Abstracts are one of the most important parts of a research report. They help the reader understand why they should read your work by outlining the key elements of your research and showing its significance.

Task: Read the description of an abstract from the British Council:

A summary of your research including:

  • Aims
  • Methods
  • Main Results
  • Conclusions

Task: Read the abstract from an example PhD research report below and try to identify the elements from the description above. Has the student included all of the elements?

Effect of the Muslim headscarf on face perception : a series of psychological experiments looking at how the Muslim headscarf influences the perception of (South Asian) faces

The Muslim headscarf conceals the hair and other external features of a face. For this reason it may have implications for the recognition of such faces. The experiments reported in this thesis aimed to investigate anecdotal reports, which suggested that headscarf wearing females are more difficult to recognise. This was done by employing a series of experiments which involved a yes/no recognition task. The stimuli that were used were images of South Asian females who were photographed wearing a Muslim headscarf (HS), with their own hair visible (H), and a third set of stimuli were produced in which their external features were cropped (CR). Most importantly, participants either took part in the condition in which the state of the external features remained the same between the learning and test stage (Same) or the condition in which they were switched between the two stages (Switch). In one experiment participants completed a Social Contact Questionnaire. Surprisingly, in the Same condition, there was no difference in the recognition rates of faces that were presented with hair, with headscarf, or cropped faces. However, participants in the Switch condition performed significantly worse than those in the Same condition. It was also found that there was no difference in the % of fixations to the external features between the Same and Switch condition, which implied that the drop in performance between the two conditions was not mediated by eye-movements. These results suggest that the internal and external features of a face are processed interactively and, although the external features were not fixated on, a manipulation to them caused a drop in performance. This was confirmed in a separate experiment in which participants were unable to ignore the external features when they were asked to judge the similarity of the internal features of pairs of faces. Pairs of headscarf faces were rated as being more similar compared to pairs of faces with hair. Finally, for one group of participants it was found that contact with headscarf-wearing females was positively correlated with the recognition of headscarf-wearing faces. It was concluded that the headscarf per se did not impair face recognition and that there is enough information in the internal features of a face for optimal recognition, however, performance was disrupted when the presence or absence of the headscarf was manipulated.

Toseeb, Mohammed Umar. (2012). Effect of the Muslim headscarf on face perception : a series of psychological experiments looking at how the Muslim headscarf influences the perception of (South Asian) faces. Thesis (Ph.D.). University of Bradford. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10454/5522

Task: Drag the elements of a successful abstract to the correct part of the example text to check your understanding of the structure of an abstract.

The language of abstracts

Now you have seen the structure of a typical abstract, lets focus on the language students use to perform these functions.

Many students attempt to create their own, completely original sentences in their writing and this can cause confusion for the reader as they are expecting specific phrases at certain points in your essay.

The phrases writers use to introduce their ideas are often common phrases that all writers use, they are ‘chunks’ of language that you should copy exactly because breaking the chunks up or changing them can distort their meaning.

So, what phrases or chunks of language do students use in their abstracts?

Task: Look at the list of the top 5 most common chunks/phrases from PhD Abstracts from Life Sciences. Click on the phrases to see examples of how they were used in a sentence. Are these the types of phrases you were expecting?

The aim of this thesis (136)

The aim of this study (129)

The aim of this research (51)

It was found that the (46)

The results of this study (44)

Task: Think about the function these phrases are performing. Can you match the phrase to the features in an abstract?

Your Task: Investigate the most common phrases used in abstracts in your discipline

  • Go to the Flax website
  • Go to the ‘PhD Abstracts Collection’ box
  • Choose your discipline from the list and click
  • Click on the grey box ‘LexicalBundles’
  • Identify the 5 most common phrases in abstracts in your discipline.
  • Use one of the phrases to write your own sentence about your future research.
  • Post your sentence on the FutureLearn discussion forum.