Writing your dissertation abstract

Madlibs-Abstract

Your first task for your blog is to create an abstract for your research project.  Abstract-writing is an important skill in academic research.

What is an abstract for?

Typically, an abstract is written for three distinct purposes:

  1. As an introduction to your dissertation/thesis;
  2. To apply to an academic conference; or
  3. To provide a short summary of your research article, which precedes a longer article in an academic journal.

Writing an abstract is challenging, since it requires to you be very specific in addressing a number of key questions about your research topic.

What is included in the abstract?

Typically, the abstract will answer the following questions:

  1. What is your research question?  (What is the research problem? What is the background to the research?)
  2. How did you approach the problem? (Theoretical framework/research methods)
  3. What did you learn? (What were your key findings?)
  4. Why is this important? (So what?)

The length of the abstract will vary.  For a dissertation introduction, the abstract will be usually not more than one page in length (roughly 350 words).  In the case of a conference abstract or article abstract, the word length is generally limited to 150-250 words.

Style

It is useful (if a little consumerist!) to imagine your abstract as an advertisement for your research.  Therefore, your abstract should be interesting and informative.  You want your audience to want to know more about your research.

Aim for less of this:

Boredom-feature-007

And more of this:

discover

Your abstract will be (and should be!) rewritten numerous times as you progress.  Keep the different versions/iterations, and you will see your own understanding and expertise as a researcher develop over time.

The art of brevity

A useful lesson to be gained from abstract-writing is also the importance of being concise and to-the-point.  There is little space in the dissertation for waffle, and therefore every word should count.  We’ll discuss this in greater depth in future posts, when we look at sentence and paragraph construction, and methods for achieving a clear writing style.

First steps

Given that you are just starting out, the questions I am asking you to address in your abstract are slightly different, namely:

  1. What is your research question?  Try to state your research question in one sentence.  This can be framed as a question (Why is…? What is…? How is…?, etc.) or as a statement (An exploration of…, An evaluation of…, etc.)
  2. How do you intend to approach the research? Proposed research methods – given that we have not yet examined different research methods in great depth, these can be more generic, i.e. qualitative/quantitative approach, interviews/focus groups/case study/action research, etc.)
  3. What do you hope to find out? Do you have a hunch/hypothesis? Again, just an indication of what you hope to achieve is fine for now.
  4. Why is this important? (How does this research matter – for young people, for youth work(ers), for youth policy, for communities, for social justice, etc.)

Your next task will be to write your first research proposal draft.  Think of the abstract as a scaffold for the proposal; this is the foundation for the next step in developing your research idea.

Deconstructing an abstract

You can learn from others by unpacking abstracts relevant to youth/youth work.  For example, see:

Palasinski, M. (2013) ‘Turning Assault into a “Harmless Prank” – Teenage Perspectives on Happy Slapping’, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 28(9), pp. 1909-1923.

Abstract
The article describes the ways in which 41 adolescents from three large English cities discussed the phenomenon of happy slapping, which is typically defined as recording a physical assault on an unsuspecting victim on a camera-enabled phone for Internet upload. Using discourse analysis, the construal of motivations for its creation and watching is explored, elaborating on social, cultural, and legal implications. The identified repertoires (creation of comedy, denial of grievous bodily harm, accomplice-witness ambiguity, and reflection of postmodern culture) caution against attributing happy slapping just to boredom, as the mainstream British press does and puts spotlight on other factors, like seeking originality and keeping “pranks” under control. Concluding with the apparent similarities between the discursive worlds inhabited by unconvicted adolescents and convicted offenders, this study provides a theoretical platform for further research on the subtle and intriguing overlap.

Can you identify:

  • the research methods used? Hint: The abstract includes information about the research sample and the method used to analyse the findings.
  • the aim of the research (What does the author want to know?  What is the research problem?)
  • the main findings and their thematic presentation?
  • the author’s indication of the significance of these findings?

Useful resources: 

http://www.uri.ualberta.ca/en/URIPresents/How-toseminars/~/media/uri/How_to_write_an_abstract_-_April_2013.pdf

http://www.uaces.org/resources/how-to-write-a-good-abstract-for-a-conference-paper

Fun stuff on the art of brevity:

http://dissertationhaiku.wordpress.com/

http://lolmythesis.com/

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