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Writing Abstracts and Organising Documents


Abstract Writing and Organising Documents


An abstract is a concise summary of a paper or thesis. It must make sense in itself. It should be a complete story and should “sell” the importance of your thesis. It is the first thing that an examiner reads (the examiner will either agree to examine it or not, depending on what the examiner thinks of the abstract). Therefore, special care should be taken to ensure that it is complete, concise, and perfectly correct in content and grammar. It must also engage the reader and make the reader want to read further. Do not hide the importance of your work, or the results of your work. The reader will not read a thesis if she does not know what to expect; this is not a detective novel. It must highlight what is interesting about the thesis, why it is important, what the results are.


Never leave writing of the abstract till the very last. It needs careful redrafting and time is essential for effective drafting.


Write the abstract before you have finished the document


1. Draft abstract as help in critical thinking

The abstract is a summary of the complete work, but it can also be a most useful tool for helping you finish the document. When you are half way through a thesis, it can be useful to try and write a full abstract. Reading the abstract helps you decide whether that is really the direction you want the thesis to take. The gaps in the research and thinking become evident when you try to write an abstract, and so it is useful to help you realise what research is still necessary.


2. Draft abstract as an oganising tool

Further, if the shape and organization of the abstract are logical and elegant, then you can see that you have (perhaps subconsciously) found a short cut to organising the material in the whole document. Write abstracts as you work through the thesis. It will help you shape the final drafts.


Writing abstracts helps you to stand outside your work and think about your work from an outsider’s perspective.  Once you have this reader-centred knowledge, you can express your thesis to the reader in a coherent form.


Pre-empt reader’s questions. Abstracts should answer these areas:


Reason for Writing: Why do the study?

What is the context for the problem  you will study. Position your particular project in the wider  debate in the literature

Problem: What is the study?

What problem does this work attempt to solve? What is the scope of the project? What is the main argument/thesis/claim?

Methodology: How did you do the study?

An abstract of a scientific work may include specific models or approaches used in the larger study. Other abstracts may describe the types of evidence used in the research.

Results: What  were your results?

Again, an abstract of a scientific work may include specific data that indicates the results of the project. Other abstracts may discuss the findings in a more general way.

Implications:  What do the results mean for the larger world?

What changes should be implemented as a result of the findings of the work? How does this work add to the body of knowledge on the topic? Why should  the reader care?


Examples of Thesis Abstracts

Bird, James C. (2005) Modelling sub-reef thermodynamics to predict coral bleaching: a case study at Scott Reef, WA. Masters (Research) thesis, James Cook University.

Coral bleaching occurs when corals become stressed, which typically occurs during periods of elevated water temperatures. If water temperatures remain elevated for a sufficient length of time, the corals often die. Coral bleaching affects reefs around the world and the recent increase in the frequency and severity of bleaching episodes has raised considerable concern. A clear understanding of the physics that elevate water temperatures may improve coral bleaching predictions and lead to more effective reef management. Currently, the best method to detect bleaching-like conditions is through a time integration of sea surface temperatures observed by satellite. Unfortunately, these observations only reveal the thermal structure for the top millimetre of water averaged over large areas (presently 2500 km2).

The aim of this study is to use environmental physics to predict water temperatures at the reef and sub-reef scales. The study then goes a step further and translates these thermodynamic models into bleaching predictions. Simulations are run using atmospheric and oceanographic data from Scott Reef, a 40 km-wide atoll 300 km off the northwest coast of Australia. Scott Reef presents an ideal test site as it experienced a severe bleaching event in 1998 that was well documented. Averaged coral cover in exposed sites dropped from 54% to less than 10% over the top 30 metres. Additionally, the bathymetry around Scott Reef has been thoroughly surveyed and in 2003 an extensive array of oceanographic instruments was deployed for three months at strategic locations. A one-dimensional turbulence model is used to determine the vertical temperature structure of the water column around Scott Reef. Scott Reef is in a data-sparse region so that all of the heat fluxes have to be estimated from atmospheric conditions recorded at distant weather stations. The model results are verified with the 2003 field data. By driving the model with the appropriate atmospheric conditions, the simulated temperature profiles match the field observations.

