Literature Review Dissertation Abstract Examples

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The Abstract as a Genre: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


Dr. Morillo

I Professional Abstracts: Good


Blue = situation via knowledge of Victorian period

Green = method

Red = thesis

Purple = larger consequence(s) for knowledge in the field

Vrettos, Athena. "Displaced Memories in Victorian Fiction and

Psychology."Victorian Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of

Social, Political, and Cultural Studies 49.2 (2007): 199-207. Print.

In late-Victorian literature and psychology, memories were frequently

thought to transgress mental boundaries, drifting from one mind to

another or assuming a spectral existence. Objects with powerful - and

often traumatic - associations acted as an especially potent conduit

by which memories could pass between people who were distant in time

and space. Examining literary, psychological, and parapsychological

writings by Thomas Hardy, Arthur Conan Doyle, George Henry Lewes,

Samuel Butler, and F. W. H. Myers, this essay argues that these works

provide a distinctive set of narratives about the potential

displacement and uncertain ownership of memory. By offering a range of

speculations about how emotions, memories, and experiences adhere to

the material world, such narratives dramatize the permeability

increasingly attributed to memory, consciousness, and individual

identity at the end of the Victorian period.

Remarks: Very clearly meets the main rhetorical requirements of an abstract: proposes a thesis, situates it in some ongoing scholarly issues, makes its method clear, and answers the ‘so what?’ concern with a conclusion about consequences.


Blue = situation via state of knowledge in the field

Red = Statement of problem

Green = method

Purple = thesis

Knapp, James A. “’Ocular Proof’: Archival Revelations and Aesthetic Response.”

Poetics Today 24.4 (2003): 695-727. Print.

A new materialism in literary and cultural criticism has regrounded much scholarly debate in the archive as a corrective to ahistorical theorizing. Often, in granting archival discoveries the evidentiary status of fact, historical criticism fails to attend to the difficulties surrounding the mediation of historical understanding by material things. In order to get at the thorny issues surrounding the material as an authorizing category in cultural analysis, I focus on Shakespeare's well-known literary meditation on visual proof (and visual perception) in Othello. Reemphasizing the problems that nag materialist epistemologies, I examine the role of material (ocular) proof in Othello, in the form of the much discussed handkerchief. Drawing on Maurice Merleau-Ponty's ontology of perception,I argue that Othello provides a parable about the disaster of confusing the objecthood of things with the stories we tell about them. I conclude that as cultural history moves into its next phase - beyond the return to the archive - it must respond to the phenomenological challenge and avoid the temptation to stop with either thing or theory, always working to occupy the space between.

Remarks: very clear structure via rhetorical stages, plus thesis shows how smart, sophisticated ideas don’t require long fancy words

II. Dissertation Abstract: Good

Blue = situation via knowledge of Victorian period

Green = method

Red = thesis

Purple = larger consequence(s) for knowledge in the field

Rogers, Andrew Ronald Mansell. “The Veteran Who Is, the Boy Who Is No More: The Casualty of Identity in War Fiction.” Diss.The University of Alabama, 2007.ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 2007. 3270505.

Abstract (summary)

The statement that any profound experience permanently changes anyone who undergoes it is hardly worthy of study, yet this statement is the subject of this dissertation. The experience of combat does more than simply change a person, which implies that the person is still intact but has experiences that alter the psyche in certain ways: war changes the fundamental person, it destroys who they were. This understanding is crucial to critically interpret many literary texts about characters who have returned home from extended stays in combat.

Beginning with Ernest Hemingway's "Soldier's Home", this dissertation will examine two stories by Hemingway, "Soldier's Home" and "A Way You'll Never Be", and how Hemingway wrote of Harold Krebs and Nick Adams as characters who have survived combat, but have paradoxically lost themselves completely in the process of surviving. The next work to be examined will be Henry Green's Back and Charley Summers' inability to exist psychically back home after his return from a German prisoner of war camp in World War II. The Great Gatsby will follow with a reexamination of Gatsby's combat experiences and the role they play in the novel, and the final chapter will deal with J.D. Salinger's war experience and subsequent nervous breakdown and how they inform The Catcher in the Rye.

Understanding the effects of war is crucial to any Humanities discipline, and the purpose of this dissertation is to examine these effects in literary texts.

Remarks: Strong clarity, voice and consequence. Would benefit by adding situation.

Blue = situation via knowledge of Victorian period

Green = method

Red = thesis

Purple = larger consequence(s) for knowledge in the field

Bousquet, Ludovic Jean. "Michel Houellebecq: The Meaning of the Fright."

