How to Write an Abstract
Four Parts:Getting Your Abstract StartedWriting Your AbstractFormatting Your AbstractSample AbstractsCommunity Q&A
If you need to write an abstract for an academic or scientific paper, don't panic! Your abstract is simply a short, stand-alone summary of the work or paper that others can use as an overview. An abstract describes what you do in your essay, whether it’s a scientific experiment or a literary analysis paper. It should help your reader understand the paper and help people searching for this paper decide whether it suits their purposes prior to reading. To write an abstract, finish your paper first, then type a summary that identifies the purpose, problem, methods, results, and conclusion of your work. After you get the details down, all that's left is to format it correctly. Since an abstract is only a summary of the work you've already done, it's easy to accomplish!
Part 1Getting Your Abstract Started
1Write your paper first. Even though an abstract goes at the beginning of the work, it acts as a summary of your entire paper. Rather than introducing your topic, it will be an overview of everything you write about in your paper. Save writing your abstract for last, after you have already finished your paper.
- A thesis and an abstract are entirely different things. The thesis of a paper introduces the main idea or question, while the abstract works to review the entirety of the paper, including the methods and results.
- Even if you think that you know what your paper is going to be about, always save the abstract for last. You will be able to give a much more accurate summary if you do just that - summarize what you've already written.
2Review and understand any requirements for writing your abstract. The paper you’re writing probably has specific guidelines and requirements, whether it’s for publication in a journal, submission in a class, or part of a work project. Before you start writing, refer to the rubric or guidelines you were presented with to identify important issues to keep in mind.
- Is there a maximum or minimum length?
- Are there style requirements?
- Are you writing for an instructor or a publication?
3Consider your audience. Abstracts are written to help readers find your work. For example, in scientific journals, abstracts allow readers to quickly decide whether the research discussed is relevant to their own interests. Abstracts also help your readers get at your main argument quickly. Keep the needs of your readers in mind as you write the abstract.
- Will other academics in your field read this abstract?
- Should it be accessible to a lay reader or somebody from another field?
4Determine the type of abstract you must write. Although all abstracts accomplish essentially the same goal, there are two primary styles of abstract: descriptive and informative. You may have been assigned a specific style, but if you weren’t, you will have to determine which is right for you. Typically, informative abstracts are used for much longer and technical research while descriptive abstracts are best for shorter papers.
- Descriptive abstracts explain the purpose, goal, and methods of your research but leave out the results section. These are typically only 100-200 words.
- Informative abstracts are like a condensed version of your paper, giving an overview of everything in your research including the results. These are much longer than descriptive abstracts, and can be anywhere from a single paragraph to a whole page long.
- The basic information included in both styles of abstract is the same, with the main difference being that the results are only included in an informative abstract, and an informative abstract is much longer than a descriptive one.
- A critical abstract is not often used, but it may be required in some courses. A critical abstract accomplishes the same goals as the other types of abstract, but will also relate the study or work being discussed to the writer’s own research. It may critique the research design or methods.
Part 2Writing Your Abstract
1Identify your purpose. You're writing about a correlation between lack of lunches in schools and poor grades. So what? Why does this matter? The reader wants to know why your research is important, and what the purpose of it is. Start off your descriptive abstract by considering the following questions:
- Why did you decide to do this study or project?
- How did you conduct your research?
- What did you find?
- Why is this research and your findings important?
- Why should someone read your entire essay?
2Explain the problem at hand. Abstracts state the “problem” behind your work. Think of this as the specific issue that your research or project addresses. You can sometimes combine the problem with your motivation, but it is best to be clear and separate the two.
- What problem is your research trying to better understand or solve?
- What is the scope of your study - a general problem, or something specific?
- What is your main claim or argument?
3Explain your methods. Motivation - check. Problem - check. Methods? Now is the part where you give an overview of how you accomplished your study. If you did your own work, include a description of it here. If you reviewed the work of others, it can be briefly explained.
- Discuss your own research including the variables and your approach.
- Describe the evidence you have to support your claim
- Give an overview of your most important sources.
