Writing an Abstract


Faced with the daunting task of writing an abstract for their article, dissertation or thesis many academics and research students get abstracted. They allow themselves to get separated from the job in hand, they withdraw from making a serious attempt to do what is required and they absent themselves from the task. How, then, can academics and research students stay focused on writing a good abstract and not let themselves get abstracted in or disengaged from the process?

Structuring a PhD abstract

A typical way of structuring a PhD abstract is:

  • Paragraph 1 – research purpose: an outline of its context, rationale, research question and limits = what was investigated
  • Paragraph 2 – research design: an outline of the research paradigm/conceptual framework and methods used = how the topic was investigated
  • Paragraph 3 – research findings = what was found
  • Paragraph 4 – contribution to knowledge = research conclusions (after Trafford & Leshem, 2008: 149-150)

Most universities require abstracts to be written according to their own specific requirements which you must follow. There is little or no scope for you to be creative in writing an abstract for a dissertation or thesis. You are required to write your abstract in exactly the way the university’s research committee has decided. If they want it written using a specific structure but without sub-headings and in a stated number of words then you must comply.

Another approach to writing abstracts suggests:

  • Two sentences summarizing the literature
  • Three sentences on the conceptual contribution or main theme
  • One sentence on the methods used
  • One sentence each to summarize the argument of each main chapter
  • Two sentences crystallizing and evaluating the main conclusions (based on Dunleavy, 2003, 204-205)

Abstracts for journals

Writing abstracts for journals requires you to include key details. Failure to include key details in abstracts may be remedied by writing structured abstracts using such headings as: Background, Aims, Methods, Findings, Limitations and Conclusions (see Hartley and Betts 2009, 2016). Another version of the structured abstract uses the following headings: Purpose, Design/methodology/approach, Findings, Practical implications, Originality/value (from Education + Training at www.emeraldinsight.com). These headings have the merit of making you focus not only on providing a well-structured abstract but of also helping you consider the most important content or issues to be covered.

As ever, writers of articles are advised to read the target journal’s Author Guidelines for clear advice. Reading the instructions may well save time and effort. This is especially true when it comes to the number of words allowed and whether or not subheadings are required.

Main requirements for writing abstracts as seen by PhD students

The requirements referred to here are based on analyses of abstracts made, during an academic writing workshop held in April 2010, with over 20 PhD students:

  • The research question, gap in knowledge and rationale for the research needs to be addressed with clarity
  • The methodology used should be succinctly and accessibly expressed for its expected audience
  • Key findings which reflect the main contents of the paper/thesis should be carefully set out
  • The main conclusions, contribution to knowledge and major recommendations need to be made explicit

Other points that abstract writers need to bear in mind include:

  • The need to structure the abstract clearly
  • The need to make a careful selection of keywords and key terms (many journals require writers to produce a separate set of three to six keywords)
  • Because abstracts are usually the first aspect (after the title) of their article or thesis that readers see then they become an important marketing tool for the rest of their work
  • Abstracts should not contain either acronyms or references and should always meet the requirement of conference/journal/university regulations
  • Abstracts should always be written and seen as free-standing and therefore as clearly understandable texts

Common errors or failures in abstract-writing

These errors are based on an analysis of 40 abstracts submitted for a prize awarded for the best abstract at a research conference for PhD students in May 2010. In the call for abstracts all candidates were provided with a set of guidance notes about what the abstracts should contain, how they should be written and a specimen of how they should be formatted.

Of the 40 abstracts submitted:

  • only 16 conformed to the correct format
  • only 21 provided a set of keywords
  • only 16 conformed to the four paragraph requirement

In all, only six candidates managed to produce an abstract which fully complied with the specified requirements.

