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Of the many components determining the quality of your dissertation, the abstract is one of utmost significance. Be it a doctoral dissertation or Masters, this short write-up gives your examiners a snapshot of what your thesis is about and signposts what to expect in the chapters to come. To put simply, a dissertation abstract summarizes your whole thesis and serves as a substantive brief of your work. It goes without saying that abstract writing is an art even the most assiduous scholars often fail to master. Here are a few things to consider when writing a dissertation abstract.
The word count and/or page count usually depends on university's regulations and varies from one university to another. It can be anywhere between 150-600 words, which is roughly half a page to a couple of pages. The length of a doctoral thesis may vary from that of a Masters dissertation. So it is a good idea to check your university guidelines before writing the abstract.
An abstract, as already mentioned, should mirror your thesis, so it should have the following elements:
The abstract is usually attached to the thesis or serves as a stand-alone document. The stand-alone abstract is required to be sent out in mailing lists, for uploading on internet databases and so on. Therefore, it must not just be a preamble to the thesis, but should be able to stand in for the entire thesis.
The abstract can start with your research question, the aim of the research, the hypothesis, the significance of the study or even the literature component. It should follow an informative style, though certain disciplines and universities do allow for a descriptive style. The descriptive style lays out what the reader can expect in each chapter of the dissertation. This is usually used when sections of the dissertation may not be relevant or interesting to the reader. This kind of abstract gives a broad idea of what the thesis or dissertation is about and the reader can decide whether or not to read particular sections or chapter that interests her/him.The informative abstract, however, has to capture the essence and the critical elements of the thesis and should be able to stand in for the thesis.
If your methodology was important and particularly significant, then you need to mention so in the abstract. It is also important to make a mention of the following components if they were vital to your research or final conclusion: kind of research (quantitative, qualitative, both), research design (case study, grounded theory, experimental research), research method (interview, survey, focus group,), and analytical method (statistical analyses, content analysis). Depending on how crucial each of these was to your thesis, you can devote a sentence or two explaining it.
Findings play a pivotal role in an informative abstract, so you need to mention whether the results answered your hypothesis and/or research questions. Other important findings and their implications should also be indicated along with substantiating the reliability of such findings. An important aspect of your abstract is to mention if your findings can be generalized and what are the future directions that your research can take.
Over-exaggerating the importance of your study and findings should be avoided in the abstract. You should only claim facts/findings that can be substantiated by your research. Needless to say, the abstract should be clear, concise and crisp.
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