Writing a dissertation: what abstract should not contain

Your dissertation can be included in a number of very visible places. For that reason, you want to make sure it is complete, concise, and well presented. The main goal is to provide the reader with enough information that they know exactly what your research project covered – but don’t have to read the whole dissertation unless they would like more information.

It is not uncommon for dissertations to be featured in scholarly journals and research databases. Students, instructors, and other researchers will be able to then refer to the abstract when they are doing their own research to determine whether or not the full project is something they might find helpful.

What an Abstract Should Not Contain

To keep it simple and concise, your abstract needs to be focused. In general, you should never do the following:

  • Be Wordy: The abstract is just that – and abstract. It isn’t the full study – so it shouldn’t sound like it. It is important that your abstract does not get too long. At the very most, your abstract should include two pages. But less is more.
  • Discuss Specific Research: The abstract needs to show an overall picture of what your research led to – not an advertisement for how much research you actually did. Keep it simple and limit research speak. Only focus on your findings – and if the reader wants to know more, they can access your full dissertation.
  • Use Complicated Terms: While you do want to be viewed as the expert in the case of your dissertation, you don’t need to inflate your abstract with “big” words or complicated speak to lend yourself credibility. Keep it simple and readable. You research will lend you the authority.

You should, however, always do the following:

  • Concisely Summarize: After months (and maybe years) of research, you should be able to provide the reader with a summary of your dissertation that is somewhere between 400-600 words.
  • Use Key Words: Since your abstract is a candidate for databases and other search engines, it is important that you make it visible. To do so, make sure you use key words relevant to your dissertation and your research. That way, when students and other researchers search for that information, your dissertation will be visible.
  • Ask for Help Reviewing: Ask your department contact to help you with the proofing and editing process. Each person responsible for helping students through the dissertation process has a background in effective abstracts. Tap into that knowledge to ensure that yours is concise and complete.