Writing an Abstract: A Guide for Dissertation Writers
January 24, 2017
At some point during the course of your dissertation writing process, you will likely need to write an abstract.
What is an Abstract?
An abstract is a piece of writing that tells potential readers what a paper, book, dissertation, or other piece of writing is about. Abstracts are short and highly informative. They should entice readers, make them interested in your work, and make them eager to read your paper, dissertation, or project in its entirety.
When Do Dissertation Writers Use Abstracts?
You may be required to submit an abstract of your dissertation as part of your dissertation proposal. In addition, dissertation writers are often required to include an abstract of their dissertation when they submit the final version to their dissertation committee, dissertation advisor, or institution.
If you decide to present a paper or a part of your dissertation at an academic conference, you will likely need to submit an abstract as part of the application process. Similarly, if you decide to publish a chapter of your dissertation in a book or in a journal, you will likely need to submit an abstract to an editor. Applications for grants and fellowships also frequently call for abstracts of your dissertation or research.
What Should an Abstract Include?
Different disciplines will require abstracts that include different kinds of information. A dissertation editor or a dissertation consultant can help you tailor your abstract so that it meets the requirements of your field. However, abstracts often share the similar characteristics across academic fields. The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill suggests five main ideas that any abstract should address, regardless of discipline. These are:
Reason for writing: What’s important about your research and why should a reader care?
Problem: What problem is your research trying to solve? What’s your main argument?
Methodology: What kind of research methods or approaches does your research use?
Results: What were the results of your research? Or, if you haven’t finished your dissertation or paper yet, what results do you expect to find?
Implications: What are the larger implications of your project, both to your field and beyond? How does your project contribute to or intervene in the conversation around your research or dissertation topic?
Your goal in writing an abstract is to convince readers that your dissertation or project is important: be sure to use the abstract to sell yourself and tell readers why your work will make waves in your field.
Writing an abstract can be difficult: your job is to communicate lots of information using a limited number of words. Abstracts are short: usually not more than 300 words, although the precise length will depend on your particular requirements. You may thus only have one or two sentences to devote to the elements outlined above. You should thus use language that is precise, effective, and evocative, choosing each word carefully in order to convey your intended meaning. Margaret Proctor of the University of Toronto suggests using active verbs rather than passive. A dissertation editor can help you refine your prose so that it is both concise and engaging.
You can find examples of abstracts online. In their guide to abstract-writing, The UNC Chapel Hill Writing Center dissects two example abstracts. If you’re writing an abstract to submit as part of a conference paper proposal, you might check out these examples from the Claremont University Writing Center.
While abstracts are short, they can be as challenging to write as a dissertation chapter! Dissertation Editor’s experts have read and written abstracts of all sorts, and they are here to help you edit and improve your dissertation abstracts, conference abstracts, and proposals.