4Describe your results (informative abstract only). This is where you begin to differentiate your abstract between a descriptive and an informative abstract. In an informative abstract, you will be asked to provide the results of your study. What is it that you found?
- What answer did you reach from your research or study?
- Was your hypothesis or argument supported?
- What are the general findings?
5Give your conclusion. This should finish up your summary and give closure to your abstract. In it, address the meaning of your findings as well as the importance of your overall paper. This format of having a conclusion can be used in both descriptive and informative abstracts, but you will only address the following questions in an informative abstract.
- What are the implications of your work?
- Are your results general or very specific?
Part 3Formatting Your Abstract
1Keep it in order. There are specific questions your abstract must provide answers for, but the answers must be kept in order as well. Ideally, it should mimic the overall format of your essay, with a general ‘introduction, ‘body,’ and ‘conclusion.’
- Many journals have specific style guides for abstracts. If you’ve been given a set of rules or guidelines, follow them to the letter.
2Provide helpful information. Unlike a topic paragraph, which may be intentionally vague, an abstract should provide a helpful explanation of your paper and your research. Word your abstract so that the reader knows exactly what you’re talking about, and isn’t left hanging with ambiguous references or phrases.
- Avoid using direct acronyms or abbreviations in the abstract, as these will need to be explained in order to make sense to the reader. That uses up precious writing room, and should generally be avoided.
- If your topic is about something well-known enough, you can reference the names of people or places that your paper focuses on.
- Don’t include tables, figures, sources, or long quotations in your abstract. These take up too much room and usually aren’t what your readers want from an abstract anyway.
Write it from scratch. Your abstract is a summary, yes, but it should be written completely separate from your paper. Don't copy and paste direct quotes from yourself, and avoid simply paraphrasing your own sentences from elsewhere in your writing. Write your abstract using completely new vocabulary and phrases to keep it interesting and redundancy-free.
4Use key phrases and words. If your abstract is to be published in a journal, you want people to be able to find it easily. In order to do so, readers will search for certain queries on online databases in hopes that papers, like yours, will show up. Try to use 5-10 important words or phrases key to your research in your abstract.
- For example, if you’re writing a paper on the cultural differences in perceptions of schizophrenia, be sure to use words like “schizophrenia,” “cross-cultural,” “culture-bound,” “mental illness,” and “societal acceptance.” These might be search terms people use when looking for a paper on your subject.
Use real information. You want to draw people in with your abstract; it is the hook that will encourage them to continue reading your paper. However, do not reference ideas or studies that you don’t include in your paper in order to do this. Citing material that you don’t use in your work will mislead readers and ultimately lower your viewership.
6Avoid being too specific. An abstract is a summary, and as such should not refer to specific points of your research other than possibly names or locations. You should not need to explain or define any terms in your abstract, a reference is all that is needed. Avoid being too explicit in your summary and stick to a very broad overview of your work.
- Make sure to avoid jargon. This specialized vocabulary may not be understood by general readers in your area and can cause confusion.
Be sure to do basic revisions. The abstract is a piece of writing that, like any other, should be revised before being completed. Check it over for grammatical and spelling errors and make sure it is formatted properly.
8Get feedback from someone. Having someone else read your abstract is a great way for you to know whether you’ve summarized your research well. Try to find someone who doesn’t know everything about your project. Ask him or her to read your abstract and then tell you what s/he understood from it. This will let you know whether you’ve adequately communicated your key points in a clear manner.
- Consulting with your professor, a colleague in your field, or a tutor or writing center consultant can be very helpful. If you have these resources available to you, use them!
- Asking for assistance can also let you know about any conventions in your field. For example, it is very common to use the passive voice (“experiments were performed”) in the sciences. However, in the humanities active voice is usually preferred.
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What is the difference between an abstract and an introduction?
An abstract explains the aim of the paper in very brief, (the methods, results, etc.). In the introduction, you write the background of your topic, explain the purpose of the paper more broadly, and explain the hypothesis, and the research question(s).
Can an abstract be a paper written or a soft copy?
An abstract can either be written, soft copy or any other form with words, it's the content that matters.
Which tense should be used to write an abstract?
