How to write an abstract for your dissertation

Date published by Date updated: March 24, 2017

A part of every dissertation or thesis is the executive summary. This summary or abstract is the first part of your dissertation that will be read. Only after reading the abstract is the dissertation further reviewed. Therefore, it is important that the abstract is well written and that you draw out the correct information here.

The dissertation abstract has three functions

1. Explanation of the title of your dissertation

The first function of the abstract is to further explain the title of your dissertation. This allows readers of your dissertation to better determine if your dissertation is interesting enough for them to read. A well-written abstract can encourage more people to consider your dissertation important and, thus, to intend to read it.

2. Short version of your dissertation

Secondly, the abstract serves as a short version for readers who don’t have the time to read the complete dissertation. Often, managers and scientists read only the abstract and not the entire piece.

3. Overview of your dissertation

Third, the abstract’s function is to serve as an overview of what readers can expect. This makes it easier for the reader to understand and to place in context the material in the dissertation. A well-written abstract ensures that difficult material in your dissertation is better understood.

Length, place and time of the abstract

A rough rule of thumb for the length of the abstract is no more than five percent of the entire dissertation, with a maximum of one page. The reason behind this rule is that it must always be possible to quickly review the abstract.

Place the abstract after the preface and before the table of contents. Write the abstract in the present tense or present perfect tense.

Examples abstract in present tense or present perfect tense
Example of present tenseThe study shows that the majority of the respondents prefer to watch a film at the movie theater rather than at home on TV.
Example of present perfect tenseThe study has shown that the majority of the respondents prefer to watch a film at the movie theater rather than at home on TV.

What should be in the abstract?

For each paragraph, answer the following questions:

  • What is the problem? Indicate the objective, problem statement and research questions of your dissertation. If you have used hypotheses in your dissertation, indicate them here.
  • What has been done? Briefly explain the method and approach of your research.
  • What has been discovered? Provide a summary of the most important results and your conclusion.
  • What do your findings mean? Summarize the key points from the discussion and present your recommendations.

Use of acronyms

Since your reader should be able to read and understand your abstract without going through the rest of your dissertation, you have to introduce acronyms when you use them.

Source referencing

Just like with the rest of your dissertation you have to include references when you use a source. However, in an abstract you often don’t use any references because you mainly write about your own findings and research.

Example abstract

We made an example of an abstract in which we used all of the points of the checklist..

Show example

Abstract checklist

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Article by Bas Swaen

Bas is co-founder of Scribbr. Bas loves to teach and is an experienced thesis writer. He tries to help students with writing clear and easy to comprehend articles about difficult topics.

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