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How to write a dissertation abstract

The art of summarizing your doctoral dissertation in a small body of words is no small feat. Many students are not familiar with the true method of how to write a dissertation abstract. Advice on the subject is often vague or incomplete, which is why so many students fail to write successful abstracts that will compel their professors to read the paper. Follow the guidelines below to get a comprehensive idea on what steps are required when writing the abstract for your doctoral dissertation.

Some basics you need to know before you start

  • Write your abstract after your dissertation is complete so that you can condense the content effectively.
  • Your abstract should be about 200 – 300 words long. Never go over this word count. Professors want short, direct abstracts that give a good overview of your thesis.
  • Space your lines.
  • Use Times New Roman, size 12 font. This can be said for the rest of your dissertation too.
  • Entitle your piece with the word ‘Abstract’.
  • Always find out from your professor what style you are to use. MLA and APA abstract requirements may differ in certain aspects.
  • Don’t include any information in your abstract that doesn’t appear somewhere in your dissertation.
  • Avoid redundancy at all costs. Repeating information even once will kill your abstract, considering how precious your word count is.

How to summarize

Many students make the mistake of thinking that an abstract is the same as an introduction. This is only partly true. A proper abstract should always contain one third introduction, one third main content, and one third conclusion. Incorporating this method in writing your abstract will solve the problem of trying to think up a different way to say the same thing as your introduction. Your abstract should not resemble your introduction entirely, only partly.

The art of condensing content

Since you will be writing your abstract after the dissertation is complete, see how proficiently you can take your content and squeeze it into plus/minus 200 words. It is not as easy as some think. The art of knowing which words, phrases and sentences are rich in relevance is something that takes time. It will be a constant process of eliminating words that fail to contribute to your message, and adding those that do. Be patient, and do not rush this process.

Being transparent in your description

A good abstract should always be descriptive in nature. Wording your abstract in such a way that it is easy to read will ensure clarity in relating your message. The abstract is the part of your dissertation that will also be read by those outside your field, so using layman’s terms will help to secure a more direct understanding.

Give a reason for your paper

Every dissertation should have a unique purpose, one that hasn’t been explored by anyone else before you. Communicate this purpose well in your abstract. Doing this will go a long way in establishing a tone of contribution to the subject in question. Your professor will also be more likely to appreciate your paper if he or she knows that adds something significant to their field of study.


Between three to seven keywords should be written in italics below your abstract once you are finished. Space each keyword with a comma and do not end them with a period.

Remember that your abstract should sing the praises of your dissertation, making the prospective reader eager to dive into it. Put yourself into your abstract and let it reflect your character and love for the topic as much as possible. Knowing how to write a dissertation abstract always stems from a passion for the subject


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