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How to write an abstract for your Thesis or Dissertation

What is an abstract?

Think of your abstract like a sales pitch or teaser. Way before anybody gets near your thesis or dissertation, they’ll glance at the abstract. The abstract will help them decide whether your paper is worth reading. Therefore, your abstract has to answer all the crucial questions that a potential reader may have, and also be written well enough to pique their interest. The abstract also goes at the beginning of your dissertation; and if you plan on publishing, your abstract is what you send out to publishers or conferences.

Your thesis or dissertation abstract will be between 300~1000 words, depending on what you need it for. Shoot for 1000; then make a 500 / 300 words version. You can also try to make a Thesis Statement / Statement of Research problem, where you get the whole thing done to just one or two sentences. (Some journals or conferences will actually ask for this, so be prepared. Plus it helps when somebody asks “Hey, what’s your thesis about?” You should be able to answer in just one sentence.

The abstract is also usually accompanied by the Keywords – a list of related keywords about the subject.

Parts of your abstract:

  • Motivation – What led you to research this topic? Why is it needed/useful?
  • Problem Statement – What exact concern or problem does your thesis fix? This usually involves a ‘gap in the literature’ or something that hasn’t been covered by other research.
  • Approach – How do you go about getting the answer? What questions do you raise /topics do you explore? A very summary of the thesis.
  • Results – What did you discover? What’s the answer? Did they agree with your expectations?
  • Conclusion – How will these results help further research? What can other scholars use this research for?

Tips for writing your abstract:

Don’t make the abstract too vague. Yes, it’s a summary, but don’t assume you can just hint at the meal and give the meat in the thesis. If people don’t find exactly what they want in your abstract, they’ll move on. Give them the meat. Give them examples of your very strongest ideas and arguments, your very best writing, your very best conclusions. Don’t hold back – tell them exactly what your thesis will provide, in detailed terms.

Look at similar abstracts in your field: Find some papers that are similar to yours. Read their abstracts and model your own from theirs. Of course all the details should be very different, but the organization, the connector words or sentence patterns can be very useful.

Good luck writing your thesis or dissertation abstract!

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