You’ve done the work (or almost have); your thesis or dissertation is pretty much finished! So now, you take another look at the Guidelines for Preparing a Thesis or Dissertation at NIU to see if there’s anything left to do. Oh, yes, write the abstract.
Your abstract should be the last
thing you write because it is a summary—a very condensed one—of your entire
thesis or dissertation. But how do you summarize all of that work? You probably
have 100 – 300 pages of great ideas that, according to most sources, should be
summed up in fewer than 350 words. NIU’s Thesis Office does not restrict your
abstract’s word limit, but we do recommend that you stick to the 350-word
maximum. To follow are some ideas that may help.
The Writing Center at University of North Carolina offers detailed tips. First, they distinguish
between writing a descriptive or an informative abstract, saying that a
descriptive abstract explains the work without assessing it and is very brief,
virtually an outline. The UNC Writing Center tells that an informative
abstract, the type most of us will write, does “more than describe” the work. This
abstract stands in for one’s entire project and includes “purpose, methods, and
scope,” like a descriptive one, but also has “results and conclusions” as well
as “recommendations of the author.” According to UNC, “Abstracts allow readers …
to quickly decide whether it is worth their time to read [a longer piece],” and
we know how helpful these summations are from our own research.
The UNC site gives specific tips
as to what to include for different types of abstracts and how to go about
writing one. They say that all abstracts should consider the following
questions: Why should a reader be interested in this work? What is the scope of
the problem? What evidence or methods of study did this project utilize? What
are the findings or results? And, how does this study add to the existing
conversation? Check out their page for more tips, and
scroll to the bottom for help in abstracting one’s own work. (FYI: at the end
of that last sentence, this blog post reached 350 words in length!)
A beneficial thing to do when learning
to write in any genre is to read examples. You can find all types of abstracts
at Proquest Digital Dissertations (located under “Dissertation Abstracts” in the NIU
Library’s list of A–Z Databases). Search any subject area, or type in a keyword
and start reading abstracts!
Finally, advisors at University of Queensland in Australia offer a unique take on abstracts: they say that we
should actually write abstracts as we work, calling this interim process a “useful
tool” towards keeping ideas organized as well as “focusing thoughts” and
“forging links” that ultimately will “unify” the final product. And don’t
forget that you can come to NIU’s Thesis Office or The Writing Center at NIU
for help with any part of the thesis/dissertation writing process!