How to write a thesis abstract

Writing an effective thesis abstract

What is an abstract?

An abstract is a summary of an essay, dissertation, thesis or article. However, it is important to remember that an abstract is complete within itself. It is effectively telling the reader what to expect in the full version of the work. Moreover, an abstract is not part of the full work, such as an introduction, main body and conclusion are; in fact, when submitting a piece of work in printed form, it is usual to print the abstract on a separate page which emphasises that it is not part of the work but a summary of it. An abstract can be available online or as a summary of an article in an academic journal. In this case, it is possible that readers will read only the abstract (which may give them all the information they require). In many cases, after reading the abstract, readers will decide if they want more information. However, in an increasingly busy world, some people may find they have insufficient time to read the full article, so they may be satisfied with reading the abstract.

An abstract can be compared to a shop window which gives a ‘taster’ of what is on sale in the shop. Some people may get all the satisfaction they need from ‘window shopping’, whereas a good window display will motivate people to enter the shop to find out more, or even to make some purchases. An abstract can also be compared to a page on the Internet that gives some very useful information, which maybe tells some readers all that they need to know. However, some readers may say ‘This is interesting’ or ‘I would like to read more’ For this reason, such pages often include a link referred to as ‘learn more’ which takes readers to a page which gives more information. Sometimes, abstracts are written in more than one language.  

What should be included in a thesis abstract?

As previously mentioned, an abstract summarises the content of the main article. It should include the aims and objectives of writing the thesis, and also a research question that the thesis is attempting to answer. Next comes the methodology, which explains the methods used to conduct research and develop an argument, such as whether quantitative or qualitative research has been used. This needs to be brief, as readers who need further detail will read the thesis. An abstract should also include a brief description of the conclusion and any recommendations.

What is the difference between an abstract and an introduction?

Although this question is often asked, an abstract and an introduction are quite different.  An abstract stands alone and is complete in itself, whereas an introduction is part of the thesis and does not stand alone, but points forward to the main body of the thesis. An introduction makes little sense unless one reads the entire document.  

How many words should be in an abstract?

If you are writing an abstract to a thesis, you are restricted to the number of words you may use, usually to about 100. It is just one paragraph. Although you may be restricted to a set number of words in the thesis, there is sometimes a degree of flexibility in this. However, in an abstract the word restriction is more critical. Therefore, do not waste words, and make your point in as few words as possible. Avoid phrasal verbs; for example: look into, carry out, take into consideration. Instead use: investigate, conduct, consider.  

What about verbs?

Care needs to be taken with tenses. If you are summarising something that is in the thesis, then use present tense, but if you are describing a study that has already been made or some research that has previously conducted, the use the past tense. Also, it is usual to use the third person in an abstract.

What should be avoided?

Citations should not be used in an abstract. Anyone who wants more information can find the citations in the thesis itself. The abstract should not use any material that is not in the thesis. This is because readers of an abstract will expect to see further details of everything in the thesis itself. Avoid unnecessary complex language and keep the language clear, concise and flowing. Do not presume that your reader will understand every abbreviation and acronym.


It is important that the abstract is written after the thesis, and that if you amend your thesis, you should amend your abstract accordingly.

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