20 Dissertation Abstract

How to write an abstract in 30 minutes

Have you ever been in the following situation?

You have selected a conference you would like to attend, and you have all the information you need for writing the abstract (the conference topic which suits your work, the maximum amount of words, submission through a website or email). Maybe you've googled "How to write an abstract". And there you are, with a new Word document and a scary white page in front of you. You go and get a cup of coffee, and stare at the screen. You play around with some words to come up with a good title which is within the maximum amount of characters allowed. You go and get another cup of coffee. Check Facebook. Get a snack... And before you know a few hours have gone by and Word is still showing an almost empty screen.

I've found what really works for me to write an abstract in roughly 30 minutes. As I was googling "How to write an abstract" in the past, I came across this article by Philip Koopman which caught my attention.

What I most like about this website is the questions it has in the different sections your abstract should contain:

Motivation: Why do we care about the problem and the results?

Problem statement: What problem are you trying to solve?

Approach: How did you go about solving or making progress on the problem? Did you use simulation, analytic models, prototype construction, or analysis of field data for an actual product?

Results: What's the answer?

Conclusions: What are the implications of your answer? Is it going to change the world (unlikely), be a significant "win", be a nice hack, or simply serve as a road sign indicating that this path is a waste of time (all of the previous results are useful)?


In fact, whenever I now write an abstract, I simply copy and paste these questions into a new document. Then I start answering them one by one. Sometimes I just talk out loud and write it down. Style and grammar don't matter to me at that point - I just need to get the ideas out first.
These answers then make up the first draft of my abstract. I simply delete the questions, and print out this first version. At that point, I start manipulating the abstract into a readable text, in correct English (as good as possible in my case), and making sure the entire piece flows from its starting point and background description towards the results and conclusions.

Do you have a method which helps you to write abstracts?

Example abstract

Several non-profit environmental organizations are trying to counter the adverse effects of climate change. To finance their activities, they require donations. However, in today's society the number of people who donate to environmental organizations is decreasing, which is creating a funding gap. If organizations are to be able to continue their work, the number of donations must increase.

The aim of this study is to determine how individuals' intentions to donate to an environmental organization can be increased. To this end, the research question is as follows: To what extent does a potential donor's social distance to the victims of climate change portrayed in fund-raising campaigns affect his or her intention to make a donation? In this context, social distance is the extent to which people feel they are in the same social group (i.e., in-group) or another social group (i.e., out-group) in relation to climate change victims.

The research question is answered through an experiment that entails distributing an online questionnaire to respondents. These respondents are randomly divided into two conditions (namely large and small social distance). Based on their classification, they are then asked to comment on a different image from a fund-raising campaign. The responses received show that feeling a large social distance leads to more donation intentions that feeling a small social distance. These results indicate that social distance does have an impact on donation intentions.

On this basis, it is recommended that environmental groups portray a significant social distance in fund-raising campaigns for their climate change activities. Further research could be undertaken to identify other factors it would be helpful for such organizations to bear in mind when selecting the best images for such campaigns.

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