Diss. U of California, Santa Barbara, 2007.DAI-A 68.12 (2008): item

AAT 3295329. Print.

Michel Houellebecq's work depicts an absolute failure. This artistic and

philosophic weakness minors our own mediocrity, our pusillanimity, our

lack of spiritual ambition. This failure is better understood through

the study of disenchantment : that is the feeling of living in a

mechanistic immanent universe that overwhelms his characters otherwise

hungry for transcendence. To this disenchantment of the world, answers

Houellebecq's ‘désenchantisme’.This dissertation analyzes the peculiar

ideology that is désenchantisme, an accepted failure used as a

strategy for survival in the novels. But if désenchantisme underlines

all the ills of the contemporary societies (materialism, consumerism,

spiritual slackness, hedonism, surrender to crude pleasures and

addictives behaviors), it's never complacent. Through close textual

analysis from Gauchet to Weber, Sartre and Sennett, I demonstrate that

on the contrary, self-hatred is paradoxically a positive sign: there is

indeed a moral judgment behind it, a need for justice. The self hating

houellebecquian hero despises himself for not being what he knows he

should be. He is an idealist in spite of all, guided by an unshakable

image of self transcendence.

Remarks: a grabber first sentence, like a hook in a song. Strong vocabulary in second sentence.The the subsequent idea of using failure as a strategy for survival intrigues. The fact that the key term is French means that will necessarily exclude some readers, hence a dicey choice beyond the university. Again, consequence could be explicit.

III Abstracts with Problems


---.“‘The Lord of the Rings’ and the emerging generation:

A Study of The Message and Medium. J. R. R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson.”

Diss. Drew U, 2009. DAIA 70.6 (2009): item AAT3364843. Print.

Throughout the ages, the communication of Christian truth has been the

domain of preachers and poets, musicians and theologians, authors and

dramatists, each seeking means by which to engage others in the truth that

has captivated and transformed their lives. From direct proposition to

allegorical representation, such effective communicators as Dwight L. Moody

and C. S. Lewis have confronted their culture with Christian truth in

response to Jesus' command to "go and make disciples". J. R. R.

Tolkien employed myth as his vehicle of expression, creating

The Lord of the Rings (LOTR ) with no overt religious symbol or act, yet

weaving his Roman Catholic Christian worldview into the very fabric of his

characters and their journeys. Tolkien described his work as a

"fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously at first, but

consciously in the revision, with religious element absorbed into the

story." He discovered that myth allows the reader opportunity to explore

the realities of life within the safety of an imagined world and its


Tolkien's fantasy of Middle Earth and her people has captured the heart

and mind of generations since its publication in 1954, offering glimpses

into the truth that defined Tolkien's life and worldview. This 20th- century

work found new expression and an even broader audience in Peter Jackson's 21

st century cinematic interpretation LOTR. Together, Tolkien's myth and

Jackson's cinematic portrayal of that myth have successfully captured the

attention of the emerging generation. A study of both narrative and

cinematic mediums along with the clarity of the message conveyed will allow

an opportunity to consider the larger question of what medium and what

message impacts the emerging post-modern generation. This dissertation will

explore the effectiveness of Tolkien's myth and Jackson's cinematic

interpretation of that myth in communicating truth, seeking insights into

effective means of the communication of Christian truth in a post-Christian


Remarks: the two paragraphs offer two different introductions to the same topic. The key idea of the first paragraph is abandoned until the end of the second, making a weak transition and leaving no room to argue for and develop the better idea at the end about Christian tactics in a post-Christian world.


Khost, Peter H. “Pioneering the Profession: Crises in English Studies and the

Nontenured PhD.”Diss. City U of New York, 2010. Print.


This dissertation addresses contemporary nontenured PhDs in English, who face a number of disciplinary crises: (1) tenure is steadily declining, (2) it's increasingly difficult to publish, (3) the general relevancy of the field has become dubious, and (4) the number of English majors is shrinking. This confluence of crises makes competition for fewer jobs fiercer and begs the question of what the backlog of nontenured English PhDs will produce as scholarship, and how and why they will do this. The growing number of individuals in this position is just as qualified as their tenured colleagues are to do legitimate scholarship, but if tenure is not likely or not possible for them, then their motivation and means to do scholarship may likely be quite different. So, then, might their methods be different.

Remarks: detailed statement of problem but weak and tentative about any solution


Pender, Matea. “Addressing the Needs of Racially/Culturally Diverse Student

Populations in Higher Education: an Analysis of Educational Practices for

Disadvantaged Youth.”Diss. U of Maryland, 2010. Print.


