was here, amidst the quiet hum of the pediatric unit and the echoing laughter of children like Lily, that the seeds for this dissertation were sown. I wanted to dive deeper, explore the standards of pediatric care, and understand where we, as a healthcare system, were excelling and where we might be falling short. 

With this dissertation, I aim to offer insights tailored for pediatric nurses, hospital administrators, and parents, shedding light on the intricacies and challenges of caring for young patients with rare conditions.

By sharing knowledge, blending practice with empathy, and constantly evolving, I genuinely believe that we can craft more effective care strategies. Strategies that don't just heal the body but also cater to the spirit of young patients like Lily, ensuring they receive the holistic care they rightfully deserve.

Alexa Brown,

Seattle, Washington,

August 2023.

Final Thoughts on Dissertation Prefaces

Though optional in some academic institutions, the preface of a dissertation offers a unique opportunity to personalize one’s academic work. It’s a space where authors can directly address readers, providing a window into the backdrop against which the research unfolded.

By understanding its purpose and structuring it effectively, one can ensure that the preface is an engaging and insightful preamble to the main content. However, finding the right words and tone can be challenging, especially when you’re deeply invested in the research.

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