How to Write an Abstract (with Examples)

Types of abstracts

An abstract is like a movie trailer. It offers a preview, highlights key points, and helps the audience decide whether to view the entire work. Abstracts are the pivot of a research paper because many journal editorial boards screen manuscripts only on the basis of the abstract.

If your abstract doesn’t grab their attention and make a good first impression, there’s a good chance your research paper will be rejected at the outset. Moreover, even after your research paper is published, your abstract will be the first, and possibly only, thing readers will access through electronic searches. They will only consider reading the rest of the manuscript if they find your abstract interesting.

For studies in the humanities and social sciences, the abstract is typically descriptive. That is, it describes the topic of research and its findings but usually doesn’t give specific information about methods and results. These abstracts may also be seen in review articles or conference proceedings. In scientific writing, on the other hand, abstracts are usually structured to describe the background, methods, results, and conclusions, with or without subheadings.

Now how do you go about fitting the essential points from your entire paper— why the research was conducted, what the aims were, how these were met, and what the main findings were—into a paragraph of just 200-300 words? It’s not an easy task, but here’s a 10-step guide that should make it easier:

  1. Begin writing the abstract after you have finished writing your paper.
  2. Pick out the major objectives/hypotheses and conclusions from your Introduction and Conclusion sections.
  3. Select key sentences and phrases from your Methods section.
  4. Identify the major results from your Results section.
  5. Now, arrange the sentences and phrases selected in steps 2, 3, and 4 into a single paragraph in the following sequence: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Conclusions.
  6. Make sure that this paragraph does not contain
    • new information that is not present in the paper
    • undefined abbreviations or group names
    • a discussion of previous literature or reference citations
    • unnecessary details about the methods used
  7. Remove all extra information (see step 6) and then link your sentences to ensure that the information flows well, preferably in the following order: purpose; basic study design, methodology and techniques used; major findings; summary of your interpretations, conclusions, and implications.
  8. Confirm that there is consistency between the information presented in the abstract and in the paper.
  9. Ask a colleague to review your abstract and check if the purpose, aim, methods, and conclusions of the study are clearly stated.
  10. Check to see if the final abstract meets the guidelines of the target journal (word limit, type of abstract, recommended subheadings, etc.).

Now revisit your abstract with these steps in mind, and I’m sure you’ll be able to revise it and make it more attractive. Another thing you can do is go back to some of the most interesting papers you have read during your literature review. Don’t be surprised if you find that they also happen to have some of the best abstracts you’ve seen!

For a quick 3-minute summary of this article, check out this video: 

I.  Types of Abstracts

To begin, you need to determine which type of abstract you should include with your paper. There are four general types.

Critical Abstract
A critical abstract provides, in addition to describing main findings and information, a judgment or comment about the study’s validity, reliability, or completeness. The researcher evaluates the paper and often compares it with other works on the same subject. Critical abstracts are generally 400-500 words in length due to the additional interpretive commentary. These types of abstracts are used infrequently.

Descriptive Abstract
A descriptive abstract indicates the type of information found in the work. It makes no judgments about the work, nor does it provide results or conclusions of the research. It does incorporate key words found in the text and may include the purpose, methods, and scope of the research. Essentially, the descriptive abstract only describes the work being summarized. Some researchers consider it an outline of the work, rather than a summary. Descriptive abstracts are usually very short, 100 words or less.

Informative Abstract
The majority of abstracts are informative. While they still do not critique or evaluate a work, they do more than describe it. A good informative abstract acts as a surrogate for the work itself. That is, the researcher presents and explains all the main arguments and the important results and evidence in the paper. An informative abstract includes the information that can be found in a descriptive abstract [purpose, methods, scope] but it also includes the results and conclusions of the research and the recommendations of the author. The length varies according to discipline, but an informative abstract is usually no more than 300 words in length.

Highlight Abstract
A highlight abstract is specifically written to attract the reader’s attention to the study. No pretense is made of there being either a balanced or complete picture of the paper and, in fact, incomplete and leading remarks may be used to spark the reader’s interest. In that a highlight abstract cannot stand independent of its associated article, it is not a true abstract and, therefore, rarely used in academic writing.


II.  Writing Style

Use the active voice when possible, but note that much of your abstract may require passive sentence constructions. Regardless, write your abstract using concise, but complete, sentences. Get to the point quickly and always use the past tense because you are reporting on a study that has been completed.

Formatting

Abstracts should be formatted as a single paragraph in a block format and with no paragraph indentations. In most cases, the abstract page immediately follows the title page. Do not number the page. Rules set forth in writing manual vary but, in general, you should center the word «Abstract» at the top of the page with double spacing between the heading and the abstract. The final sentences of an abstract concisely summarize your study’s conclusions, implications, or applications to practice and, if appropriate, can be followed by a statement about the need for additional research revealed from the findings.

Composing Your Abstract

Although it is the first section of your paper, the abstract should be written last since it will summarize the contents of your entire paper. A good strategy to begin composing your abstract is to take whole sentences or key phrases from each section of the paper and put them in a sequence that summarizes the contents. Then revise or add connecting phrases or words to make the narrative flow clearly and smoothly. Note that statistical findings should be reported parenthetically [i.e., written in parentheses].

Before handing in your final paper, check to make sure that the information in the abstract completely agrees with what you have written in the paper. Think of the abstract as a sequential set of complete sentences describing the most crucial information using the fewest necessary words.

The abstract SHOULD NOT contain:

  • Lengthy background or contextual information,
  • Redundant phrases, unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, and repetitive information;
  • Acronyms or abbreviations,
  • References to other literature [say something like, «current research shows that…» or «studies have indicated…»],
  • Using ellipticals [i.e., ending with «…»] or incomplete sentences,
  • Jargon or terms that may be confusing to the reader,
  • Citations to other works, and
  • Any sort of image, illustration, figure, or table, or references to them.

Abstract. Writing Center. University of Kansas; Abstract. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College; Abstracts. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Borko, Harold and Seymour Chatman. «Criteria for Acceptable Abstracts: A Survey of Abstracters’ Instructions.» American Documentation 14 (April 1963): 149-160; Abstracts. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Hartley, James and Lucy Betts. «Common Weaknesses in Traditional Abstracts in hte Social Sciences.» Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 60 (October 2009): 2010-2018; Procter, Margaret. The Abstract. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Riordan, Laura. “Mastering the Art of Abstracts.” The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 115 (January 2015 ): 41-47; Writing Report Abstracts. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Abstracts. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Koltay, Tibor. Abstracts and Abstracting: A Genre and Set of Skills for the Twenty-First Century. Oxford, UK: 2010

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.

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