Dissertation Abstract

Writing an abstract for a dissertation is difficult, but it’s essential to the process. Dissertation abstracts do not follow standard formatting rules of essays or articles, and instead have their own set of guidelines. Below are some tips on how to write a dissertation abstract from Dissertation Abstract.

1) Specificity

Your abstract should be exactly five sentences long and include what you will cover in your research paper. Make sure you talk about each of these things specifically:

Background information

The research question or problem statement. This should match up with your thesis statement in your introduction paragraph.

A hypothesis of the study, which you should make clear what it is and how you will test it. The hypothesis is the answer to the research question (e.g., “We hypothesize that plastic bags will become more dangerous to wildlife as they break down into smaller pieces, eventually posing a risk to water life.”)

A literature review of what other researchers have found in similar studies, and how your study adds additional information or builds on their findings. (Remember: Dissertation abstracts aren’t stand-alone papers.)

– The outline of your data collection methods, how you’ll analyze your data, and how these things relate back to your hypothesis/research question. In this section, your dissertation proposal checklist should be complete with all the items from Question 1 about how you will collect data, Question 2 with the statistical methods you will use to analyze your data, and Question 3 about how these things relate to your research question. (E.g., “We designed our study for this purpose by selecting three locations each in Northern California, Central California, and Southern California that do not have wildlife rehabilitation centers nearby. We then visited each location during 4-6 different trips between May and September 2018…”)

A conclusion of the main thing(s) you learned from this study (e.g., “Our study shows that plastic bags are especially harmful to small animals like fish.”)

2) Writing Dissertation Abstracts

Although it might sound like an oxymoron, dissertation abstracts are factual but still require a technical tone. Dissertation abstracts are not like writing abstracts for scientific articles, which describe the key findings of an experimental study; instead, dissertation abstracts should briefly summarize how your research question will be answered (i.e., what you hope to find out) and why it is important.

3) Writing Dissertation Abstract Tips

– Write in complete sentences, using specific examples from your paper where possible. For example: “The hypothesis tested was whether plastic bags would become more dangerous to wildlife as they break down into smaller pieces.” This statement becomes a strong thesis if placed at the end of a first sentence that states “Our goal was to test the hypothesis that plastic bags worn by wildlife will” An example from Dissertation Abstract Expert is “Our study found that small animals like fish are especially at risk of injury by plastic bags.”

Avoid using vague or general terms, like saying something is “important” or “interesting.” If you can’t say what’s important about it yet (as in the case of your dissertation abstract), you shouldn’t be writing about it. Dissertation abstracts should always highlight how your work contributes to the existing body of research. You may not know all the ways it will be relevant at this point, but you do need to imply how it fits into the big picture even though your findings are just beginning to scratch the surface of this topic. Here’s an example of a bad abstract:

“The objective of this study was to find the effect of different types of antidepressant medication on pregnancy outcome in pregnant women with depression.” One cannot determine if a study’s findings are “important,” but a dissertation abstract should reveal how the research contributes to the existing body of knowledge so that other researchers can more effectively build on your work. For example:

“In this study on pregnant women with depression, we found that some antidepressants were associated with an increase in adverse birth outcomes including preterm labor and preeclampsia.” This statement is more specific and makes it clear how it fits into big picture.

Make sure the introduction is followed by a brief statement of your research question or hypothesis, then state why it is important to study this topic. Dissertation abstracts are roughly the same length as scientific abstracts (500-800 words). Dissertation Abstract Expert suggests limiting yourself to about 200 words for your dissertation abstract, leaving enough space for other sections in the proposal checklist.

– Use active voice in sentences so that they sound active, not passive. If you read your abstract in a cave with no outside noise, would you know what you’re trying to say? If not, rewrite! For example: “The objective was carried out using three different types of antidepressant medication.” The sentence above contains passive voice because the subject (“the objective”) isn’t doing anything. “We carried out the objective using three different types of antidepressant medication” is better because now the active voice is emphasized (“we”). Dissertation abstracts should always use active voice.

State your research methodology using the past tense as you would for a scientific article abstract. Dissertation Abstract Expert includes an example statement from Dissertation Abstracts International that summarizes how they performed their study: “This randomized, placebo controlled, double-blind trial compared the efficacy and tolerability of fluoxetine and desipramine in 60 patients with dysthymic disorder.” This sentence uses singular verb tenses (had, was) instead of plural ones (have, were). Singular verbs are more formal than plural verbs and therefore more appropriate for dissertations, Dissertation Abstract Expert explains.

Dissertation abstracts should follow the typical IMRAD structure (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) used in scientific writing. The introduction of your dissertation abstract should contain background information about the topic, state whether or not scientists agree on this topic (but don’t editorialize), and summarize your thesis statement (aka what you did). Dissertation Abstract Expert suggests adding a sentence about how your study fits into existing research to help readers understand why it’s important. Remember that thesis statements can be either broad or narrow depending on how general or specific the research question is. Dissertation Abstracts International provides an example: “This interdisciplinary study explores mutual influence between physical activity habits and vocational selection.” Dissertation Abstract Expert adds that this thesis statement is too broad because it doesn’t limit the research to a specific topic or population. This topic would be better suited for an actual dissertation rather than a proposal. Dissertation abstracts should begin with background information about your field of study, why your question is important, and how you specifically addressed the problem in your study, Dissertation Abstract Expert explains.

The methods section should clearly explain what you actually did (as opposed to what you thought you were going to do, which goes in the introduction). Dissertation Abstract Expert suggests beginning this section with a sentence indicating who participated in the study and how they were chosen. For example: “Participants included 75 female smokers…” Then give more detailed information about how you conducted your study: “Participants were randomly assigned to either a nicotine or placebo patch group and completed self-report measures of readiness to quit, smoking behavior, and cigarette cravings.” Dissertation Abstract Expert says that this sentence is too long for an abstract so it should be broken up into two separate sentences. The same format would apply if participants were exposed to both types of patches or different doses of each.

Your results section should contain only the most important information from the study. Dissertation Abstract Expert recommends summarizing statistics briefly in text, while including more detailed figures/tables in your dissertation proposal document. For example: “Eighty percent of participants indicated that they preferred wearing visible tattoos on their arm rather than hidden


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