By now it may well be clear what a thesis abstract needs to do. It presents ALL of the moves that are in the larger text. It’s not the blurb on the back of the book – it’s not a sales pitch per se.The biggest problem that examiners have with thesis abstracts is when they don’t give the results and the implications of the research, but stop after outlining the problem and its importance. It’s not throat clearing for the real thing to follow.But don’t go on too long, because that suggests to the examiner that the rest of the thesis may well not be as concise as it might.
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So the thesis abstract quite often stands in for the entire thesis. Some people opt for one page so that the examiner or thesis browser can get it all at once – it is a visual representation of the coherent whole.
Other people opt for a few more words to elaborate their argument.
The thesis abstract is the first thing that your examiner reads. On the basis of the abstract alone, before they start the text proper, the examiner will form some expectations about what is in store – how well the thesis is likely to be written, whether it is going to be well argued and evidenced, whether it is going to be lively or dull.
While the abstract is a short piece of writing, it is a very important little text.
I say fine-tune, because I prefer to see the thesis abstract as a working text that you start writing as soon as you finish field work/library work/lab work.
Straight after field/library/lab, even before you begin the analysis proper, it’s worth having an initial crack at putting down what you think you now know. You already know the problem and why it’s important, and you know the niche in the literature that you hope to fill, and you know how you did the research. And now you have an idea about what your results might be.
Then, and this is the most important step, you can revisit your early abstract seriously when you have written the middle chapters – that’s if you are following the most common approach to thesis writing.
Many people suggest that you start the thesis from the middle, working with the actual research you have done.