The Art of the Abstract

Prospectus/Concept Paper

Writing your dissertation final abstract may seem easy and daunting at the same time. It is only one page. How hard can that be? Reducing your dissertation, which is likely over 100 pages, to one page may seem laughable at first. How does anyone expect you to take all that information and cram it onto one page? Like any other genre, however, the abstract has its conventional features. Making sure your abstract contains these features and nothing more will allow you to complete your abstract painlessly, probably within an hour or so.

The following features are typical of most social science dissertation abstracts. However, be sure to follow your school’s specific guidelines if they differ. Your abstract should begin with a brief description of your research problem and why it was important to conduct the study. You should then identity the purpose of your study. Usually this can be stated verbatim from your dissertation.

Next, state what theoretical or conceptual foundation you used for your study. Summarize your key research question(s). The research question or questions will likely need to be revised from their methodological form to blend with the narrative style of abstract. Next, describe your research design or approach, your method, and data analysis procedures. Finally, state your key findings and your major conclusion(s), as well as key implications for practice or recommendations for future research. Each of these elements should only be 1-2 sentences long in order to keep the abstract to one page in length.

And that’s about it for the abstract. Always follow you school’s guidelines, however, because there may be some variations to the format and elements required. Also, look at a few abstracts of approved dissertations from your school as examples. Remember, when writing your dissertation abstract, above all, concision is key.


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