The model is next used to hindcast the temperature profiles during the 1998 bleaching event. Simulations indicate that anomalously-warm water most likely reached depths of 30 metres, a result that supports the claim that the deep bleaching was due to thermal stress. Field observations confirm that water currents around Scott Reef are predominantly tidal. Additionally, the observations demonstrate that the upper layers of certain regions within Scott Reef cool during strong tides. This finding is characteristic of tidal cooling, a common phenomenon where tides mix cooler, deeper water with warmer surface water. A map of sub-reef regions at Scott Reef that might experience tidal cooling is revealed by the numerical modelling.

In a novel approach, stratified waters from the vertical model can be well-mixed in zones identified by a two-dimensional hydrodynamic model. There is a strong correlation between areas where bleached corals survived and locations that are predicted to have access to cooler well-mixed deep waters.

The techniques used in this work are applicable to other reef systems. Therefore the results in this thesis are significant as they improve two aspects of coral bleaching prediction. First, the methods can determine if coral at different depths are at risk of bleaching. Second, the methods can distinguish regions within individual reefs that are more susceptible to coral bleaching.



Second Example of Masters’ Thesis Abstract

The western king prawn (Penueus Zarisulcutus) is one of the most economically valuable species of crustacean in Australia. The experiment was carried out for 60 days to determine the growth, survival, haemolymph osmolality and organosomatic indices of the western lung prawn (2.95 f 0.26 g mean initial weight) reared at 10, 22, 34 and 46 g L of salinities. In addition, haemolymph osmolality and osmoregulatory capacity (OC) of the western king prawn (5.37 f 0.1 g mean initial weight) reared at salinities (10, 22, 34 and 46 g/L) were determined following 7, 14 and 21 minutes of air exposure and compared with the brown tiger prawn (P, esculentus). Mean final weight, total length, carapace length and specific growth rate (SGR) of the western king prawn were highest at a salinity of 34 g/L. Moult increments (in weight and total length) of the western king prawn were not significantly different (P > 0.05) when reared at four different salinities. Food conversion ratios were lowest in prawns reared at salinities of 22 and 34 g/L. Survival of the western king prawn was highest at a salinity of 22 g/L and lowest at a salinity of 10 g/L. Haemolymph osmolality of the western king prawn increased with an increase in salinity and weight. Isosmotic points of the western king prawn calculated from regression lines between haemolymph and medium osmolality were 28.87, 29.46 and 31.73 g / L at 0, 20 and 60 days of rearing (accordingly to 2.95 f 0.26; 4.02 f 0.47; 5.79 f 0.64 g body weight), respectively. Tail moisture content of the western king prawn decreased with the increase of salinity. After 60 days of rearing, the lowest hepatopancreas moisture content of the prawns was at a salinity of 22 gL. Wet weight and dry weight hepatosomatic indices of the prawns were highest when reared at a salinity of 22 gL. Wet weight and dry weight tail muscle indices of the prawns were highest at a salinity of 34 gL. Isosmotic points of the western king prawn were 33.79; 33.29; 32.75 and 33.10 g/L at 0, 7, 14, and 21 minutes of air exposure, respectively. Isosmotic points of the brown tiger prawn were 30.89; 31.89; 32.09 and 31.07 g/L at 0, 7, 14, and 21 minutes of air exposure, respectively. Air exposure reduced OC of both the western king prawn and brown tiger prawn. OC of both species at a salinity of 10 giL was reduced significantly after 14 minutes of air exposure. Twenty-one minutes of air exposure did not change OC of the western king prawn reared at salinities of 22, 34 and 46 g/L. OC of brown tiger prawn reared at 22 g/L decreased after 21 minutes of air exposure while OC of the brown tiger prawn reared at 46 g/L decreased after 7 minutes of air exposure.

