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Dissertation Abstract Before Contents Page

How to Write an Abstract for Your Thesis or Dissertation

What is an Abstract?

  • The abstract is an important component of your thesis. Presented at the beginning of the thesis, it is likely the first substantive description of your work read by an external examiner. You should view it as an opportunity to set accurate expectations.
  • The abstract is a summary of the whole thesis. It presents all the major elements of your work in a highly condensed form.
  • An abstract often functions, together with the thesis title, as a stand-alone text. Abstracts appear, absent the full text of the thesis, in bibliographic indexes such as PsycInfo. They may also be presented in announcements of the thesis examination. Most readers who encounter your abstract in a bibliographic database or receive an email announcing your research presentation will never retrieve the full text or attend the presentation.
  • An abstract is not merely an introduction in the sense of a preface, preamble, or advance organizer that prepares the reader for the thesis. In addition to that function, it must be capable of substituting for the whole thesis when there is insufficient time and space for the full text.

Size and Structure

  • Currently, the maximum sizes for abstracts submitted to Canada's National Archive are 150 words (Masters thesis) and 350 words (Doctoral dissertation).
  • To preserve visual coherence, you may wish to limit the abstract for your doctoral dissertation to one double-spaced page, about 280 words.
  • The structure of the abstract should mirror the structure of the whole thesis, and should represent all its major elements.
  • For example, if your thesis has five chapters (introduction, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion), there should be one or more sentences assigned to summarize each chapter.
Clearly Specify Your Research Questions
  • As in the thesis itself, your research questions are critical in ensuring that the abstract is coherent and logically structured. They form the skeleton to which other elements adhere.
  • They should be presented near the beginning of the abstract.
  • There is only room for one to three questions. If there are more than three major research questions in your thesis, you should consider restructuring them by reducing some to subsidiary status.

Don't Forget the Results

  • The most common error in abstracts is failure to present results.
  • The primary function of your thesis (and by extension your abstract) is not to tell readers what you did, it is to tell them what you discovered. Other information, such as the account of your research methods, is needed mainly to back the claims you make about your results.
  • Approximately the last half of the abstract should be dedicated to summarizing and interpreting your results.

Updated 2008.09.11
© John C. Nesbit

What comes first? Abstract or Acknowledgements

posted about 11 years ago
Hello All,

A quickie ... what comes first - abstract or acknowledgements?


PS I'm social science based (if that makes a difference)
posted about 11 years ago
Quick answer: Acknowledgments (usuallystraight after title page). My ackn. (page 2 and 3) were 999 words long, my abstract (on page 4) was 400 words. Following abstract, starting on page 5 table of contents
edited about 29 seconds later
posted about 11 years ago
Cheers o.stoll - that was a speedy response (which I'm glad for, because I'm still working now!).
posted about 11 years ago
I find its helpful to get 4 or 5 thesis's in pdf just for format for this sort of question.
edited about 16 seconds later
posted about 11 years ago
It is worth checking with your registry if your university has a prescribed form for the physical arrangement of theses. Mine does not but we have a 'recommended' format: front cover, Title page ; abstract, acknowledgements etc. If we stray from this the sups tend to have a good moan!
posted about 11 years ago
Steve is right about checking with your uni - they may have a specified format

mine was:

title page
list of tables and figures
posted about 11 years ago
There can be a word limit for the abstract or other section too.
edited about 13 seconds later
posted about 11 years ago
I've just been having this dilemma too - I've seen PhDs in my university either before or after the abstract, so I'm going for gut feel at the moment... which is... I haven't decided! Hmmmm. If I get better at procrastinating over this discussion... then maybe I'll run a mini survey and see what the consensus is... though probably not wise since I have to submit in 18 days... tick, tick, tick...
posted about 11 years ago
kronkodile is correct.

you should be able to borrow previous theses from your dept./library and see what other successful people have done.
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