What is an abstract?

The abstract is the first thing that anyone reading your dissertation will see. Although the abstract appears at the start of your work, it should usually be the last thing you write.

The abstract contains the overview of your complete document, including the following:

  • Motivations for conducting the study
  • The aims and goals of the dissertation
  • The methods used
  • An overview of the results
  • The conclusions of the dissertation

Why is the abstract important?

As mentioned above, the abstract is the first thing anyone reading your dissertation will see. It will give them a brief summary of everything you have done in your study. If you think back to when you conducted your literature review, you will remember that the process is usually as follows: conduct a wide search of the literature using related keywords; read the abstracts of the studies you find to determine which are relevant and discard those that are not; read the selected papers in more detail. The pivotal point in this is reading the abstracts – it is based on this that you decide whether a paper is suitable for inclusion in your review. You therefore need to make sure that you put sufficient information into the abstract to allow someone conducting a similar search to make an informed decision on whether to include your paper in their analysis.


The most common mistake people make when writing an abstract is to not include the results and/or conclusions. Not including these in the abstract means that no-one reading your abstract will be able to tell whether or not it is relevant to their own work. Remember, you are not writing a thriller and so you do not need to keep your readers in suspense. Thinking back to when you were conducting your literature review, if an article’s abstract did not give an overview of the results, you would most likely have overlooked it, as you did not have time to read through 20,000 words to determine if it was suitable. You can prevent this for your own work by ensuring the abstract contains all this information.

Writing your abstract should be the very last thing you do. Often you can then copy and paste relevant portions of the text you have already written to create it.

Further reading

What next?

The next section we will be looking at in this series of posts on dissertation structure will be the introduction.

This post is part of a series of posts about each of the sections of a dissertation. Get access to them all from here: https://studentproofreading.co.uk/blog/dissertation-structure/

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