The Dissertation Abstract

Abstract to catch your professor`s attention

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The abstract is a short but comprehensive summary that describes your dissertation work. Remember, it is not a review or evaluation, and, while it will certainly include key terms from your work, it is not to include excerpts. It is a stand-alone original piece of writing. Knowing the definition, however, is certainly not the same as knowing how to write a dissertation abstract. Here then is a detailed plan that you can follow to create a good one.

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Structure of the Abstract

Dissertation abstracts contain 4 major components and respond to 7 prompts. Broken down, the components and prompts look like this:

First Half – Components 1, 2, & 3

Component 1: This part of an abstract in dissertation summary includes the purposes of your study and the scope of the research. Typically, you cannot go wrong if you use these two terms as sentence starters. “The purpose of this study is…” and “The scope of this study is….” Of course, you may choose to use sentence openers with which you are comfortable, but the points you must convey include the reason for your research and the problem you are addressing. Here is an abstract dissertation example that should clarify this for you:

The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the impacts that social movements have, through a study of the civil rights movement in Mississippi over a period of 20 years, from 1960-1980. Through this case, I explain the process by which socio-political movements can change existing socio-political structures and the barriers faced by such movements as they attempt to achieve those changes. The time period involved includes the passage of the Federal Civil Rights, Open Housing and Voting Rights Acts, the enforcement of school desegregation, and Federal anti-poverty programs.

Both the purpose (impact of social movements) and the scope (civil rights movement in Mississippi from 1960-1980) are clearly provided.

Component 2: This part of an abstract of dissertation research embodies the methodology used in the research, and will provide such things as your design (random sampling, matched pairs, case study, etc.) and, if appropriate, how you implemented the design. You may begin this part of writing a dissertation abstract with a sentence as simple as, “The methodology is….,” although you may want to be a bit more “stylish.” Keeping with the social movement dissertation above, here is how this component might read:

My methodology involved two strategies – 1) the quantitative analysis of data at the county level, collected from newspaper reports, interviews, court proceedings, and other archival materials, and 2) two case studies.

The methodology is clearly and briefly outlined, and the reader has a full picture of the process used for this research.

Component 3: This section of an abstract dissertation must include your findings. It is a summary of the data or information you gathered as it relates to your purpose. You may begin with something such as, “My findings indicate……,” as shown in this simple statement below:

My findings indicate that, contrary to popular argument, local socio-political movements can be quite consequential, irrespective of national initiatives.

Here, the author simply states that his findings are in contradiction with popularly held beliefs about how social and political change can be achieved.

Second Half: Component 4

One mistake that often occurs in writing a dissertation abstract is that too much space is given to the first three components, leaving little room for what a reader must see – the conclusion reached, the limitations of the study, and what the study has contributed. A future researcher must have a clear picture of these outcomes in order to determine if the dissertation will be useful for his/her research in the same topic area. For this reason, be certain that when you compose your abstract for dissertation publication, you have no more than approximately 160 words for the first three components (the limitations for an abstract for publication by Dissertation Abstracts International, also known as ProQuest, are 350 words). Let’s take a look now at component 4 of the Mississippi study:

The prevailing view is that national agencies, political parties or those who possess economic power are the major forces for change. Instead, this study shows that they respond to the leverage that local civil rights movement bring to bear. The movement in Mississippi sought to affect change in injustices at the local level only and was able to achieve those changes in local institutions that actually endured even after the national thrusts waned.

The author did not address limitations to the study, which might be that it only addressed a small geographic area of the country. Nevertheless, that was made clear from the onset, so a current researcher might then determine to replicate the study in another area of the South to see if the same conclusions are reached.

Additional tips on how to write an abstract for a dissertation

If you are struggling with your abstract, here are some additional things for you to try.

  1. Writing an abstract for dissertation work involves summarizing months of work and pages of research and writing into a single small document. If you are having difficulty paring it down, go through chapters 3, 4, and 5 and try to write just 2 sentences that summarize each chapter. This will give you a start.
  2. Go back to DAI (or ProQuest) and pull up dissertation abstract examples that relate specifically to the type of research you have done. It doesn’t have to be on the same topic, as long as the methodology used was the same as yours. Make sure to see our samples of a dissertation abstract.
  3. If you continue to struggle with how to write a dissertation abstract for your work, there is certainly no “rule” that says you cannot get some help writing a professional dissertation!
  4. Another important step in writing an abstract for a dissertation is to revise each component as it is written. Try to pare it down even more, if you have been too wordy.
  5. Your advisor is there for a reason. He is also totally familiar with your work, having reviewed every chapter with you. While he will not write the abstract for you, he certainly is an expert on how to prepare and abstract for dissertation publication and is a valuable resource.
  6. Chances are you have had experience in how to write a dissertation abstract that you don’t realize you have had. During your graduate coursework, there were times when you had to write abstracts of other works, perhaps not a dissertation. Bo back to some of those that earned great grades and look at them. You will find wording and phraseology that will help you now.

Your dissertation abstract is small but really a critical piece of your work. You want others to be able to use it. Write that abstract so that they will know if it “fits” for their literature review purposes. And, as always, if you are experiencing difficulty, an ProEssayService Ph.D. consultant can give you all the help you need.

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