Students often misconstrue the importance of an abstract in one's dissertation. The abstract section should not be written in a way that results in it acting merely as an introduction to the thesis. Rather, the abstract should be a brief summarization of the entire dissertation with different chapters of the work being mentioned. Ideally, an abstract will contain one or two lines about each of these chapters, and will have the problem statement or research question included right at the start. Towards the end of the abstract, the results that have been obtained through the research process must be outlined. Thus, a person reading the abstract ought to be left with a basic understanding of what the dissertation entails.
Here are a few tips and hints that will help you write an abstract and attract and retain the attention of your readers:
Before beginning to write the abstract, it is important to clarify whether the authority to which the work is being submitted has made any specific instructions regarding word count or style of formatting to be used. Usually, abstracts for Masters theses are expected to be kept under 150-200 words and in the case of doctoral dissertations, the word limit is generally 350-400 words.
The challenge for any writer while constructing the abstract is to make sure that he/she highlights the most important parts of their dissertation in this limited space. In order to ensure this, it is advisable to go through each of the completed chapters and make notes regarding the major points that are raised. After this, the writer must condense these points into sentences and ought not to dedicate more than two lines for each chapter. Failing to do this will often result in constant rewriting of the abstract due to non-adherence to the word count requirement.
While mentioning the research questions at the beginning of the abstract, it should be kept in mind that only one to three questions can be included due to demands of brevity. If more than three major questions exist, the writer should look to reword and restructure them.
One of the most important parts of the abstract deals with the presentation of the results obtained through research. The writer should leave close to half the word count allowed for this purpose as reviewers and evaluators are more likely to be interested in knowing what the dissertation actually discovered in terms of new knowledge and insight rather than merely a description of the research methods used.
After writing the abstract, it is a good idea to go over it a couple of times and edit any issues that may have gone unnoticed previously. For example, the abstract might have mentioned all the relevant points but a clear logical flow of thoughts might not exist. Spending an extra hour or so editing the abstract and making it as academically attractive as possible could have a large bearing on the final marking of your dissertation.
Another tip that helps towards constructing a good abstract is to evaluate it on two grounds after finishing it - introduction and summarization. A writer should see if the abstract fulfils its primary task of introducing a reader to the dissertation and then proceed to see if significant aspects of the thesis have been summarized in a succinct manner. If it is found that the abstract fails to meet either of these objectives, then restructuring, reworking and rewriting the abstract should be considered.
Finally, it is advisable to substitute large numbers in this section with words that convey a similar meaning and subsequently, ease the strain on the word count being employed.
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