An abstract is a short (generally 100-200 words), stand-alone summary of your research. It provides a 'shop window' that readers can use to help them decide whether or not your research is worth reading - it's where you 'sell' your research, and for this reason the abstract is an important part of your dissertation. You'll need to include the following things in your abstract...
Although your abstract will appear at the start of your dissertation, abstract writing is one of the last tasks in the dissertation writing process. If you wait until the research is finished and the dissertation is written you'll have a clear idea what to include. It's also important not to include anything in your abstract that's not in your dissertation, so by writing the abstract last you'll know exactly what to include.
It's a good idea to read through your dissertation, making a note of keywords for each section. You can then use these keywords as the basis of your abstract.
The lists below cover some important do's and do nots of abstract writing:
Your abstract should cover the main areas in your dissertation, and highlight novel methods, interesting results and important implications.
1. On a blank sheet of paper write the following headings:
2. Under the first heading (Aims/problem) write a sentence about your research question or problem. What exactly were you investigating? It can be useful to give some background information about the topic too.
2. Next, under the heading Motivation, write about why your research was important, relevant or necessary. Why should your readers care?
3. Under the heading Methods, write about the research methods you used. Be sure to highlight any novel or interesting methods. Also note that if you are writing an abstract for a laboratory research project, you'll also need to write about any note-worthy materials you used.
4. Under the heading Results, write about what you discovered. Be specific and mention the significance of your results, if appropriate.
5. Finally, under the Conclusions heading, write about the implications of your results, paying special attention to why your research was important and interesting.
6. These notes are the basis of your abstract, you just need to link it all together within your word limit - easy!
If you're struggling to write your abstract, click here to see an example from a undergraduate laboratory project - it might give you some inspiration.