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How to Write a Dissertation Abstract

What is a Dissertation Abstract?

A Dissertation Abstract is a brief comprehensive summary of the content of a thesis or academic document, which comes at the very beginning of the work. Because the Abstract is the first part of the work the reader will see, it has an important role in setting the reader’s expectations. Thus it is an opportunity for you to outline the parameters of the work (say what it is doing and why) and thus to establish the genre of the research. Hence an Abstract is not merely prefatory. It has the practical function of substituting the entire text in library and digital archives, allowing researchers quickly to determine the content and significance of the text. For this reason, an Abstract must clarify the results of the research. It will tell the reader what the paper’s findings were.

A Comprehensive Summary

As a comprehensive summary, the Dissertation Abstract must be composed after the rest of the work has been completed – when one has all the information required to summarise the contents of the paper. Generally speaking, most Abstracts include four principal components: the purpose, the methods, the results and the conclusions/implications. Around half of the words count will be spent telling the results and discussing their implications. Usually, the Abstract is around 100 to 150 words long. This is not very many words at all. Thus one needs to exercise considerable verbal economy, packing as much meaning as possible into the few words available. One needs, then, carefully to balance concise writing with density of meaning.


We may establish certain further characteristics which make a good Abstract for a professional dissertation. One should use the active rather than passive voice. It is written in the past tense, seeing as it is relaying information about a study which has been completed. An Abstract conveys as opposed to evaluating information (this is to be done in the main body of the work). You are reporting the contents of the study and what its purpose was. You are not engaging in analysis. A good Abstract will identify all of the main issues under study in one sentence, including a general description of the problem. So, you want to open with a sentence which is optimally explanatory, reporting all the key points in a clear and efficient way. Do not waste precious words by repeating the title. Be sure to include the most important findings, concepts or implications. The point of the Dissertation Abstract is that another scholar should be able to read it and determine immediately if that paper is relevant to their own research. Hence it functions somewhat like an index card. It may be helpful to think about the structure of the Abstract as mirroring the overall structure of the Thesis, in microcosm of course.

Struggling with a Dissertation Abstract? 

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