Typical format errors included:

  • A total failure to pay any attention at all to the specimen abstract provided
  • Failure to follow requirements in the use of upper case, lower case and underlining
  • Inappropriate use of punctuation
  • Use of abbreviations in the abstract title
  • Spelling errors

Abstract writing errors or failures included:

  • Failure to specify, in four separate paragraphs, what was investigated, how the topic was investigated, what was found and what conclusions could be drawn
  • The use of one, two, three or five paragraphs instead of four
  • The use of abbreviations such as ‘c.’ for ‘about’ or ‘etc.’
  • The use of paragraph headings
  • Spelling errors
  • Poor grammar
  • Poor sentence construction (including one 89-word sentence)
  • Use of references
  • Inappropriate use of bullet points
  • Inappropriate use of jargon

Overall conclusion

Abstracts should comply with the requirements set by universities and/or journals and should be written in a clear, direct style. Abstracts are ‘tiny texts’ (see Kamler and Thomson 2006) which compress the argument of an article or a thesis into a small number of words and a small textual space. As such they also invite public interest in the topic investigated and the methods used as well as in the findings and conclusions reached.


© Copyright for this article belongs to Dr Graham Badley

This document was re-printed with the kind permission of Dr. Gerard Sharpling. Original Source of the article is located here: http://web.anglia.ac.uk/anet/rdcs/research/info/Abstracts.pdf


How to Write an Introduction

writing an introduction
writing an introduction

Writing an introduction is often seen as a relatively straightforward element of the assignment writing process. The reason for this may be that we often find typical ‘ingredients’ in an introduction that we can use, regardless of the assignment we are writing. One of the challenges of writing a good introduction, however, is to be brief, and to stay focused. A rambling or unfocussed introduction, or one that is over-lengthy, will get the essay off to the wrong sort of start an will not create a good impression. In particular, you should avoid being ‘anecdotal’ in your introduction (i.e. writing as if you are telling a story) and you will also need to avoid wasting words by ‘stating the obvious’ and writing a series of over-generalised statements. Below you will find some helpful suggestions for writing introductions to essays and assignments.

What are the typical ‘ingredients’ of an essay introduction?

Trzeciak and Mackay (1994) have identified a number of ‘ingredients’ of an introduction. It will not always be necessary or desirable to include all of them, but they will generally be used in some combination or other, in order to introduce an academic argument.

·         a statement of the importance of the subject

·         mention of previous work on the subject

·         a justification for dealing with the subject

·         a statement of your objectives

·         a statement of the limitations of the work

·         a mention of some of the differing viewpoints on the subject

·         a definition of the topic being discussed

Swales and Feak (2004), meanwhile, focus on the research paper in particular. They attempt to place introduction ingredients into a sequence. They identify the following series of ‘moves’ in a typical introduction to a research paper:

·         Move 1: Establishing a research territory

– by showing that the general research area is important, central, interesting, problematic, etc. (optional)

– by introducing and reviewing items of previous research in the area (obligatory)

·         Move 2: Establishing a niche

– by indicating a gap in the previous research or by extending previous knowledge in some way (obligatory)

·         Move 3: Occupying the niche

– by outlining purposes or stating the nature of the present research (obligatory)

– by listing research questions of hypotheses

– by announcing principal findings

– by stating the value of the previous research

– by indicating the structure of the research paper

Should I follow introduction structures closely?
The above-mentioned elements of an introduction are helpful, and could be followed quite systematically to produce a reasonably acceptable introduction. However, there might be several problems associated with an attempt to follow these introduction structures too closely and to include them in every assignment you write :

·         Your introductions might become too predictable and ‘formula-written’, and may lack a sense of enthusiasm and commitment;

·         Your introduction may become too lengthy in relation to the remainder of the essay (depending on the length of the paper);

·         Your introduction might become too ‘detailed’ and this may spoil the ‘surprise effect’ of what you go on to say next;

·         The existence of an ‘introduction’, as described above, is not self-evident or natural in all disciplines; and even within subjects that commonly require an introduction (typically, social sciences and humanities disciplines) there may be some types of question that do not especially need one (e.g. document commentaries, unseen commentaries on literary texts, business plans, some short law questions, etc.);

·         One of the key aspects of writing an introduction, in many disciplines, is to attract the interest of the reader – if you give the impression that your writing is ‘formula driven’, you may fail to make the sort of impact you want on your reader. Sometimes, of course, the reader is not looking for interesting introductions (especially in fact-based or mathematical work).

Dissertations and theses

In many respects, the procedure for writing an introduction remains the same for a longer piece of writing, such as a dissertation. In particular, it is still very important:

·         To write an ‘eye-catching’ opening sentence that will keep the reader’s attention focused;

·         Not to say everything you have to say in the introduction – save some of your good material for later.

