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What is a Dissertation Abstract?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
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A dissertation abstract is, in general, a summary of a dissertation into a short, concise form that presents the entirety of the research and findings of the dissertation. Within the structure of a dissertation, the abstract is often the first part that most people will encounter, yet it is typically the final part that is actually written. It can be seen as a distillation of the ideas, research, and work that goes into a full dissertation down to the base components. A dissertation abstract is usually only one or two pages, yet serves to express all of the ideas that may require hundreds of pages to convey in the full dissertation.

When working on a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), the dissertation is typically the ultimate work completed by a student. A dissertation is commonly hundreds of pages in length, and presents the research, experimentation, findings, and ideas on which a student often establishes his or her academic reputation. The dissertation abstract is a concise expression of all of the work that went into the dissertation itself, into something that is easily readable by someone interested in the subject. It will also likely be included in a number of scholarly journals, as well as Internet databases for access by scholars and other students.

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A dissertation abstract clearly presents the ideas and research of the dissertation in only one or two pages. This can be a fairly daunting task and is usually done toward the end of the work on a dissertation, since all of the research is needed for the abstract. It is similar to a synopsis of a work of art, but it should present all the ideas found in the dissertation itself. A dissertation abstract should allow a reader to quickly learn what is presented in the dissertation, and then decide if reading the full dissertation is necessary for further learning.

While two pages can be acceptable, most dissertation advisers will typically recommend a single-page dissertation abstract. This can be helpful since the abstract may be sent as part of a résumé to prospective employers, especially if the person who wrote it wishes to remain in academia. A length of about 400 to 600 words is common for a dissertation abstract, which fits about one page of single-spaced text. Any key terms used in the dissertation should also be included in the abstract, as this will allow someone to more easily navigate a database to find an abstract related to what he or she is researching.

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