Strategies for Building Your Dissertation’s Abstract

Strategies for Building Your Dissertation’s Abstract

Your abstract is what reviewers and other scholars encounter first when they look at your dissertation. It is the summary of your work as a whole; a snapshot of what you did and what you found as a result of your research. Your abstract should be concise and brief, yet represent your research well, so the reader gets motivated to continue on and read the full paper.

The Structure and Tense of Your Abstract

An abstract is usually between 150 and 350 words and should not exceed 500 words. For visual coherence, some writing experts advise limiting your abstract to 280 words, double-spaced, which limits the summary to one page. Your abstract’s structure should correspond to the structure of your thesis: if there are five chapters in your dissertation, each chapter should be represented with a sentence or two in the abstract.

It is generally recommended that the parts of your abstract that refer to your current research (and the topic of your manuscript) should be written in past simple tense. Present tense is used for statements that represent facts and generally accepted ideas. A concise introductory phrase can be written in present perfect tense.

When it comes to using jargon, avoid overusing it. When you try to make yourself sound like an expert, it usually backfires. Use technical terms if you need to, but unnecessary jargon should be omitted.

Five Strategies that Can Help You Write a Good Abstract

  1. Start with an introductory sentence

Begin your abstract with a short introduction that will position you within an ongoing debate in your field and identify your methodology and theoretical lenses. For example:

Although a lot has been written on the process of aging and the aging body, the perceptions of older people themselves remain poorly understood. I used a qualitative research approach to explore how older, community-dwelling women in America experience old age and the physical changes it brings.

Some useful phrases might also include:

  • This study investigated the effects of…
  • This study examined the relationship between… and…
  • In this study I explored the role of…
  1. Specify your research question

It is very important that your abstract includes your research question(s). Just as your thesis, the abstract too should build around your research question and/or your hypothesis. It is best to position it at the beginning of the abstract, so it presents the foundation for your work and structures the abstract.

  1. Mention your research design

You should not write about your research design in detail, but it needs to be included. The purpose of the abstract is to tell the reader what you discovered, so you do not need to spend too much time describing how you did it. A sentence (or two) about your methodology should briefly describe the rigor of your findings. Do not be verbose, but tell enough so the reader can be reassured you can back up your claims.

Some of the following phrases might be appropriate for this section:

  • Our sample consisted of… and we conducted… in-depth interviews, which were analyzed using a constant comparative method.
  • Multiple methods were employed to study…
  • A questionnaire was developed to measure… and data was analyzed using SPSS.
  1. Present your major findings

As you write your abstract, remember to put a focus on your findings! The last half of the abstract should be dedicated to your results and their interpretation. Tell the reader about your results and their contribution to research and practice.

  1. Write a short conclusion

You can conclude with a short statement that summarizes your findings, contribution to the field and future research. For example:

  • I conclude that…
  • This study provided support for…
  • Established views on… where challenged by the study’s findings…