Expert Advice on Writing a Dissertation Abstract

Some people mistakenly believe that an abstract is just a brief summary of the whole dissertation. However, it is not true. An abstract presents a brief description of the research, the writer’s motivation, the approaches are taken and methods used, the main findings, as well as the recommendations of the research. We understand that you want to know how to write a dissertation abstract, so we are going to provide you with a helpful guide on writing a dissertation abstract.

Many students commit a lot of significant mistakes when writing their dissertation abstracts. However, you should pay attention that the abstract is the first thing read by your audience, thus it should be perfect. If you are not sure how to write an impressive abstract for your dissertation, just contact our qualified experts and they will gladly do it for you.

What is the Abstract Chapter of a Dissertation?

  • Most experts would agree that an abstract chapter is a vital component of a thesis paper or dissertation. This chapter is usually placed at the very beginning of the paper and it is, in most cases, the first real description of the paper’s content. Abstracts can be seen as a possibility to set some accurate expectations.   
  • Writers use abstracts to summarise full dissertations or thesis papers. Essentially, this is a condensed summary of the key elements of a written piece.  
  • Very often, abstracts go hand-in-hand with a paper’s title as standalone documents. It sometimes happens that abstracts are listed in bibliographic listings minus the rest of the paper. Alternatively, they can be presented as exam announcements. Some readers who locate an abstract in a library or database or are notified by email about their research presentation will not get the complete text or attend the actual presentation itself.  
  • An abstract is much more than a mere introduction in the normal way of a preface, preamble or early preview that takes the reader into the main body of a dissertation or thesis. In addition to acting as an introductory section, it should provide a comprehensive overview of a whole paper where there is insufficient time or insufficient space for the full text.     

The Structure of an Abstract Chapter

  • Under present guidelines, an abstract should not comprise of more than 150 words (Master’s-level thesis paper) or 350 words (for a dissertation).
  • To retain visual coherence, it can help to limit the abstract for your dissertation to about 300 words, e.g., one double-spaced page.
  • An abstract structure should broadly adhere to the same structure as the paper it belongs to, with all the key elements included.  
  • Where, for example, there are 5 chapters in a paper – introduction, methodology, literature review, findings/results, and a conclusion, it is advisable to ensure the abstract has a few sentences summing up each chapter.  

State the Research Question or Problem Clearly

  • Although the central research question(s) or problem(s) should be referred to throughout your entire paper, they play a vital role in ensuring the structure of an abstract is logical and coherent. The question or problem is the foundation upon which other elements are built.    
  • You should state the research question or problem near the beginning of your abstract.
  • There is usually no room for more than one to three research questions. Sometimes there are more than three questions, especially in the case of bigger and/or more complex research papers. Therefore, you should consider a bit of restructuring to reduce the status of some of them e.g. to secondary or less important level.  

Do Not Forget to Include Findings or Results in Your Abstract!

  • One very common error in abstracts is forgetting to include a few sentences about results.
  • A thesis and, therefore, an abstract have many important functions, one of which is telling readers what you discovered. This is more important than telling them what you did. Use additional detail such as what methods you used to support claims regarding your results or findings. 

The final part of your abstract (around half) should be used to interpret and summarise your findings.

Common Types of Abstracts

There are two main types of abstracts: informative and descriptive. As these abstracts have different purposes, consequently, different components and techniques are used in their writing. Also, there is one more type of abstract, which is called critical but it is used very rarely. If you would like to know how a critical abstract should be written, we recommend you check the UNC Writing Center handout and you will find answers to your questions. If you still have some questions, make sure to ask your professor for assistance and they will gladly provide you with helpful suggestions, as well as the critical abstract examples written by other students.

Informative Abstract

The vast majority of abstracts are informative. Whereas they do not attempt to evaluate or critique the work, they provide the reader with important information about the project. In an informative abstract, the writer should present and explain his or her main arguments, as well as tell what results were obtained. An informative abstract includes the elements that are also presented in a descriptive one such as purpose, scope, and methods. At the same time, it includes conclusions and recommendations. The length of the informative abstract depends on the overall length of the project, as well as on the discipline. Usually, it should not take more than 10% of the overall paper length. If the project is very long, the abstract can take less than 10%.

Descriptive Abstract

A descriptive abstract indicates the type of information provided in the paper. As well as an informative abstract, it makes no judgments about the work and does not prove the results of the research. Noteworthy, this abstract includes the keywords used in the text and can include the methods, purpose, and scope of research. Descriptive abstracts are often very short.

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