How do you Write an Abstract for a Research Paper or Dissertation?
This blog will examine why an abstract for a research paper or project dissertation is required, and how a good abstract can be written.
Writing an abstract for a dissertation.
I’ve recently marked 20 or so Masters level dissertations, and I’ve been disappointed with reading the abstracts. They simply haven’t included the correct information. Since the abstract is the first thing that a marker will read, it sets the tone for the whole dissertation, and is therefore an important part to get correct. Here is a Facebook live video I did in my frustration after a morning of marking project dissertations.
Why do you need an Abstract?
An abstract is meant to be a short summary of a document, and it is there for busy people to decide if they need to read the rest of the report. Reading the abstract should describe the complete contents of the work, so that it can be remembered, and referenced in detail at some future date. In the case of Masters dissertations, it will help the supervisor (or second supervisor/marker) quickly identify what the research is all about.
How Long should the Abstract be?
No more than 1 page is my advice. There may be limits set by your institution that you should follow, and 150-300 words is a typical suggestion. I like to see an abstract set out in five clear paragraphs answering each of the questions identified below.
What are the Contents of the Abstract?
Here is a suggested list for the five main areas that need to be covered in the abstract.
- What is the project about? This can be an expansion of the project title into 2 or 3 sentences.
- Why is this research important? State the current problems that this research will investigate or solve.
- How was the research performed? State which methodologies were used in the research. This might be interviews, questionnaires, secondary data analysis, case study analysis or other methods.
- What was found out? What are the key research findings from the project.
- Conclusion. Repeat the aim of the research and summarise the key findings and recommendations.
These could be ordered slightly differently – for instance you could start with the “Why” the research is required, and then continue with “What” was researched.
When should you write the abstract?
Ideally it shouldn’t be written until the project itself is finished, otherwise how do you know what to write. However, the structure that the abstract follows can help focus the mind whilst working on the dissertation, specifically ensuring that the chapters in the dissertation flow in a logical argument from the introduction to the conclusion and recommendations.
Therefore, I would suggest that the abstract can be outlined as soon as the project aims and objectives have been approved. At that point, the research methodology will have been selected, and the abstract can help focus the mind of the researcher on what they are writing about.
Abstracts: Often looked on as one of the last things to do when writing a project, however the abstract can greatly benefit a researcher by focussing their minds on a logical argument and help provide a ‘flow’ through the dissertation.