·         To try to keep the reader in ‘suspense’ and to make them read on;

·         To ensure that there is a direct relationship between the introduction and the remainder of the dissertation;

·         To ensure that you do not promise what cannot be fulfilled or what goes beyond what can reasonably be expected.

At the same time, there will also be some differences in your approach. Among these differences are the following:

·         As well as having an overall introduction to your dissertation or thesis, each chapter should also have an introduction (as well as a conclusion). The reason for this is that in a longer piece of writing, it becomes more important to ‘remind’ the reader of what you are doing and why you are doing it, before each chapter continues.

·         Because of its length, there will be more opportunity to introduce a sense of ‘debate’ into the introduction to a thesis; and you will have time to bring in a wider range of references from outside.

·         It is a good idea in a chapter introduction to remind the reader what happened in the previous chapter (e.g. In the previous chapter, the literature relating to the teaching of vocabulary was considered. From this discussion, it was seen that….).

© Copyright for this article belongs to Dr Gerard Sharpling

This document was re-printed with the kind permission of Dr. Gerard Sharpling. Original Source of the article is located here:http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/al/learning_english/leap/writing/moreinfo/

Indian and Pakistani Students to be Specifically Targeted by UK

New immigration restrictions for international students are racially discriminating, reported mancunion.com. According to immigration experts, prospective international students from India, Pakistan and Nigeria are likely to be denied a student visa primarily because of the high level of immigration offences in their country.Strict Visa Rules

A large number of UK universities are denying admission to applicants from countries based on their credibility. Under the stricter visa policies implemented by the Home office, students from countries that a poor record in terms of applicants not leaving the UK at the end of their education in the UK are having trouble securing admission in the institution of their choice. Although the UK Home office does not cap the number of international students to be taken from a country, the new immigration rules are a clear message to international students who wish to stay in the UK at the end of their course.

In his interview with the Times UK, Mostafa Rajaai, the NUS international Students’ Officer criticized the new policy and labelled it as “very unfair” for prospective students. He further added that”prospective students from these countries have a very negative view of the UK now.”

The visa refusal rate has been continuously climbing since the Cameron government came into power with the current refusal rate standing at 9 percent, based on over 250,000 applicants’ interviews carried out by HO. UK universities are required to hit the 10 percent refusal rate benchmark, according to the Times, and therefore many experts are of the view that it is likely that some universities are being forced to reject applications based on the credibility criteria.

One source claims that “some universities were told by the Home Office to stop recruiting from certain regions, mainly in Pakistan”.

In the recent times, the Home Secretary Theresa May has continuously vowed to include international undergraduate and graduate students in the overall number of immigrations in the UK. Her approach, however, has been criticized regularly by her fellow cabinet members and the members of the opposition. Various refugee charities as well as key players of education industry of the UK have also stepped up to have their concerns acknowledged.

It seems as if the UK Prime Minister and Theresa May are following two different paths, with David Cameron on a number of occasions claiming that there will be no cap placed on the number of international students that can be enrolled in UK universities. “As I’ve said before, no cap on the number of overseas who come and study at our universities,” he has said on the matter.

Tips for You to Have an Excellent Academic Year

excellent academic yearEver wondered what you could do to make your academic year a great one. There are many things that students can do in order to improve their prospects. When the month of September arrives, we get to see our friends after a long summer break and possibly make new ones. We are also eager to do well in terms of studies. So the first two months of the academic calendar year of critical importance particularly if you are interested in making small changes to become a “New You” with the new year. Below I have suggested a few things can help you to improve your performance. Continue reading “Tips for You to Have an Excellent Academic Year”

Social Life Tips for International Students in UK

International Students PhotoIf you are an international student who recently left the comfort of your home and moved to the UK to pursue higher education then chances are that you will have to adjust to the new social environment. Interacting with people at various levels is what our social life is all about. Your social life is likely to become an integral part of your stay if you recently moved to the UK as an international student. To make the most of available opportunities on offer, you must enhance your presentation and interpersonal relationships to introduce yourself in a positive way to your supervisor, classmates, professors and other university mates. Continue reading “Social Life Tips for International Students in UK”