In all the description of what you did, a simple past tense is best; since you're describing what you did, neither present nor future would be appropriate.
Should I cite references in my abstract?
How do I calculate the number of words in my abstract?
Your word processing software probably includes a word count feature, consult the documentation. If you're doing it by hand, approximate the number of words per line (very roughly). Then count the number of lines, and multiply it by the number of words per line. It gives a fairly accurate estimate.
Should an abstract be put in the beginning or at the end?
Usually, abstracts are provided at the beginning of the thesis or article. This will help readers to understand the work, and will attract interested readers.
Am I supposed to add the author's name on the informative abstract?
First write down the important points about the author, such as name, date of birth, in which field he/she is involved - then add extra points.
What is the importance of an abstract?
Why must one create an abstract?
An abstract is one of the best tools to help researchers determine if a paper would be useful for them to read or not.
Ask a Question
- Abstracts are typically a paragraph or two and should be no more than 10% of the length of the full essay. Look at other abstracts in similar publications for an idea of how yours should go.
- Consider carefully how technical the paper or the abstract should be. It is often reasonable to assume that your readers have some understanding of your field and the specific language it entails, but anything you can do to make the abstract more easily readable is a good thing.
A research paper is more than a summary of a topic with credible sources, it is an expanded essay that presents a writer’s interpretation and evaluation or argument. The purpose of writing this paper is to analyze a perspective or argue a point thus demonstrating your knowledge, writing and vocabulary skills, and ability to do a great research on a given topic.
Sometimes, your professor may ask for an abstract along with a research paper. Although abstracts are relatively short, many students find them confusing. You also need to write abstracts if your work revolves around carrying out research or other investigative processes. Writing process is easier than you think, keep reading to see how to complete this task. Also, you can find ideas on the topics of a phychology research paper.
What is an abstract?
In order to write one, you have to know what abstracts are exactly. Well, an abstract is defined as a concise summary of a larger project; it describes the content and scope of the project while identifying objective, methodology, findings, and conclusion.
The purpose of an abstract is to summarize the major aspects of a argumentative essay or paper, but it is important to bear in mind they are descriptions of your project, not the topic in general.
Basically, you use abstract to describe what specifically you are doing, not the topic your project is based upon. For example, if your research paper is about the bribe, the abstract is about survey or investigation you carry out about the prevalence of bribe, how people are likely to offer it to someone, do people take bribe etc. In this case, the abstract is not about the bribe itself, its definition, why people do it, and other related things. If you don` know, what the research work should look like - look at the example of a research paper.
Types of abstracts
- Critical abstract – describes main information and findings while providing a comment or judgment about the study’s reliability, validity, and completeness. Here, the researcher evaluates some paper and compares it to other works and papers on the same topic
- Descriptive abstract – only describes the work being summarized without comparing it to other papers on the given subject
- Informative abstract – most common type of abstracts, the researcher explains and presents the main arguments and most important results. While it doesn’t compare one work to others on the same subject, informative abstract includes conclusions of the research and recommendations of the author
- Highlight abstract – written to catch the reader’s attention, rarely used in academic writing
Elements the abstract has to contain
Even though there are different types of abstracts, one thing is in common for all of them – they contain the same elements i.e. four types of information presented to the reader. Before you learn how to write an abstract for a research paper, make sure your abstract should comprise of the following:
Objective or the main rationale of the project introduces readers with the research you carried out. This section accounts for the first few sentences of the abstract and announces the problem you set out to solve or the issue you have explored. The objective can also explain a writer’s motivation for the project.
Once the objective is described, it’s time to move to the next section – methods. Here, a writer explains how he/she decided to solve a problem or explore some issue i.e. methods or steps they used to get the answers. Of course, your approach or methods depend on the topic, your field of expertise, subject etc. For example:
- Hard science or social science – a concise description of the processes used to conduct a research
- Service project – to outline types of services performed and the processes followed
- Humanities project – to identify methodological assumptions or theoretical framework
- Visual or performing arts project – to outline media and processes used to develop the project
In other words, regardless of the field or subject, methods section serves to identify any process you used to reach the results and conclusions.
