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How to write your dissertation

Abstract writing

when you've finished this page you will be able to...

What is an abstract, and why do I need one?

An abstract is a short (generally 100-200 words), stand-alone summary of your research. It provides a 'shop window' that readers can use to help them decide whether or not your research is worth reading - it's where you 'sell' your research, and for this reason the abstract is an important part of your dissertation.

You'll need to include the following things in your abstract...

When do I write my abstract?

Although your abstract will appear first in your dissertation, abstract writing is one of the last tasks in the dissertation writing process. If you wait until the research is finished and the dissertation is written you'll have a clear idea what to include. It's also important not to include anything in your abstract that's not in your dissertation.


Recommended Further Reading

How do I write an abstract?

The lists below cover some important dos and do nots of abstract writing:

Do Do not
Activity: Writing your abstract - 20 minutes

Your abstract should cover the main areas of your dissertation, and highlight novel methods, interesting results and important implications.

1. On a blank sheet of paper write the following headings:

  • aim/problem
  • motivation
  • methods
  • results
  • conclusions

2. Under the first heading (Aim/problem) write a sentence about your research question or problem. What exactly were you investigating? It can be useful to give some background information about the topic too.

3. Next, under the heading Motivation, write about why your research was important, relevant or necessary. Why should your readers care?

4. Under the heading Methods, write about the research methods you used. Be sure to highlight any novel or interesting methods.

5. Under the Results heading, write about what you discovered. Be specific and mention the significance of your results if appropriate.

6. Finally, under Conclusions, write about the implications of your results, paying special attention to why your research was important and interesting.

7. These notes will form the basis of your abstract, you just need to link it all together within your word limit - easy!

Check your abstract with your supervisor to make sure it's written correctly for your subject.

Example

This is an abstract taken from an undergraduate microbiology project report. This student needed to summarise a ten week research project in 300 words. We've divided the abstract into sections, so you can see the sort of things you should be writing under each heading.

Function of the cytoskeleton in the biology and pathogenicity of S. typhimurium

Aim/problem:

MreB is a bacterial actin homologue that is present in a number of rod-shaped bacteria. It has been found to localise in a helical manner on the cytoplasmic side of the inner membrane, in a multimeric complex with MreD and MreC. MreD appears to be essential for the maintenance of cell shape and its loss causes an extreme alteration in cell morphology from rod-shaped to spherical, often followed by cell lysis.

Motivation:

To date, the roles of the Mre proteins have only been studied in non-pathogenic bacteria. This study looks at the effect of deletion of the mreD gene in Salmonella enterica servovar Typhimurium, a Gram-negative rod-shaped bacterium that is a major cause of gastroenteritis.

Methods:

An insertional disruption of the mreD gene is constructed and a range of phenotypic assays are undertaken to examine the impact of the deletion on the pathogenicity of S. typhimurium.

Results:

It is found that the disruption mutant has a spherical morphology. There is also evidence of an impact on several virulence factors, including LPS structure, flagella expression, and oxidative stress resistance. Fluorescence microscopy is used to demonstrate that MreD localizes around the periphery of the cell.

Conclusions:

This study provides evidence to suggest a role for the cytoskeleton in the pathogenicity of Salmonella which could prove useful in the search for an attenuated vaccine strain or a novel antimicrobial agent.

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