Do Abstracts Have Citations? A Helpful Guide

Do abstracts have citations? As a general rule, they do not, but read on to learn what you need to know about writing this part of your paper.

Abstracts are concise summaries of a larger research paper or project. They provide the paper’s author or authors with a piece they can use to market their project to publishers. Most of the time, writers will write the abstract after completing the entire piece. Do abstracts have citations? This is an important question that writers must answer before finalizing their papers and writing the abstract.

Do Abstracts Have Citations?

Whenever possible, abstracts should not have citations. These self-contained parts of your paper need to focus on your original research. They summarize your theory or findings, and they should not require the reference of other sources to make sense to the reader.

That said, there are a few times when you will need to reference another source in your abstract. For example, if your research is directly related to other research from one single source, you would want to reference that source in your own abstract. However, as a general rule, you will not add citations to your abstract.

The Purpose of the Abstract

Do abstracts have citations?
Abstracts are commonly used in dissertations and research papers

An abstract is a summary of your paper. These are commonly used in dissertations and research papers, giving the reader a glance at what they can expect to read when they get into the deeper parts of the paper. The abstract will include four essential parts:

  • The problem you are researching or the objectives of your research
  • The methods used
  • The key findings or arguments from your research
  • Your conclusion

In addition, for online publications, you may add a list of keywords at the end of the abstract. This list will help readers locate your paper when performing their research later.

The abstract will be between 150 and 300 words, on average. If your school or publication platform has a specific word count limit, be sure to check that before writing the abstract. Abstracts should be entirely self-contained. They need to be fully understood without the need to reference any additional paper or resource.

Citations in the Abstract

The abstract is a summary of your research methods and results. It does not include the research you did from outside sources to come to your resulting conclusion. Thus, it usually will not contain citations.

There are several reasons why citations are excluded from the abstract. First, the abstract has a limited word count, and in that word count, you must showcase what you researched and learned in the project. There is no room to look at the ideas of others. Also, adding citations will eat up some of the word count. Finally, since you are limited in how long the abstract can be, you must be cautious about adding unnecessary words.

Second, the abstract needs to feature what new information you are bringing to the field. Thus, you will not need to cite outside sources. Instead, you will have the rest of the paper to delve into your research and cite your sources.

The rare occasion when an abstract would need a citation is if the entire piece is dedicated to researching and evaluating another author’s work. For example, if a scientific study is based on the work of a previous scientific study, the abstract may need to cite the first study. However, this situation is rare, so you will avoid citations in the abstract as a general rule.

When Writing an Abstract Is Necessary

Most of the time, you will write an abstract when tackling a significant research project, such as a thesis or dissertation. You will also need one to submit your piece to any academic journal or similar publication.

The abstract tells the publisher and the reader about your sources and research. This official summary may get published online to help people decide if they want to purchase the research paper or article. It may also assist publishers in deciding if the research is valid enough to publish in their journals and publications.

If you are writing for a school project, your instructor will tell you whether or not your paper requires an abstract. If it does, you can feel confident leaving citations out of it because they are rarely part of this research paper component. To learn more, check out our guide on how to write a great introduction for an essay!

In the below video, I also cover how you can generate citations quickly and easily for MLA, Chicago Manual of Style and APA using Grammarly.

YouTube video


  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.