This section is self-explanatory; your goal is to list the outcomes or results of the research. If the research isn’t complete yet, you can include preliminary results or theory about the potential outcome.
Just like in every other work, the conclusion is the sentence or two wherein you summarize everything you’ve written above. In the abstract, a writer concludes or summarizes the results. When writing the conclusion, think of the question “what do these results mean”, and try to answer it in this section.
NOTE: More extensive research papers can also include a brief introduction before objective section. The introduction features one-two sentences that act as a basis or foundation for the objective. A vast majority of abstracts simply skip this section.
Abstract should not contain
A common mistake regarding abstracts is writing them the same way you would write the rest of a research paper. Besides some elements that your abstract has to contain, there are some things you should avoid. They are:
- Fluff, abstracts should be relatively short, no need to pump up the word volume
- Images, illustration figures, tables
- Incomplete sentences
- Lengthy background information, that’s what research paper is for, abstracts should be concise
- New information that is not present in the research paper
- Phrases like “current research shows” or “studies confirm”
- Terms that reader might find confusing
- Unnecessary details that do not contribute to the overall intention of the abstract
Writing the abstract
Now that you know what the abstract is, elements it should contain and what to avoid, you are ready to start writing. The first thing to bear in mind is that your abstract doesn’t need a certain “flow”. Keep in mind that abstract should be precise and concise, you don’t need to worry about making it seem bigger. Ideally, you should focus on introducing facts and making sure a reader will get the clear picture of the topic presented through your research paper. Follow these steps to create a strong, high-quality abstract.
Start writing the abstract only when you complete the research paper. By the time you finish the essay writing process, you will know what to use in abstract to perfectly describe your work. Choosing to write an abstract first is highly impractical, takes ages, and it doesn’t represent the research paper adequately.
For your objective and conclusion sections, you can use the most important information from introduction and conclusion section of the research paper. Rather than wasting your time on trying to figure out what to include, just use the important premises and summarize them into one-two sentences in the abstract.
While researching or carrying out surveys for your paper, write down everything you do. Use these notes to create methods sections for the abstract. This particular section just has to inform a reader about the process you implemented to find the answers from the objective. No need to introduce unnecessary information.
Make sure the abstract answers these questions:
What is the purpose of this research?
How was the research conducted? How did I get my answers?
What answers did I get?
What do these results mean?
When the abstract is complete, read everything you have written from top to bottom. Then, eliminate all extra information in order to keep it as concise as possible.
Read the abstract thoroughly again. Make sure there is the consistency of information presented in the abstract and in the research paper. Basically, information included in both abstract and research paper shouldn’t be different. After all, the abstract is a summary or a short description of the research paper itself. This is why you shouldn’t introduce new details into abstract as well.
Once you ensure the abstract contains only relevant information and describes the research paper concisely, read it again. This time, you should look for grammar and spelling mistakes, punctuation, sentence structures, and tense consistency. Never submit the abstract (and research paper or any other type of work) without proofreading and editing first.
At this point, your research paper and abstract are error-free, complete, and ready for you to send them to your professor or client.
Don’t forget to…
- Vary sentence structures to avoid choppiness. Don’t include too many long sentences one after another and avoid doing the same with short sentences as well. Mixture of longer and shorter sentences work the best
- To avoid adding too many long sentences, just break them up into shorter structures
- Use active voice whenever possible. Also, ask your professor whether it is okay to use passive voice when necessary. Every professor has his/her criteria, asking is a great way to avoid mistakes
- Use past tense to describe the work you have already done
- Read the abstract aloud or to someone else in order to make sure the content is readable and easy to understand
The research paper is a common assignment in college education, and beyond. Writing these papers usually involves creating an abstract, a brief summary or description of the subject or argument you discussed throughout the paper. Abstracts are a major source of concern for many students, but they are incredibly easy to write when you’re familiar with the steps. As seen throughout this post, the ideal way to write an abstract is to keep it concise without pumping up word count with unnecessary information. If you don`t know what about you can write - look at different research paper topics! Now you’re ready to start writing the abstracts for research papers, good luck. Don't forget to see another guide about abstract research paper!