Accessibility Version | Skip to content | Change text size

Table of contents

Previous page  | Next page

Write the summary / abstract

The thesis abstract or summary is what will be read first, to give an indication of the parameters of the study, its depth and breadth, its context and the scholarly contribution it makes. It may be the basis on which a prospective examiner agrees (or not!) to examine your thesis. It is important that it is written in a concise and focussed manner so that it identifies the salient features of the research, the problem or research question, the approach adopted, and its findings. In general the thesis abstract is about 300 words, and for Monash doctoral theses, no more than 500. (Check the norm in your discipline.)

Although you may have written an abstract as a 'thinking tool' earlier in your writing process, you need to write the final version after you have completed the thesis so that you have a good understanding of the findings and can clearly explain your contribution to the field.

The written abstract demonstrates your ability to appreciate and communicate an overview of the project. Since this is the first impression that your reader will get, it is important to spend time ensuring that this summary of your work is well written and provides only the important information in an informative, interesting and succinct manner.

An approach to writing a thesis abstract

Begin by identifying in a sentence the main purpose of the thesis.

Then write answers to each of these questions:

  1. What is the problem or question that the work addresses?
  2. Why is it important?
  3. How was the investigation undertaken?
  4. What was found and what does it mean?

You should find the answers to questions 1 and 2 in your Introduction; the answer to question 3 will be a summary of your Methods; and the answer to question 4 will summarise your Results, Discussion and Conclusion.

Level of detail

You may assume that your reader is an expert in the discipline, and therefore you will not provide definitions of terminology or background explanations.
Your abstract should not normally contain citations.

Language matters

  1. Abstracts often end up in electronic databases, so it is important that they contain the keywords that will enable other researchers to find your work. You can look in a standard database in your area to find keywords that relate to your topic.
  2. Verb tense
  3. In an abstract you are writing about what you did, and why your research question is important. So it is typical to use the past tense to refer to what was done and what was found at each stage of the research, and the present tense in commenting on significance.

The 50-word summary

Monash students are required to provide a short text which 'should contain a description of the research and its results, emphasising the practical value and/or significance of the work where appropriate.' (Monash University Doctoral and MPhil Information Handbook 7.6.2)

This short summary of your research is read out at the graduation ceremony. It needs to be interesting and accessible to a non-specialist audience. This will be easier to write if you talk to your family, friends and neighbours about your research.

  1. What do they find interesting about it?
  2. What non-specialist terms are you able to use to tell them about what you are doing?

There is a great deal of advice on the Web about writing abstracts, both for theses and for conference papers.

Here is a small selection:

Abstracts: Purpose, conventions and types Opens in new window Learning Connection, University of South Australia

The Abstract Opens in new window Language Centre, Asia Institute of Technology (scientific and technical abstracts)

download a word document Download a printable version of this page.
Problems? Questions? Comments? Please provide us feedback.

Need help? Library frequently asked questions and online inquiries: current students/staff | public users, online chat, or phone +61 3 9905 5054
Something to say? Send us your feedback and suggestions: current students/staff | public users

Monash University logo