ARTICLE 12: How to prepare an Abstract for a Ph. D. Dissertation.

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


Although one of the shortest sections in your dissertation, the abstract is also one of the most important sections.

The abstract is sometimes also called the synopsis or summary.

It is like an executive summary of a business report.

The purpose of the abstract is to enable interested readers to grasp the salient elements of the dissertation without having to read the whole report.

The abstract is a mandatory section of your dissertation and should be short and informative. Stakeholders in your research will read the abstract to get a broad understanding of your research. Obviously, a good abstract will attract attention and it might even improve your chances of landing a good job, especially at the university where you study.

You will probably not be required to prepare an abstract for a thesis on the master’s degree level.

The abstract should cover the following:

  1. The problem that was researched.
  2. Your main argument or arguments.
  3. The nature of the research.
  4. The context of the research.
  5. The research methods and procedures that you used.
  6. Your main findings, conclusions and recommendations.

Some universities will require you to cover everything in not more than 300 words – that is one A4 page.

Obviously, the abstract can only be written once you have completed your research and wrote your dissertation.

It should appear directly after the table of contents, authentication and acknowledgments.

The abstract should end with a list of not more than ten keywords.

Abstracts are often published in specialist journals.

Here is an example of the structure (headings that you can use in your abstract):

  1. Background to the study.
  2. Definition of the research problem, research question or hypothesis.
  3. Research design.
  4. A title that is the same as or like the title of your dissertation.
  5. Conclusion or conclusions.

I mostly use my own book on research methodology as a pivotal source for writing articles. However, I found the hints below on how to write a good abstract in an article written by Dr. Max Lempriere. I give recognition to the source at the end of the article.

The following hints should help you to write a good abstract:

  1. Use short and clear sentences.
  2. Do not cite references.
  3. Use keywords from your dissertation.
  4. Do not use ambiguous words and complex terminology.
  5. Focus on just four or five essential points, concepts, or findings.
  6. Communicate economically. Make sure that each sentence is relevant and necessary.
  7. Avoid lengthy background information.
  8. Do not deviate from the contents or arguments of your dissertation.


The abstract should briefly explain the following:

  1. What you did – the topic of your research.
  2. How you did it – the methodology that you used.
  3. What you found out – the results of your research.
  4. What the significance of the research was – your conclusions and recommendations.

Additional reference: Lempriere, M. 12 February 2019. What is a dissertation abstract and how do I write one for my PhD?

Accessed on 25/06/2020

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