Dissertation papers are among the most important academic work you will ever produce in your career. Though short and often thought of as a simple summary, your abstract is actually a vital section of the entire work. Here are five useful suggestions for writing strong dissertation abstracts:
- Use your proposal as a draft: Every dissertation will first require that you write a proposal for approval before getting into the serious research aspect of your work. Luckily, your proposal can be used as a draft towards your final abstract section. Remember that your proposal, however, was likely written several months before, so don’t simply restate your content; be sure you thoroughly revise it, paying special attention to those parts in your research that have changed since you started.
- Tighten up each section: Now that you have completed your research you should have clear views of each of the sections that made up your proposal (problem statement, background, research methods, limitations and more). Make sure you can summarize each of these pieces in a few sentences. Each of these play an important role in your abstract because they let potential researchers know quickly if your work will help them with their own research and studies. The last thing you want to do is ramble on and be uninformative to your future colleagues.
- Don’t use technical jargon: Unless you are in highly specialized science fields and you can’t absolutely avoid using technical jargon, be sure to use simple and clear English in your abstract. Your writing will be limited to a few hundred words (350 – 400), so you want to maximize each word, each phrase, each sentence and so forth. You’re dissertation will be more than enough space to show that you know the terminology (if it’s appropriate) within your discipline.
- Ask your friends/family to review: Many PhD students will hesitate to let anyone outside of their field to review their work. They believe the abstract will be too difficult for anyone who isn’t familiar with the subject to understand and that they wouldn’t be able to provide any useful feedback. But it’s this unfamiliarity that makes your friends and family such great reviewers. While they won’t be experts after reading your abstract they will be able to show you those parts that are confusing, giving you an idea of what you may need to revise.
- Edit and Proofread: Every writer will tell you just how important it is to write multiple drafts of your work as well as well as conduct thorough editing and proofreading. The same holds true for composing a strong dissertation abstract. Even though this section is only 300 – 400 words, you should look for ways to condense it, use great word choice, proper punctuation and all other elements of good writing. Leave yourself plenty of time to proofread this section and don’t be afraid to write a couple of drafts if needed.