1. Purpose. The purpose of an abstract is to summarise the content of your dissertation in a systematic and formulaic manner. The abstract serves as a short-hand for the entire piece. It indicates whether or not it would be worthwhile to read. Bear this purpose in mind when drafting your own abstract.
2. Length. Typically an abstract should not exceed one page of text, but it is essential to check departmental specifications to be sure that your abstract conforms with requirements. Exceeding stated limitations in length is a serious failure which will indicate a lack of understanding as to the purpose of an abstract.
3. Avoid verbosity. The biggest challenge in writing an abstract is to retain focus and not exceed the word count. It is therefore necessary here to avoid unnecessarily florid and superfluous language. Keep it simple, clear and within specifications.
4. Thoroughness. The abstract must represent the entire dissertation, not just certain elements of it. Objectives, reviewed literature, methodology, analysis and conclusions: all should be summarised in the abstract. Remember that abstracts are used to inform the reader of what they are about to read, so don’t leave too many surprises.
5. Terminology. The inclusion of key terms – both general and specific to your subject area – will provide a means for browsing research academics to identify the character and purpose of your dissertation as a whole.
6. Authority. Set the tone for your dissertation by establishing an authoritative academic voice early on in your abstract. Demonstrate your comfort with the academic register to set up the impression that your work is professional and credible.
7. Salesmanship. A rather crass way to think about the purpose of your abstract, perhaps, but useful nonetheless. Academics will read your abstract to decide whether or not your dissertation as a whole is likely to be useful to them. Indicate the significance of your research and emphasise the rigour of your methods.
8. Balance. In the same way that the dissertation as a whole must maintain the proper share of space between different chapters, so too the abstract should reflect this balance. Look at the marking criteria to see which aspects carry how many marks, and organise your abstract appropriately.
9. Clarity of expression. As already mentioned, abstracts require a concise writing style to keep the word count low. In summarising such a large volume of material, be mindful also of the danger of obscurity and lack of clarity. Make sure the abstract is not entirely incomprehensible to an intelligent layman.
10. Consult published material. As with many aspects of writing a dissertation, useful models and templates can be found in comparable published material. Read published dissertations and familiarise yourself with how good abstracts are written.