How to write a compelling dissertation abstract
(Last updated: 16 June 2020)
Where do you start?
A good dissertation abstract takes this statement as truth; it provides an overall summary of your work and should encourage the reader to continue reading your article. People write abstracts when writing proposals (like for a conference paper, book chapter, book), submitting articles to journals, applying for research grants, or completing a PhD dissertation or thesis. An abstract comes at the beginning of a piece of work and usually tells the reader what they can expect. It should be concise and follow a certain format depending on your discipline area.
"You never get a second chance to make a first impression."
What should it look like?
There are two main types of dissertation abstract: descriptive and informative. A descriptive abstract just tells about the type of information found in the work using key words and phrases. It may offer information about the purpose, methods and scope. This type of abstract is usually short containing about 100 words or less. While descriptive abstracts typically offer only an outline, the informative abstract is slightly more detailed. It presents the main arguments while also highlighting the main findings and conclusions. The length of an informative abstract is usually longer than a descriptive abstract at around 250-350 words. Whether writing a descriptive or an informative dissertation abstract, it is usually best to write the abstract last (even though it is read first) so that you can be sure that you are highlighting all the results and conclusions from the work that you feel are most important.
Your abstract should comprise only one paragraph, so this paragraph needs to be well structured and organized. During the writing process, you should start by re-reading your work in its entirety to gain an overall perspective. Then, read each section individually. Write down one or two sentences for each section, highlighting the main points. Put these sentences together as a whole, using cohesive devices to ensure that each sentence flows well into the next one.
Read what you have written and ask yourself, does this paragraph cover the main points of my paper? If the answer is no, then go back to reviewing the sections of the original work. If the answer is yes, make sure that your word count falls within the requirements. If you have to cut out words, it is essential that you continue to re-read your dissertation abstract to maintain the essential points contained within it. Typically, an abstract does not contain references/citations to external sources. This is because the abstract should be able to stand alone; by using references you tie the abstract to the paper in a negative way.
There are a few final points to consider when writing your abstract. First, remember that not everyone who reads your abstract will understand the concepts in the same way that you do. Therefore, when you are writing your abstract, you need to make sure that you are using plain English - it is your job to find a balance between the wider audience and the knowledge of people within your discipline. Second, an abstract should not provide any new or different information. If it is not written in your work, it should not appear in your abstract. Finally, it is quite common to see abstracts written using passive language. This is because the focus is on the findings and issues, rather than on the people.
Writing an abstract can be challenging and it takes practice to get it just right. It acts as your first impression on your audience, while offering an overall summary of your paper. Give your dissertation abstract the time it deserves, write clearly and concisely, and you will end with an abstract that everybody is going to want to read.