A thesis abstract is a brief but comprehensive summary of an undergraduate or graduate thesis—a long and original investigation-based document. Thesis abstracts are presented at the beginning of theses to provide the reader with an overview of the document's contents.
Thesis abstracts are different from abstracts a student may have written for other texts, such as conference papers and journal articles, because thesis abstracts are typically required to be no more than 350 words. This is the maximum abstract word limit of UMI Publishing, an international thesis and dissertation publishing database to which most graduate theses and dissertations are sent. Most universities require their graduate students to submit completed theses to UMI; therefore, must universities require that their graduate students cap their abstracts at 350 words. Writing a comprehensive summary of a large research text in 350 words or less can be a great challenge; thus, the primary hurdle of thesis abstract writing is concision.
To begin, the student should write what he or she considers a thorough summary. This includes discussing the research question, providing a reasonably detailed outline of the research methodology, and offering a thorough report of the findings and implications of the project. In essence, all of the major components of the thesis project should be discussed in brief. Students should remember that their audience will be primarily researchers who are searching the UMI database for information regarding the student's thesis topic, and should strive to include all of the information of interest to a researcher in the abstract.
Once the student has composed the first draft of the thesis abstract, he or she must begin eliminating excess information and words. The student should first attempt to eliminate excess information—anything that is repeated or unnecessary to the understanding of the thesis project. It is likely that the learner will be able to eliminate a few sentences by critically determining what material is absolutely indispensable to the full comprehension of the student's thesis and discarding what is not.
The abstract must next be pared down by eliminating excess language. This requires the student to rewrite each sentence in the most direct way possible. Adjectives that are not entirely necessary for the understanding of the content should be deleted and long, complex sentences should be recast in simple structures. The student should do this until the abstract has been narrowed to 350 words. If the student finds this process exceptionally difficult, he or she should consult a friend, peer, or teacher, as it is often easier for third-party revisers to cut down texts than for writers to pare down their own.
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