The recent growth in the racial and cultural heterogeneity of college students in the United States has increased the demand for higher educational policies that will accommodate the needs of an increasingly diverse collective student body (Kao & Thompson, 2003). Traditionally, underrepresented minority students (i.e., African American, Hispanic and American Indian) persist in colleges at a lower rate compared to non-Hispanic, white and Asian students.

There is evidence that minority students fail to persist because of limited or unsuccessful attempts by postsecondary institutions to help improve academic and social integration of these students in colleges (Seymour & Hewitt, 1997; Maton, Hrabowski & Schmitt, 2004; Summers & Hrabowski, 2006). In addition, many students receive inadequate family and financial support because their parents lack college education. Finally, Hispanics who are currently the largest minority group in the U.S., are more likely to be immigrants. Hispanic immigrants are one of the most vulnerable racial/ethnic groups with the lowest levels of academic success (Passel, 2005).

In my dissertation, I analyze three educational strategies adopted by higher education institutions with the goal of improving educational outcomes for the most vulnerable groups such as first-generation, minority and immigrant students. In the first essay, I explore the importance of financial aid for students whose parents have low levels of education. I find that the availability of federally funded need-based aid lowers attrition rates of first-generation college students.

Second, I explore the significance of undergraduate research opportunities for minority students in science fields. My results indicate that summer research opportunities obtained at academic and government sites increase participation of underrepresented minority students in science Ph.D. programs.

Finally, in my third essay, I address the impact of changes in tuition prices on the educational outcomes of college students who are not U.S. citizens at two universities in Texas and find some evidence that the reduction in tuition costs improves college affordability for these students.

Remarks: good example of how to include citation in an abstract, just name and date. Ideas here seem pretty obvious but the writing is very clear at the sentence level.


---. “Tenure and Its Denial: Facing the Winter Years and Beyond.”

College Literature 33.2 (2006): 70-83. Print.


The details that one recalls at the time of dramatic and, indeed, traumatic events in one's life remain indelibly marked and may create difficulties in pursuing the regular course of work and private pursuits. The author reflects on the events the denial of tenure, how he faced this crisis, and how his preparation in research and teaching provided him a basis upon which to overcome the 'winter years' of this difficult period and move on with his career.


Ouch. Lots of psychodrama, angst, bile, but no real thesis.


---. “Theories and Expectations: On Conceiving Composition and

Rhetoric as a Discipline.”College English 41.1 (1979): 47-56. Print.

Composition studies are investigated. Composition & rhetoric are not one

discipline, but comprised of many related disciplines & activities. Studies

on composition should be done in a wide spectrum by rhetoricians, linguists,

psychologists, & literary critics. Typical new composition specialists try

to assimilate too much information, & thus are unable to control the vast

material. Composition theory & pedagogy are distinctly different, & require

different approaches. Teachers & curriculum designers ought to be provided

with proper training, emphasizing the pedagogical side of composition study,

yet balance & communication should be established between instructors &



Claims much too general. Looks like the “you’ve got to read the whole article to get any real content” approach to abstracts, not a recommended one.


---. “Whitman as Social Theorist: Worker in Poetics and Politics.” Walt Whitman Review 16 (1970): 41-45. Print.

Poetry (an artistic and idealistic demeanor not ignorant of feeling and its place in the world of knowing) and power (a demeanor of legitimated aggression) are apparently strangers. But in the person and poetry of Whitmanthere is to be found poetics and politics in a creative tension such that they stand as handmaidens illuminating each other. Whitmanthe man is politician enough to be a government bureaucrat; he is poet enough to cry for justice and love and brotherliness in a human condition dominated by power-managers. Whitmanis defiant in his lyric celebration of the individual as a highest social value. With the social behaviorist school in social theory and with a voice like Camus which affirms the individual as more important than any political abstraction, Whitmanidentifies the lone personality as of infinite value. Not one to ignore wider issues, Whitmancelebrates the role of diversity and the common man unsupervised as a crucial element in change. The American character for Whitmanis that which frees the individual for his own self-realization. Both ideologically conservative and liberal, Whitmancalls for social harmony and individuality: he knows there can be no society at all without legitimated power; he knows, too, the awful risks of power. It is the source of much profound in Whitmanthat his temperament was both tragic and liberal, both poetic and political. For in the end Whitmanknows that turbulences are native to the human condition and that to live is to choose directions within them.


Poor sentence structure. Huge long subjects, delayed verb, and then the verb is weak. Bad information flow, with old information preceding new.

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