Here we talk about the abstract as a finished product,
a necessary part of your final submission, but we also talk about
it as a useful working tool.
Most students regard the abstract as one of the last things - along
with acknowledgements, title page and the like - that they are going
to write. Indeed, the final version of the abstract will need
to be written after you have finished reading your thesis for
the last time.
However, if you think about what it has to contain, you realise
that the abstract is really a mini thesis. Both have to
answer the following specific questions:
What was done?
- Why was it done?
- How was it done?
- What was found?
- What is the significance of the findings?
Therefore, an abstract written at different stages of your work
will help you to carry a short version of your thesis in your
head. This will focus your thinking on what it is you are really
doing , help you to see the relevance of what you are currently
working on within the bigger picture, and help to keep the links
which will eventually unify your thesis.
The actual process of writing an abstract will force you to justify
and clearly state your aims, to show how your methodology fits
the aims, to highlight the major findings and to determine the
significance of what you have done. The beauty of it is that
you can talk about this in very short paragraphs and see if the
whole works. But when you do all of these things in separate
chapters you can easily lose the thread or not make it explicit
If you have trouble writing an abstract at these different stages,
then this could show that the parts with which you are having
a problem are not well conceptualised yet.
We often hear that writing an abstract can't be done until the
results are known and analysed. But the point we are stressing
is that it is a working tool that will help to get you there.
Before you know what you've found, you have to have some expectation
of what you are going to find as this expectation is part of what
is leading you to investigate the problem. In writing your abstract
at different stages, any part you haven't done you could word
as a prediction. For example, at one stage you could write, "The
analysis is expected to show that
". Then, at the
next stage, you would be able to write "The analysis showed
." or "Contrary to expectation, the analysis
The final, finished abstract has to be as good as you can
make it. It is the first thing your reader will turn to and therefore
controls what the first impression of your work will be. The
In short, the abstract has to be able to stand alone and be understood
separately from the thesis itself.
- to be short-no more than about 700 words;
- to say what was done and why, how it was done,
the major things that were found, and what is the
significance of the findings (remembering that the thesis could
have contributed to methodology and theory as well).