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How to produce a good abstract for a thesis or dissertation

The abstract is a summary of the whole thesis or dissertation, and its purpose is to provide a reader with enough information to decide whether to read further. It must therefore be written last, even though it will be placed at the beginning of the thesis or dissertation.

A good place to start is with the contents list, assuming that you have followed the advice of making headings indicate the storyline.

Edit together the main items in the contents list into linked sentences to produce a first shot at an abstract. Although the result will appear somewhat disjointed and messy at this stage, it should show where elaboration, summarising and deletion are required.

Sections from The Research Student's Guide to Success in the chapter on preparing the thesis / dissertation

The importance of the thesis

The need to recap on the writing and referencing techniques of previous chapters

Orientating yourself for the task ahead

Developing a framework of chapters

Developing the content of a chapter

Sequencing the content within a chapter

Linking chapters into one or more storylines

Cross-referencing in the thesis

The writing process

Producing the abstract

Presenting the thesis in accordance with institutional requirements

Finally, edit the result into smoothly flowing text with clear indications in broad terms of the research questions or problems and their answers or solutions.

Use the present tense.


© Pat Cryer

* 'Supervisor' is a shorthand for 'research degree supervisor', 'advisor' or 'tutor', and applies to varying extents for all research degrees: PhD, DPhil. MPhil, Prof Doc and even undergraduate and masters' projects. In some countries, notably the USA, a 'supervisor' is known as an 'advisor'.