The thesis abstract or summary is what will be read first, to give an indication of the parameters of the study, its depth and breadth, its context and the scholarly contribution it makes. It may be the basis on which a prospective examiner agrees (or not!) to examine your thesis. It is important that it is written in a concise and focussed manner so that it identifies the salient features of the research, the problem or research question, the approach adopted, and its findings. In general the thesis abstract is about 300 words, and for Monash doctoral theses, no more than 500. (Check the norm in your discipline.)
Like all writers, scholars depend upon words used as precisely as possible. In contemporary academic English, “thesis” and “dissertation” are almost interchangeable, and in this book I’ll use them that way merely to provide some variety. A thesis can, of course, be a master’s thesis or an undergraduate thesis, but a dissertation is always written for a doctoral degree. The dictionary’s succinct definition of a dissertation omits any mention of a proposition to be defended, and length seems to be the dissertation’s principal characteristic. A thesis might be very brief indeed. Martin Luther came up with ninety-five of them, and crammed them all onto a document correctly sized for a church door. For modern-day academics, a dissertation is expected to contain a thesis, that is, this lengthy exposition of evidence and analysis is supposed to contain a core argument. It might be said that the thesis inhabits and animates the dissertation. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems, at least to publishers, that the thesis—the heart of the dissertation—has stopped ticking. Argument gone, all that is left is length.
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