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Thesis abstracts / 75

Writing a structured abstract for the thesis

James Hartley suggests how to improve thesis abstracts

(From Psychology Teaching Review, 2010, 16, 1, 98-100)

Two books on writing abstracts have recently come to my attention. One, Creating Effective Conference Abstracts and Posters in Biomedicine: 500 tips for Success (Fraser, Fuller and Hutber, 2009) is a compendium of clear advice – a must book to have in your hand as you prepare a conference abstract or a poster. The other, Abstracts and the Writing of Abstracts (Swales and Feak, 2009) contains several research-based exercises on writing abstracts for journal articles in the Arts and Social Sciences. Both books extol the virtues of structured abstracts (i.e., those with standard sub-headings found in several journals published by the BPS) but both contain few examples.

Thesis abstracts

Swales and Feak also have a short chapter on writing the abstract for the PhD – a rather different kind of abstract. Here two such abstracts are presented for analysis. However, because the book is written mainly for a North American audience, British students might like to check their institution’s regulations in this respect. It is likely, of course, that these will not be very helpful. Here, for example, are the regulations from my own University:

The page should be headed Abstract, followed by no more than 300 words describing the key features of the thesis. Many information retrieval systems will search abstracts rather than complete works, and you should indicate key words.

Unfortunately, the advice on writing abstracts given in books on ‘How to write a thesis’ is much the same. Here, typically, you will find a paragraph or two of generalities with, if you are lucky, an example (e.g., see Rudestam & Newton, 2007). One notable exception is Dunleavy’s (2003) Authoring a PhD. Dunleavy provides almost three pages of text on writing the abstract, and...
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