Abstract

Once the title page is out of the way and before the dedication, you have the abstract. (In practice, these are probably the last three pages that you will actually write, even though they are the first three that anyone will read). In some instances, it is called an Executive Summary, but I know one programme, where the Executive Summary is a 4,000 word mini-report that gets tucked in between the abstract and the thesis proper, but this is an aside, mainly to remind those who don’t have to write this flavour of Exec Summary how lucky they actually are.
In all walks of life, first impressions are important, and your abstract is likely to be the writing that makes a first impression on your behalf. Whilst there are some people who have to read your thesis (Supervisors, Examiners, researchers who are continuing your work, in that chronological order), there are those who have a choice. The first step that they take in making that choice will be on the basis of reading your abstract. Get this right, then, and the reader will be willing to ‘listen’ to you further. Get it wrong, and you have made an enemy. You do not want your examiner to be your enemy for the next ~200 pages.
The ‘Art’ of the abstract is one which is akin to that at the heart of the drabble or haiku – you have to present a coherent, complete story whole in a very few words. Typically, unless otherwise decreed, an abstract is usually one page only: you should avoid playing tricks with the font size and the line spacing – you are aiming for about 300-350 words. Within this text you must explain what your project is about, why it is important ( perhaps specifying to whom), what you have done to address it, some interesting results and a few lines about what it all means to the project specifically and the world in general. No mean feat, but one that it is essential to get right.
Incidentally, excluding the title, this post is exactly 350 words.

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4 thoughts on “Abstract

    1. Hi Sania, thanks for your comment. Abstracts can be very, very hard or very, very easy. I like to think mine are, on the whole pretty good, but I also make things a bit easier for myself by picking (excellent) sentences from appropriate places in the body of the work to seed the abstract with.

      Hope to see you again in April!

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  1. As with the comment above, this subject is entirely transferable – to the fiction writer for one, let alone if I ever get myself together to return to study! Welcome to A-Z David :o)

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