Summary (abstract)

Tips for a good structure

Most theses contain a summary, also called an 'abstract'. This briefly describes what your thesis is about, and includes every part of the thesis: the research method, the results, the conclusion, suggestions for follow-up research, etc. All are described very briefly, and to the point! Read here what to look out for when writing a good abstract.

What is the abstract for?

You can think of the abstract as a brief overview of the most important substantive parts of your thesis. The summary always stands on its own: it should tell the whole story and should be understandable to people who do not read your entire thesis. 

A summary of your thesis usually aims to...

  1. ...make the reader curious. After reading the summary, readers will know if it is of interest to them to read the whole thesis. 

  2. ...briefly describe the content of your thesis. This way, people who do not read the full thesis will still get an idea of your research and results. 

Writing a summary or abstract

The abstract comes usually after the title page and any preface, and before the table of contents. Often, the summary of your thesis is at most one A4. Some studies use a smaller word count, e.g. around 200-300 words. 

A common mistake when writing the abstract is that people copy and paste text from the thesis itself. This is not the purpose of an abstract. Instead, paraphrase the content of your thesis in fewer words.

These are several important points to consider when writing an abstract or summary:

  • Write out abbreviations when you use them for the first time in your summary. This applies to abbreviations that you repeat more often in the text. Note that you should reintroduce abbreviations in the thesis itself by fully writing them out once first, even if you have already done so in the abstract. After all, the summary is separate from your thesis. For example, it might look like this: 'The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (NIPHE) conducted research on...'. 

  • Discuss all parts of your thesis very succinctly. For example, do not devote more than a few sentences to your results. 

  • Get straight to the point. There is no need to give much theoretical background. The reader can gain more depth by reading the full thesis. 

  • Make the summary accessible to people with no prior knowledge. Do not use technical terms if you do not explain them. Furthermore, use academic language.

  • Usually, you do not cite sources in the abstract because it is a description of your reseayou refer to a source? Then use the correct source citation, according to APA or the Guideline for Legal Authors.

  • Always write your abstract after you have written the full thesis. This makes it easier to highlight all the completed thesis components in your summary.

What parts does your thesis summary contain?

In your summary, include at least the following:

  • The problem statement and objective;

  • Your research question (just the main question, not the sub-questions);

  • A brief description of your research methodology;

  • A summary of the main results (only those relevant to answering your main question);

  • The conclusion (the answer to your main question);

  • Any shortcomings of your research;

  • Suggestions for follow-up research and possible recommendations.

For some studies, it is mandatory to include keynotes below the abstract. Check with your supervisor what guidelines you should follow.

Summary for your thesis in the present or past tense?

A question we often get from students is: do you write the summary for your thesis in the present or past tense? In practice, you use two verb tenses in your thesis summary: present tense and present perfect tense

You use the present tense for, among other things, naming the research question or describing the current situation. You also use the present perfect tense when describing the results or the research method. 

See also these example sentences:

  • Present tense: The purpose of this study is to establish why meat substitutes are less popular among persons over 50 than among a younger target group.

  • Present perfect tense: For this study, a comparison was made between two groups of participants: one group was shown the social media post with an image, and the other group the social media post without an image.

Check check AthenaCheck?

Are you finalizing your thesis by writing the abstract? Many students like to have a final check of their full thesis before submitting it. We are happy to do this for you! 

Let AthenaCheck's expert editors review your thesis, including the summary. We will give you feedback on your use of language as well as the structure and common thread.