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How to Write an Abstract for a Dissertation

Published by at August 11th, 2021 , Revised On September 20, 2023

Dissertation Abstract – Definition

The abstract is regarded as the foremost component of a dissertation. It will be your first chance to set precise expectations for the supervisor, examiner or graduate committee members. An abstract for a dissertation is the first real significant narrative of your work and is placed at the beginning of the dissertation paper.

Presented in a shortened form, an abstract is a very brief overview of your research.

In this article, we will uncover every piece of information you need to know to write an abstract.  

According to the online archives of Simon Fraser University research database, “an abstract is not merely an introduction in the sense of a preface, preamble, or advance organizer that prepares the reader for the thesis. In addition to that function, it must be capable of substituting for the whole thesis when there are insufficient time and space for the full text.

Do I Need to Write an Abstract?

You will be required to include an abstract at the beginning of your paper if you are working on your thesis, dissertation, research paper, or publishing a paper in any academic journal.

Even though the abstract appears right at the start of a dissertation paper, it is generally written at last. For it is only after you have compiled all the evidence and data, interpreted every piece of finding, backed your interpretation(s) with enough theoretical evidence and answered your research questions, that you can sum it all up in 150-200 words. The general length of an abstract.

 The table of contents is the section that immediately follows an abstract. Here is a guide on how to create a table of contents for the dissertation.

Your abstract should be an entirely autonomous and independent text and never be an extract taken from within the paper’s original content. This also implies, indirectly, that it is unethical in research contexts to copy-paste chunks from within your own research in an abstract.

In particular, an abstract aims to provide an overview of research aim and objectives, methods of research employed, results obtained, findings, most salient interpretation(s), the conclusion and implication(s) of your research. Readers should be able to completely understand all aspects of your research work just by reading your abstract.

Also Read: How to Write Dissertation Discussion Chapter, How to Write a Remarkable Dissertation?

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How to Write a Dissertation Abstract

A dissertation abstract serves as a deal maker or breaker when it comes to making a strong impression on your readers. Your dissertation abstract can either motivate your readers to continue reading or discourage them from moving on to the next chapters.

The abstract of a dissertation needs to be conspicuous, meaningful, interesting and of course, informative. It should contain brief but relevant information from all chapters of your dissertation to provide a brief overview of the research that has been conducted. This would mean its:

  • What (topic statement of your research)
  • Who (the sample)
  • Why (the significance/objectives/aims/questions/hypothesis of your research)
  • Where (the background/setting of your research)
  • And how (the research design/tools/methods/methodologies etc. of your research)

 Here, we have put together some guidelines for students to understand how to write an abstract for a dissertation to make a great first impression on readers.

Key Components of a Dissertation Abstract

The key elements of a dissertation abstract are as follows:

  • Background statement/problem statement/thesis statement
  • Information regarding research sample
  • Methods of research employed
  • A brief description of the results obtained and their interpretation (only the most important one(s))
  • A summary of conclusion, limitations and future recommendations/implications (only the most salient ones)

1. Background/Problem Statement/Aims and Objectives

The first couple of sentences of your dissertation abstract should provide a summary of the purpose of your research. This can be expressed as follows:

  • Background statement – Provide a brief perspective on the theoretical and practical significance of your work.
  • The problem statement clearly communicates to the readers why there was a need to research the chosen topic.
  • Present an overview of the research’s aim and objectives to establish what your research intended to achieve.
  • Thesis statement – what is the main idea of your dissertation paper? What are your claims in reference to the established research questions?

Avoid writing this part of the abstract in future tense because it refers to concluded actions.

  • This study will investigate the relationship between coffee consumption and productivity.
  • This study investigates the relationship between coffee consumption and productivity.

Also read: How to Get Dissertation Deadline Extension – Some Practical Methods.

2. Sample

This one-to-two lined section will give information about who the sample in your study was; where they are located/residing, etc. The reasons for selecting that group of participants, for instance, is not relevant for mention in an abstract.

3. Research Methods

Briefly specify your dissertation research methodology immediately after stating the purpose and sample of your dissertation paper. Here, you will be expected to summarise how you straightforwardly conducted your research.

Like the first section, a description of research methods should also be written in the simple past tense. There is absolutely no need to highlight the limitations and/or validity of your research methods here.

The goal is to take the readers through the overall approach and process quickly.

4. Research Findings

Provide a brief overview of the major findings of your dissertation study. If you think you undiscovered multiple major findings, only mention the ones that directly answer a research question or two that was/were part of your study to begin with. For instance, if you studied the relation between two variables and your findings indicate it’s a positive correlation, you simply state that finding, not the other, minor ones related to this specific one.

This section is the crux of your abstract, so make sure you demonstrate how your research addressed the research objectives.

Furthermore, due to the word limit (150-200) of the abstract and the complexity of your research, you might not be able to include all results here. If that is the case, have only the most significant results.

This portion should be written in the past simple or present tense. Here is an example:

  • Analysis of the responses has shown that there is a strong correlation between consumption and productivity.
  • Analysis of the responses shows there is a strong correlation between coffee consumption and productivity.
  • Analysis of the responses showed there was a strong correlation between coffee consumption and productivity.

5. Conclusion and Recommendation/Implication

Lastly, the abstract of a dissertation should conclude your dissertation research. The conclusion should clearly report how your study addressed the research problem.

Use this part of the abstract to convince people how your research proved the argument or theory your research was built on and started off with.

Provide recommendations for practical implementation to clearly understand your audience how your work will solve the problem at hand.

Finally, do not forget to mention important research limitations briefly. For example, selecting a smaller sample size due to some constraints would be a limitation worth mentioning. This will add more weight and credibility to your research.

Make use of the present simple test when writing the conclusion.

