An abstract is a highly condensed version of your dissertation and should accurately and succinctly represent its major points, claims, arguments, and findings. Albeit it being a formal requirement, many students don't give abstracts the importancethey deserve, leading to a number of mistakes. Here are the most common mistakes students make while writing a dissertation abstract, and how to correct them:
To begin with, many get the very concept of abstract wrong; some consider it as an introduction or a preamble while others write it the way conclusions are written. The purpose of an abstract is to neither introduce nor sum up your arguments; the former is done in the introduction and the latter in the conclusion of your dissertation. An abstract, on the other hand, is a substantive and faithful description of your work. So it should give your readers a snapshot of your dissertation in its entirety.
Another mistake students make while writing an abstract is to give incomplete or scattered information. Often abstracts are added at the beginning of a dissertation, but it should also function as a stand-alone document to be submitted to examiners and uploaded in databases. You should give readers a comprehensive picture of your work, dedicating a sentence or two to each section of the dissertation. Choosing the right information and presenting it concisely is the key to kindle the interests of a reader.
In an attempt to make them comprehensive, some students write lengthy abstracts. This is yet another mistake to be avoided in dissertation abstract writing. The abstract, as the name suggest, should be a summary of the contents of your dissertation. Guidelines regarding the size of a dissertation abstract change from one university to another; similarly, the length of a Masters dissertation abstract may significantly differ from that of a doctoral thesis. Typically, the total word count is kept within 150 - 300 words.
Yet another mistake students make in abstract writing is to leave out the results and findings of research. As a document signposting your research, the abstract should indicateyour results and findings. The methods and methodologies that helped you reach the results deserve a brief mention, probably in a line or two. As a general rule, the first half of your abstract should introduce your field, topic, research question, thesis, and methods; the latter part should be dedicated to summarizing and interpreting the findings.
The words you use in your dissertation abstract should be chosen carefully. Many students make the mistake of using informal words and statements, which adversely impact the quality of their abstracts. It is advised that you use action verbs such as demonstrate, illustrate, show, prove, explore, argue, examine, look into, consider, address, etc. to talk about your research objectives. Likewise, the main keywords of your research should be mentioned in the abstract.
Adding a literature review or referring extensively to the works of others is another major mistake students make in their abstracts. An abstract shouldn't contain any review of the literature, nor should it refer to external sources for validation. You can mention the works of others only if they form an essential part of your dissertation. For instance, if your work is about Michael Foucault's notion of governance, it makes sense to refer to Governmentalityas you will be focusing primarily on that book. Besides such instances, any references to secondary sources must be avoided.
The greatest of all mistakes is to introduce new information - arguments, sources, theories, statistics, findings, or thesis statements - into your dissertation abstract. As a mirror of your work, an abstract should reflect only what is there in the dissertation; nothing more, nothing less and nothing else. Apart from what is already discussed in the chapters, you shouldn't present any new or additional information.
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