Abstract…How to write one

guidanceYou are finished! Your chair is happy and your committee is ready for you to defend! Now you must whip the document into shape by adding the preliminary pages, including the abstract. Oh, no…more writing…you thought you were finished writing and revising!

Take heart! There is no need to create an abstract from scratch. You already have the material you need to write the five components of an abstract.

• Introduction of the problem (why it is important to study the problem) is found in Chapter 1.

• Problem statement (including your scope) is also found in Chapter 1.

• How you studied the problem (methodology, sample, procedures, analysis of data, variables) may be found in Chapter 1, but is more detailed in Chapter 3.

• Results can be found in the summary of Chapter 4.

• Conclusions and the significance of your findings to the field are found in several sections of Chapter 5.

Pull up your dissertation and create a new, second document titled Abstract. Copy sentences from each section of your dissertation and paste them into the new document. Don’t hold back. Every sentence that describes these five components of the abstract is important. Copy and paste everything pertinent.

Wow, some of your writing was great, wasn’t it? Don’t you just love that phrase you used to introduce the problem?

This will create a document that may contain as many as 1,000 words! Don’t panic.

Now read what you copied and pasted into the abstract document. Some sections are redundant…decide which section stays and which section is tossed.

Some sentences are longer than they should be. Take out nonessential phrases and reword some sentences. Here is an example of how a paragraph can be distilled from 114 words to 61 words:

Here is the original paragraph…

After completing a survey in 2001 for a nonprofit library network in the Southeastern United States, this researcher used the database of responses to study response rates and response consistency between two survey methods. Information on more than 1,400 potential respondents had been collected from the network’s database and four other library databases. A traditional mailing procedure was used to obtain responses to an 8-page printed questionnaire from those individuals in institutions who had provided only postal contact information. Half of the librarians’ had contact information that included an e-mail address. For those individuals, the survey was conducted by e-mail, with a link to a Web-based questionnaire created from the printed questionnaire. (114 words)

Here is how it was pared down for the abstract to 61 words (a reduction of almost 50%).

A database from a nonprofit library network survey was used to study response rates and response consistency between two survey methods. A traditional mailing procedure was used to send an 8-page printed questionnaire to individuals who provided only postal contact. Half of the 1,400 potential respondents who included an e-mail address in their contact information were sent a questionnaire by e-mail. (61 words)

Here’s another example using conclusions and significance to the field from the same paper.

The original wording (in two paragraphs)…

The opportunity to analyze data from two different survey methods provided important information about response rates and response consistency. The results of the analysis of the different methods showed few differences in response consistency. The amount of missing data was significantly reduced when the electronic method was used. The response rates of the two methods were similar. (57 words)

Little research was found that discussed the merits of a combination of e-mail and Web-based survey techniques to measure the response rate of the sample frame used in a survey. The use of e-mail to link potential respondents to a Web-based questionnaire in the current study used both methods and produced a response rate slightly higher than a traditional three-wave mailing procedure. Organizations and institutions with well-developed databases of potential respondents should feel confident that responses from an electronic survey using both e-mail and a Web-based questionnaire will produce faster, less expensive, and comparable data than from a traditional mail survey. (101 words)

The version for the abstract combined the two paragraphs and removed almost 60% of the words…

Analysis of data from two different survey methods found few differences in response consistency. The amount of missing data was significantly reduced using the electronic method. The response rates of the two methods were similar. Therefore, organizations and institutions with databases of potential respondents should feel confident responses from an electronic survey will produce faster, less expensive, and comparable data than from a traditional mail survey. (66 words)

Here are a few rules to follow when refining your abstract.

• Make sure you adhere strictly to the number of words required by your institution.

• Do not cite other work in your abstract. If your study uses a theoretical framework or other seminal work that should be part of the abstract, mention the work, but do not cite it (i.e., Bloom’s taxonomy or Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

• Avoid too many abbreviations. Always spell out the abbreviations the first time they are mentioned, unless they are easily recognized (i.e., NCLB).

• Decide on five or six keywords to identify your work in a database search. Use these exact keywords or search phrases in your abstract.

The abstract is the important, final component of your dissertation. The abstract provides the reader a succinct description of your dissertation. Be careful in creating it. It should not be a chore, but a labor of love, easily created from your own words.