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How to Write a Dissertation Abstract

by Tracy Spencer, Demand Media

    The abstract of your dissertation is the first impression readers will have of your research. It is a summary of your work and can be used to help readers decide if reading your entire dissertation would be worthwhile. A well-composed abstract can attract people to your study.

    Basic Ingredients

    The abstract is commonly placed after the title page of the dissertation, though exact placement can vary among institutions. The abstract includes the problem under investigation, the purpose of the research, the research questions and any associated hypotheses, the research methodology and design, a general description of the participants or subjects, prominent findings, conclusions and recommendations. The trick is to include all of this information in very limited space. Your dissertation committee chair can guide you to your institution's specific requirements for word count.

    Problem and Purpose

    The problem and purpose statements of a dissertation explain why the research needed to be conducted. When readers are deciding whether or not to read your study, they will want to know that your work met a specific need. For example, "The dropout rate for students with behavioral challenges has increased in the last five years. The purpose of this study was to explore the reasons students with behavioral challenges leave school before graduating" tells the reader that the researcher saw a problem and used his research to find possible solutions. Those potential solutions can be included as findings and recommendations.

    Participants

    In most academic studies, the identity of your participants should remain confidential, but readers who scan abstracts may need to know the type of participants involved in your research. Include descriptions of your participants in general terms. For example, instead of writing “Ten male and seven female police officers from a downtown Phoenix, Arizona precinct…,” write “Ten men and seven women who work in law enforcement in an urban, southwestern community in the United States.…”

    Findings and Recommendations

    The findings and recommendations may be the most important elements for attracting an audience. These are your contributions to the field, so you may want to allot most of your space to these areas. If you have a large quantity of findings, you may need to combine some of them into categories for the abstract. For example, “Classroom disruptions” could cover all findings related to excessive talking, tardiness and texting. Remember to save room for any related statistics if you completed a quantitative study. These details can make your abstract shine.

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    About the Author

    Tracy Spencer has served as a teacher since 1988. She has taught secondary English, speech and theater, as well as various college-level writing courses. Spencer holds a Ph.D. in special education, focusing her studies on Asperger's syndrome and high-functioning autism.

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