The results indicate that both species spent less energy on osmoregulation at 34 gL salinity than at other salinities. The results suggest that the optimum salinity for rearing of western king prawns ranges from 22 g/L to 34 g/L. Salinities of 10 and 46 gL are unsuitable for rearing brown tiger prawns and salinity 10 g/L is unsuitable for rearing western king prawns. Furthermore, a salinity range from 30 g/L to 32 gL is suitable for the culture of brown tiger prawns



An abstract is the first thing an examiner reads, or the first part of an article that most people read. The abstract must therefore immediately grab the attention of the reader. The reader will not be impressed or interested if she cannot understand what you are saying.


"The writing of an abstract should not be an exercise in abstract writing”


Do not try to "impress" your readers with massive abstractions of thought or fancy theoretical phraseology. Stick to the facts.



Abstract Abstract

This paper is situated within the general framework of a PhD study and looks at one aspect of the data analysis regarding discourse. To understand this aspect of the data analysis, the context of the study will be first of all be discussed, as well as the use of discourse and how practices such as incarceration of juveniles can result from particular discourses. The study addresses some concerns I have had during the course of my work as a welfare officer. These concerns relate to the steady increase over the years in the number of children incarcerated despite a growing body of research that argues against such practices. This paper is part of a study that looks at these issues.


Note: At the end of an abstract you should be able to understand  what the problem is that the writer is dealing with, how the study was conducted, what the results were and what the implications were. Can you tell that from the above  abstract?


Rewritten for Concrete Information

Discourse, and the expressions used within discourse, can have profound effects on the community. An increase in the number of speeches from politicians and civic leaders which criminalises and demonises juveniles has been correlated with increased incarceration rates of juveniles in Australia.  This study, part of a PhD, gathers discourse about juveniles from Australian newspapers and commercial radio over the last 10 years and subjects it to data analysis to show both the change to a more aggressive vocabulary as well as to an increase in the portrayal of all young as irredeemably “other”.


The following notes on style have been taken from  this web site:



  • Use simple clear language and short sentences.


  • Avoid phrases such as 'I hope to,' 'I expect to,' 'I might.' You want to be as positive and self-assured in your language as possible. Instead of things such as 'I hope to look at,' just say 'I analyze.' Fewer words, more impressive.


  • Avoid excessive use of future tense. You have finished the work. Not “the study  will show” but “the study shows”.


RD: Better: avoid wasting space by saying  “the study shows”. Tell the reader precisely.

Eg “This study shows that purple spotted auks are more vulnerable to increased CO2 than are orange striped auks”.

Try: Purple spotted auks are more vulnerable to increased CO2 than are orange striped auks

Better: Purple spotted auks lost 25% body weight when CO2 increased by 15% whereas orange striped auks lost only 0.2 % body weight.

  • Avoid personal biography: the abstract is a summary of the argument, not a narration about why you selected the topic for study.
  • Eliminate all excess words. Use single words for whole phrases.
  • Have a friend proofread for you. And then, ask her to describe the thrust of your abstract, back to you, in her own words. If your friend is awake and sober, and still cannot manage to do this, then go back to step (1) above and start anew. 

Sample Abstracts from Journals

1. Title: The Wild Ways and Paths of Pleasure: Access to British Waterfalls, 1500-2000 
by Brian J. Hudson Source: Landscape Research, 26.4; 285-303.

Abstract: In Britain the rise of tourism, largely associated with the Romantic taste for landscape, encouraged travel to relatively inaccessible areas. Among travelers in search of the picturesque and the sublime, waterfalls were particularly popular, but these were commonly difficult and dangerous places to visit. The impact of tourism on the evolution of the landscape at waterfall sites over a period during which people traveled to tourist centres on horseback, by coach, by rail and by motor vehicle is examined. Drawing on topographical, travel and tourist literature from the sixteenth century to 2000, together with extensive field observations, the evolution from the 'natural' to the designed landscape, created to meet the needs of, and to attract, visitors, is considered. It is demonstrated how, while facilitating visits to natural attractions such as waterfalls, improved access and the provision of amenities have changed valued landscapes and, hence, the visitor's experience of them.

