Basic Information about an Abstract Chapter

Abstracts are usually an unavoidable element of research papers and other writing projects, including dissertations. This chapter is located near the start of a paper and its primary purpose is to explain what the paper will be about. Abstracts are usually aligned to the “writer’s expectations” i.e. what they want to achieve when they undertake to research a given topic.

  • Abstracts are short, concise summaries of an entire paper. All the main elements of a dissertation or other paper should be introduced in this chapter.
  • It is important to separate an abstract from the remainder of a paper’s text. Furthermore, it should be able to standalone as a self-sufficient document. Generally speaking, it is usual for academic databases to only publish abstracts with the remainder of the text hidden in bibliographic index sections. A reader should be able to glean sufficient information from an abstract to decide whether a text is relevant to the topic they are looking for or not. If it is, they can then read the entire paper or discard it and continue their search for something more relevant. 
  • It is important for writers to understand the difference between an introductory paragraph and an abstract since these chapters do not serve the same purpose. Of course, they are alike in a number of ways. Essentially, an introductory paragraph gives the reader a general overview of what the topic of a paper is. By nature, abstracts are full overviews of an entire paper.    

Size and Structure of a Paper’s Abstract

  • It is essential to read any instructions your professor provides to understand how long your abstract should be. Usually, it is in the region of 150 words to 350 words in the case of a thesis or dissertation.
  • To ensure your paper is coherent i.e. to structure your paper into logical parts, you should consider allowing one page (around 300 words in double-spacing) for the abstract. 
  • You should align the structure of your abstract to the sequence the chapters are laid out in your paper. The primary elements should be deliberately presented in the same manner that they are discussed in the paper.   
  • If, for instance, the chapters in your dissertation include an introductory chapter, review of literature, methodology, findings, implications, and so on, you should devote one sentence at least to summing-up each of these chapters. 

Research Question(s) Should be Clearly Identified

  • Thesis and dissertation writing is entirely about the research question and any issues the writer is attempting to analyze or explore. You should always mention the research question you are addressing clearly in your abstract and you should be precise. This will help guide your readers through your work.  
  • In the event you are addressing a number of questions in your research paper, you should number each one of them at the start of the abstract chapter.
  • Students are usually permitted between one to three questions for any one research paper. These should be listed in logical order e.g. from the most to least important with secondary research questions immediately presented.  

Results Should Always Be Stated!

  • There are some students who believe that discussion about results can be overlooked in an abstract, but this is simply a mistake.
  • Not only should an abstract set out the research question(s) and describe a paper’s main parts, it should also say what has actually been found. It should not, however, include any unnecessary detail such as a list of every single method that you used to investigate your topic, and so on.
  • Writing an abstract means in part interpreting and summing-up any findings. You should not, however, set out all results since readers may be discouraged from reading to the end if the abstract provides the majority of the information they need.  
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