What readers expect from a dissertation abstract

This section explains some of the broader rules to think about when writing your dissertation abstract. In particular, your abstract should be: (a) well structured; (b) properly weighted; (c) internally consistent; and (d) fluid.

Well structured

The dissertation abstract needs to be well structured because you have such a short word count to communicate so much about your dissertation. Typically, the dissertation abstract contains a number of basic structural components. These include:

Not all of these structural components are always used. It will depend on the type of dissertation you are writing. However, each component aims to help you summarise the core aspects of your dissertation, from the problem being addressed and the significance of your study, which are communicated in Chapter One: Introduction, through to the research strategy guiding the research (Chapter Three: Research Strategy), and eventually, the conclusion and/or recommendations sections (Chapter Five: Discussion/Conclusion). To understand more about each of these components and how to clearly structure your dissertation, read the section: How to structure your dissertation abstract.

Properly weighted

The word count that you dedicate to each component of your dissertation abstract (e.g., key theories used versus methodological components) should reflect their importance to the dissertation as a whole. For example, if your research was more theoretical in nature, or focused on extending a particular theory, a greater proportion of the abstract should be dedicate to explaining the role of such theory in your research. Alternately, if your dissertation aimed to extend some previous empirical research, or use a method not typically employed, it may be worth dedicating more of the abstract to discussing these aspects of your research. Basically, it's a balancing act where you need to decide how to spread your available word count across each of the components you have to discuss in your abstract. Some components will justify more words than others. In order to recognise the most important aspects of your dissertation, which should receive greater focus in your abstract, ask yourself: What is significant about my study?

Internally consistent

A dissertation abstract can have a clear structure, and include all the necessary components (i.e., the research problem, components of your research strategy, etc.), but fail because it does not capture what the research is about or confuses the reader. This is about the internal consistency of your abstract. You should think about such internal consistency when comparing your abstract with the dissertation title and the main body of your document:

Simply check that each component of your dissertation title and the main body of your dissertation reflects the research you performed. Being consistent with the language you use is a good start.


Each of the components of the dissertation abstract (e.g., the research problem, components of research strategy, etc.) will consist of one or more sentences. Whilst these components must be clearly expressed in and of themselves, there must also be logical, fluid connections between each of these components. These connections help to bridge the information within each component.

In addition to your abstract needing to be well structured, properly weighted, internally consistent and fluid, a dissertation abstract should not: (a) provide new information; (b) include in-text citations; (c) over-exaggerate and/or over-generalise; and (d) use abbreviations, acronyms and initials.

Provide new information

No new information should be included in the dissertation abstract. To do so would suggest that the main body of your dissertation is missing some vital information. The dissertation abstract is simply an informative summary of the information already produced in the main body of the dissertation.

Include in-text citations

Leave the use of in-text citations, such as Clarke (2009) or (Clarke, 2009), to the main body of the dissertation. In the abstract, providing such specific referencing should not be required. The only exception is where your research builds on the work of a particular author(s) or even a quotation made by a particular author(s). To see where this may be acceptable, read the abstracts of the following articles:

The search for social cohesion: From Durkheim to the European Commission

Schumpeter and Galbraith: A comparative analysis on the modern corporate economy

Over-exaggerate and/or over-generalise

There is often a temptation to make a dissertation sound more important, more groundbreaking, and more significant than it actually is. With the dissertation abstract being the first place to tell the reader the significance of your research, this can often lead to over-exaggerations and over-generalisations. It is important to only make generalisations that can be backed up by your findings.

Use abbreviations, acronyms and initials

Unless you feel it is particularly necessary, leave the use of any abbreviations, acronyms and/or initials to the main body of the dissertation where there is space to clarify any such abbreviations, acronyms and/or initials. Your dissertation abstract should be understandable not just to experts within your field, but a much wider audience.

To understand how to structure your dissertation abstract, you may find the next section, How to structure your dissertation abstract, helpful.


Cramer, D. L., & Leathers, C. G. (1988). Schumpter and Galbraith: A comparative analysis on the modern corporate economy. History of Economics Society Bulletin, 10, 47-56.

Pahl, R. E. (1991). The search for social cohesion: From Durkheim to the European Commission. European Journal of Sociology, 32, 345-360.

Rotchanakitumnuai, S., & Speece, M. (2003). Barriers to Internet banking adoption: A qualitative study among corporate customers in Thailand. International Journal of Bank Marketing, 21(6/7), 312-323.

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