Writing an abstract for your thesis or dissertation: tips

Writing an abstract for your thesis or dissertation is a really important task despite it being so short. It is written once all the chapters are complete. It is presented at the beginning of the thesis, and it is likely to be the first substantive description of your work to be read by an external examiner. This is your opportunity to set expectations of what is to follow at the right level.

The thesis abstract is a summary of the whole thesis. It presents all the main components of your work in a highly condensed form.

An abstract often functions, together with the thesis title, as a stand-alone text. They appear, absent the full text of the thesis, in bibliographic indexes and academic databases. They may also be presented in announcements of the thesis examination. After your viva the Abstract and title may be all that the majority of readers of your work will actually read.

Donโ€™t make the mistake of thinking that the abstract is an introduction to your work it is a summary of the whole thing including the main findings/ results.

Writing your thesis abstract

The best way to go about writing your thesis abstract is to imagine you are answering a set of four questions

  1. What is the problem or question that the work addresses?
  2. Why is it important?
  3. How was the investigation undertaken?
  4. What was found and what does it mean?

Make sure there is a complete match up between the answers to your questions and what is written in the chapters of the thesis. To make sure this happens go into those chapters to find the answers as follows:

  • Q1. Introduction
  • Q2. Introduction
  • Q3. Methodology
  • Q4. Findings/ Discussion/ Conclusion

What tense should I use for my thesis abstract?

The first point to make is that you should never use the future tense in your abstract. This is a common mistake. For most of the abstract you should use the present tense until you come to the parts covering methodology or measurements taken, this should be in the past tense.

If you need help with any aspect of your PhD then get in contact with me and we can discuss your requirements.