TIPS FOR WRITING A GOOD ABSTRACT

Barry W. Hamilton, Ph.D.

Northeastern Seminary (Rochester, New York)

 

*Take the task of writing the abstract seriously.  The abstract will determine whether future researchers will read your thesis or dissertation.  The abstract needs to bring out the significance of the entire document.  When writing the abstract, the author should model the tone and vocabulary of the document’s conclusion.  The abstract should accurately and succinctly describe the content and scope of the entire document. 

 

*It is extremely important to stay within the limits defined by the institution/department.  Do not exceed the stated limits, or else someone will use a chainsaw to disembowel your abstract to make it fit.  You never want to lose control over the composition of your abstract.  Keep it within the stated limits.  Count each word just to make certain! 

 

*Put your best writing into the abstract, just as you did into the conclusion.  Strive for clarity with all that is within you!  Make the abstract transparent for researchers in your subject field.

 

*Within the stated limits, make every word count!  Reach for the knife—cut out the unnecessary modifiers.  Prefer the active voice, and use action verbs when appropriate.  Be ruthless in chopping out phrases that don’t contribute to the abstract’s substance.  Avoid unnecessary, unusual terms—padding sentences for an ‘educated’ effect (e.g. “expunge” for “delete”), but prefer highly specialized terms when appropriate to the field (e.g., Centering Prayer, apophatic, anaphora, afrocentrism). 

 

*Mine the document for important keywords and phrases that directly relate to the major concepts in the paper.  These terms will be related to your thesis statement and will describe concepts at the level of the whole document.  Take into consideration the vocabulary of abstracts from other theses in your field (but don’t merely imitate other abstracts—use these vocabulary terms only if used in your own thesis.  You want a high correlation between the vocabulary of your abstract and the vocabulary of your thesis.)  For example, a Doctor of Ministry thesis about an African American church concerned about the revitalization of an urban neighborhood will likely use these terms:  “economic development” or “community development”; “economic racism” or “environmental racism”;  “economic empowerment.”  These terms have been used extensively in Doctor of Ministry theses at other institutions, and can be found in their abstracts.  An abstract for a Doctor of Ministry thesis on these topics should contain these terms if they are found in the document and describe the chief concepts of the thesis as a whole.  Otherwise, the thesis would be at a distinct disadvantage in an online search for theses on these topics.  The vocabulary of the abstract should closely match the vocabulary of researchers in the field.  The thesis writer should consider online searchers’ research vocabularies when choosing the terms of the abstract.  Otherwise, the abstract may never be retrieved, or may be retrieved accidentally, and the thesis is cast into the outer darkness of eternal oblivion. 

 

*Have a colleague read the abstract and offer criticism.  Print out a hard copy and ask the colleague to mark it up.  Take another hard copy with you on the bus or on the plane.  Sometimes it helps if you take it on an out-of-town trip and read it in a motel room in a strange city.  The new surroundings might help you read the abstract in a new light (seriously). 

 

*Here are some of the better websites for concrete advice on writing abstracts:

 

http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/bizwrite/abstracts.html 

 

http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~koopman/essays/abstract.html

 

http://www.utoronto.ca/writing/abstract.html

 

http://www.english.uiuc.edu/cws/wworkshop/tips/writtech.abstracts.htm

 

http://www.dpf.slu.se/kurser/howtop/howabst.htm

 

 

                               

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Page Last Modified

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                7 April 2006