Some institutions, however, dictate that you write one or two lines about the long- or short-term implications your research might have. This component would be the last one in an abstract, preceded by the conclusive statement.

Abstract keywords/phrases 

You might be asked to include important key terms and phrases at the end of the abstract, especially if your paper has been selected for publication in an academic journal.

These keywords help potential readers find your paper in search engines during their desk-based research.

However, it should be noted that some academic journals have their own specific formatting requirements for keywords. It’s recommended that you read the requirements about keywords in their publication manuals to avoid any misunderstanding.

More on Abstract keywords

According to Hartley and Kostoff (2003), following are some different methods for supplying keywords for an abstract:

Researchers “supply them with no restrictions on the numbers allowed; supply up to a fixed number (e.g. six); supply key words as appropriate from a specified list; editors supplement/amend authors’ key words; editors supply key words; editors supply key words from a specified list; referees supply key words from a specified list; keywords are allocated according to the ‘house-rules’ applied to all journals; distributed by a specific publisher; keywords are determined by computer program at proof stage”.

Format of a Dissertation Abstract

The typical size of an abstract for a masters’ dissertation is 300-400 words whereas abstracts for undergraduate dissertation papers are 150-200 words in size.

Since their findings are generally more in number, abstracts for PhD-level dissertation papers are assigned 300-350 words. The dissertation abstract structure should be such that there are one or two sentences assigned to each chapter of the dissertation.

For example, if your dissertation paper has 5 chapters, there should be a minimum of 8-10 sentences in the abstract to provide a reflective summary of each chapter’s information.

As is the case with the dissertation introduction chapter, you will be expected to specify the research questions clearly.

You might need to rearrange them and/or reduce the word count without missing out on any important element, considering there is room for only two to three research questions generally placed at the beginning of the abstract.

  Poor dissertation abstracts don’t present the findings of the research. It is important to recognize that the readers of your dissertation paper will be more interested in what findings you came up with as a result of your research and not merely what you did. Use at least 2 to 3 sentences for summarising the results and their interpretation.

Look for the formatting requirements in your dissertation handbook or writing guidelines provided by your school. Make sure to stay within the permissible word limit. An abstract too long or too short will not serve the purpose.

Tips on How to Write the Abstract for Dissertation

Condensing your entire dissertation into just a few sentences can be a daunting task, especially if it’s your first time writing a dissertation abstract.

It is important to get your dissertation abstract right because this part of the dissertation paper is the first real piece of written description that your audience will read. You can even recall some of your own experiences where, due to shortage of time or many deadlines looming above your head, you had to skim and scam the abstract of a research article or journal paper you stumbled across. It probably gave you a good enough idea whether it was worth it to bookmark that paper to read fully later now, didn’t it?

That’s exactly the kind of effect your own abstract should have on its readers, too. It’s meant to give a holistic view of the entire research.

Here are some tips for you to make sure you write this part to the highest possible academic quality:

Also Read: Different Research Methods for Dissertation?

Tip #1: Avoid Citing Publications

Student researchers often get carried away with the research of professional researchers when writing an abstract. Avoid focusing on others’ work and demonstrate how your own research will substantially contribute to your area of study.

Depending on the allowable word limit for the abstract, you might be able to squeeze in a sentence or two about the scholarly background of the research problem you wish to address. Still, there is no need to cite any publications.

Tip #2: Be Concise and to-the-point

Your dissertation abstract should be attention-grabbing, even though you will have only a few hundred words to work with. So. it is crucial to communicate your research work in the most concise manner.  Never stuff your dissertation abstract with needless words and avoid vague verbiage that might put your readers off-track.

 Need help with writing a killer dissertation abstract? Our writers can write an abstract for a dissertation following your school’s guidelines. Or get help from our expert academics with any part of your dissertation.

Tip # 3: Read Sample Abstracts

Learn the art of writing great dissertation abstract by reading abstract dissertation samples. It would make sense to look at how other people in your academic subject have written their abstracts.

If you have already conducted your dissertation literature review, you might have already read many research paper abstracts – which you could use to get useful insights into how to format your dissertation abstract. Here is an abstract dissertation example to help you get started.

Tip #4: Coverage and Presentation

Remember, an abstract is one single paragraph. There are no breaks in it. It continues as a single body. Furthermore, it is written in a separate page. No other chapter or sub-headings etc. come before or after the abstract on the same page. There are also no headings – such as the topic of your research – above the title ‘Abstract’ on the abstract page. Simply give the heading of ‘Abstract’ and start it off from there. And last but not the least, another important thing to keep in mind is that abstract (pretty much like the rest of your thesis) will be double-spaced.

Tip #5: Language

Other researchers will look for key terms specific to your research field to figure out the purpose and nature of your dissertation paper. Make sure to include relevant terminology necessary for understanding your abstract and thereby determining what the research was about.

Tip #6: Shortening a Lengthy Abstract

It’s natural to sometimes get carried away while writing…even in academic writing. As Trochim and other writers state in their book, Research Methods: The Essential Knowledge Base, “In order to shorten your abstract, you should eliminate nonessential information wherever possible—this includes transitions phrases (e.g., ‘the results demonstrate . . .’).”

No, you should not. It is important for an abstract to be an entirely autonomous and independent text and never be an extract taken from within the paper’s original content. Write it in your own words, 

The abstract of your dissertation provides a brief overview of the research conducted and the results obtained.

The abstract of your dissertation must give background information, mention the problem statement, research aims, and objectives, sample information, methods of research, the findings, conclusion and recommendations/implications.

No, you must never cite any reference in the abstract.

About Owen Ingram

Avatar for Owen IngramIngram is a dissertation specialist. He has a master's degree in data sciences. His research work aims to compare the various types of research methods used among academicians and researchers.