How to write an abstract for a dissertation
You’re Not Quite Finished Yet – There’s that Dissertation Abstract to Write
No doubt, it’s been a “long haul.” That dissertation you began over a year ago, that caused so many sleepless nights, so much frustration, even anger, is now a source of relief and joy – not quite. You have one more task before you submit a year’s worth of toil, sweat and tears to your committee – that abstract.
You already know what is a dissertation abstract. Those are the short introductory pieces you read as you were researching for the right literature to include in your review. Those abstracts gave you enough information to decide if the entire piece of research was relevant enough to our research to read it and include it in your literature review. You’ve had enough experience reading abstracts that you probably have a pretty good idea of what you need to say.
Nevertheless, you want to submit an abstract that is well structured, succinct, and covers all of those elements that should be in it. After all, it is the piece that future researchers will read when they make decisions about the relevance of your research. (And then there’s that pesky little need to get your committee to approve it too).
While writing abstract dissertation pieces seem like a “piece of cake,” they are sometimes not. It’s a good idea to review the purpose and the structure of a dissertation, as you go about crafting yours.
How Long Should a dissertation Be?
If you have read others, you know that abstracts are almost universally one page in length. And this is one of the biggest challenges you will face. Somehow you have to get all that work reduced to a single page so that a reader will know what you did, why you did it, and what you found.
Structure – Four Components
Before you begin to write your abstract, check with your department guidelines. Most every department or institution will have the same structure, but check to be certain. Sometimes just the titles of the components (sections) may be unique, but the content will be the same.
There are four purposes for you abstract: giving the reader the background and the importance of your study, explaining the research strategy you followed, that your findings were, and the conclusions you drew from your research.
Each component should just be a few sentences, so that you keep the total length right – you want to keep that length to about 250 – 275 words.
Here ‘s a brief explanation of each of the four sections of your abstract.
- Background and Significance of Your Research
The background for your reason is really how existing research pointed you in the direction it did. You also want the reader to understand why you chose this particular research (to build upon current research, for example, or to fill a gap you see in that research). The “significance” part is your argument about why the reader should care about what you have done. Why is it important to your field?
You don’t have time for detail, so give this broad strokes and just engage your reader.
- Describe your Research Design/methodology
- What was the broad research design and why. For example, did you choose control and experimental groups of matched pairs?
- What was your sample population?
- Why was this the best design for your research?
- How did you collect the data (surveys, concrete behavioral observations, testing, etc.)?
- What were the variables?
- How did you analyze the data you collected?
These are the questions you will answer in just a few sentences, and this may be the one section you will most struggle with. You are so “attached” to your research at this point, that you will have trouble being brief. You want to tell the reader all about it. Sometimes it’s best to write up this section in longer form and then find a Ph.D. consultant in your field from dissertation writing services. That person can be more objective and get it reduced for you. (not to mention s/he has done this before).
- What are Your Major Findings?
Again, the word “major” is the key to this section. You don’t have the space to share data or to explain some of the more minor findings or nuisance factors that your research may have unearthed. This are things that are in the work. The major finding(s) is the one (or two) that relate most significantly to your research question. If, for example, you determined that a specific “treatment” to a group of students improved grades and attendance b a statistically significant amount, then that is your finding.
You may also include a sentence or phrase explaining why you believe your findings are trustworthy (for example, refer back to the matched pairs methodology you used – there was no change for the control group).
- What Did You Learn?
The last section should identify the conclusions you reached as a result of your research, along with the implications for those conclusions. Important to remember:
- Don’t overstate what you found, and don’t make statements (claims) that you cannot support within the text of your work.
- The implication may simply be that more research should be done so that your study can be replicated
- What limitations do you see, and how might they inform future research?
Don’t Frustrate Yourself Over This Final Piece
An abstract may turn out to be tougher than you thought. Again, the reason for this is that you have a huge emotional investment in the work you have produced. It’s hard now to boil it down to a single page – in fact, you will probably resent having to do this.
Perhaps the solution is this: Write your abstract with no concern for how long it is, following the guidelines for these four sections. Then contact a custom dissertation service and have a consultant “whittle it down to size.”