3. Sexual behaviours and contraception among university students in Turkey


The aim of this study was to evaluate the sexual attitudes and behaviours of university students. An anonymous questionnaire was administered to 550 final-year university students aged 20–25 years in Izmir, Turkey. Male students opposed premarital sexual intercourse for both genders more than female students did. The frequency of sexual intercourse among male students (61·2%) was higher than that among female students (18·3%). The mean age of first sexual intercourse was lower among male than among female respondents. The rate of condom use at first sexual intercourse was 47·4%. The frequency of having two or more past sexual partners and masturbation was higher among males than females. It was found that there were culture-specific and gender-dependent differences in sexual attitudes and behaviours of the university students. These results may help in the planning of education and health policies in Turkey

Anthropogenic” Pollen Assemblages from a Bronze Age Cemetery at Linga Fiold, West Mainland, Orkney

Authors: Bunting M.J.1; Tipping R.1; Downes J.2

Source: Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 28, Number 5, May 2001 , pp. 487-500(14)


Examples of  Thesis  Abstracts

1. Science education in primary schools in a state of change.

Through a longitudinal study of one teacher's science teaching practice set in the context of her base school, this thesis records the effects of the structural and policy changes that have occurred in Victorian education over the past 6-7 years - the 'Kennett era'. Initially, the purpose of the study was to investigate the teacher's practice with the view to improving it. For this, an action research approach was adopted. Across the year 1998, the teacher undertook an innovative science program with two grades, documenting the approach and outcomes. Several other teachers were involved in the project and their personal observations and comments were to form part of the data. This research project was set in the context of a single primary school and case study methodology was used to document the broader situational and daily influences which affected the teacher's practice. It was apparent soon after starting the action research that there were factors which did not allow for the development of the project along the intended lines. By the end of the project, the teacher felt that the action research had been distorted - specifically there had been no opportunity for critical reflection. The collaborative nature of the project did not seem to work. The teacher started to wonder just what had gone wrong. It was only after a break from the school environment that the teacher-researcher had the opportunity to really reflect on what had been happening in her teaching practice. This reflection took into account the huge amount of data generated from the context of the school but essentially reflected on the massive number of changes that were occurring in all schools. Several issues began to emerge which directly affected teaching practice and determined whether teachers had the opportunity to be self-reflective. These issues were identified as changes in curriculum and the teaching role, increased workload, changed power relations and changed security/morale on the professional context. This thesis investigates the structural and policy changes occurring in Victorian education by reference to documentation and the lived experiences of teachers. It studies how the emerging issues affect the practices of teachers, particularly the teacher-researcher. The case study has now evolved to take in the broader context of the policy and structural changes whilst the action research has expanded to look at the ability of a teacher to be self-reflective: a meta-action research perspective. In concluding, the teacher-researcher reflects on the significance of the research in light of the recent change in state government and the increased government importance placed on science education in the primary context.


2.   The mixed experience of achieving business benefit from the internet: a multi-disciplinary approach


From 1995 the Internet attracted commercial investment, but financially measurable benefits and competitive advantage proved elusive. Usage for personal communication and business information only slowly translated into commercial transactions. This reflects a unique feature of Internet development. Unlike other media of the 19th and 20th centuries, widespread Internet use preceded commercial investment. The early military and research use led to an architecture that poorly supported the certainty and security requirements of commercial transactions. Subsequent attempts to align this architecture with commercial transactional requirements were expensive and mostly unsuccessful. This multi-disciplinary thesis describes these commercial factors from historical, usage, technical, regulatory and commercial perspectives. It provides a new and balanced understanding in a subject area dominated by poor communication between separate perspectives.