This short film explains some of the key aspects to consider when writing an abstract:

The abstract is the second most read part of your thesis (after the title page). As such, it needs to work for a wider audience than the thesis itself who are often most interested in your results. The abstract should be possible to read independently of the thesis itself.

Contents of an abstract

Element Function
Purpose and scope What is the main message of your thesis? And how far do you investigate this?
Methods What did you do to get your results? (e.g. analyzed 3 articles, completed a series of 5 experiments, interviewed 10 respondents)​
Results What answer was found to the research question? What did the study find?
Conclusion What are the larger implications of your findings, especially for the purpose identified in step 1?



  • Emphasize the most important elements of the report
  • Use short sentences but vary sentence structure
  • Keep vocabulary as clear as possible e.g. explain terms / abbreviations that might be unfamiliar to a wider audience
  • The abstract is usually the last part of the thesis to be written

You should not include:

  • an extensive background
  • literature review
  • detailed methods
  • figures
  • references
  • material not in your thesis

A possible way to write an abstract

  1. First re-read the report taking notes and writing down keywords.
  2. Secondly, using the notes and keywords, write a draft that rephrases the purpose, scope, results, conclusions, and methods of the report. Avoid merely lifting sentences from the report to the abstract.
  3. Thirdly, read the draft and make sure the essential information of the report is included and no unnecessary information remains.
  4. Proof-read and revise the abstract for correctness. Avoid opening the abstract with the phrase ‘This report . . .’ or similar phrases. While such phrases might help a writer to get started they carry no information and should be replaced.
  5. Finally, the abstract is also a place to list important keywords for automated retrieval systems and archiving. So, either boldface the keywords used in the abstract or make a brief list at the end of the abstract.

Differences between an abstract and a summary

Sometimes a publication will contain both an abstract and a summary, but most of the time one or the other will do. Terminology varies a bit from organization to organization so that, in fact, the same document might be referred to as either a summary or an abstract. However, there are significant differences:

Length: the length of both summaries and abstracts is proportional to the source text.

Abstract: rarely longer than 250 words and never longer than a page; normally only a one-paragraph text.

Summary: tend to be longer and more conclusive than abstracts.


Abstract: clearly hierarchical in structure, offering conclusions and findings as early as possible while demoting support, discussion, and detail.

Summary: always divided into several paragraphs and follows the expected structure of beginning, middle, and end; the ‘middle’ of a summary is an argument including supporting material; always ends on a concluding note emphasizing the most important points of the argument