Situating the Study: The Background

For research to be of value, it must in some way extend, refine, or rebut current knowledge. The background of your thesis is where you fully explain the context of your study, and establish the current state of understanding in the field. Your task in this part of your thesis is to explain the knowledge you are building on and the knowledge you will change, or to explain how your work relates to past studies, current debates, and gaps in the present body of knowledge. Our purpose in this chapter is to help you write this background.

Structure of the Background

Use your background to help the reader appreciate how your outcomes relate to current knowledge in the field.

Depending on the nature of your thesis, the background sections or chapters can take any of several different forms. But their function is always the same: to provide the context for your work and to explain your position in relation to the field. A useful perspective is to think of the background as educating the ‘you’ that you were at the start of the research project. Four common elements in the background are:

  • Establishment of a context to locate a study in time, situation, application, or culture.
  • Identification of current theory, discoveries, innovations, and debates, including an evaluation of those most useful and relevant to your topic, as well as identification of gaps or inconsistencies in the literature.
  • Outline of current practices and technologies in your field that highlight, and perhaps synthesize, a selection of the appropriate methods and tools for gathering data and results for your study.
  • Preliminary investigations undertaken by you or others that clarify research techniques, formulate questions and hypotheses, or focus the investigation.

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

P. Gruba, J. Zobel, How To Write Your First Thesis, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-61854-8_5

Considering the work of Anouck, to investigate the perception of bilingual advertising in an urban environment you would certainly need a descriptive section on the key characteristics of bilingual ads. You would also have a section that sets out current controversies that surround the bilingual advertising: Who is it really for? What is its underlying purpose? Why do businesses use it? Next, you would need to have a section that details ways in which previous studies on such advertising in urban environments have been conducted. If previous work is unsatisfactory in some way, for example, the questionnaires used are out of date or not applicable to your intended participant group, then you would need to conduct a preliminary study to clarify instruments and other aspects of methodology, including research questions.

Considering the work of Mickey, the research goal is reasonably straightforward, but a wide range of technologies are potentially applicable. You would need a section on the properties of text that are relevant to methods for statistical language processing, and an examination (perhaps based on preliminary experiments) of properties that are specific to online fiction. Much of the background would consist of review and in-principle assessment of approaches to automatic text processing; a key example might be the ‘authorship identification’ methods that are used to estimate who may have written an anonymous document. The background would conclude with a review of experimental methodologies applied in similar previous work.

The background section would be the basis for the design of your project, which can then be understood as naturally following on from prior work, and conducted using techniques that are backed with solid justification.

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