How To Write an Abstract

If you are looking for a way to summarize a research paper, didn't need to learn how to write an abstract. Learn more below!

Whether you work in the hard sciences, the social sciences, or the humanities, you may be asked to conduct a literature review from time to time. The first thing you will notice at the top of the paper is the abstract. Even though it may look like it has been written with the word limit in mind, this is one of the most important parts of the paper.

An APA abstract (American Psychological Association) does have some formatting to it, but an abstract is a concise summary that provides background information that directly pertains to your entire paper. While there are multiple types of abstracts, including a descriptive abstract and an informative abstract, they should contain the key points and main argument of your paper.

While the structure of an abstract can vary from discipline to discipline, it should contain key information from the first line. Learn more about how to write an abstract below!

The Difference Between an Abstract and a Summary

Your abstract should include the main point of your scientific paper along with your methodology and research methods. Even though this is frequently seen as a short summary of the rest of the paper, there are a few differences between an abstract and a summary. 

Some of the key differences between an abstract and a summary include: 

  • Even though all abstracts are types of summaries, not all summaries are abstracts.
  • An abstract is usually located at the top of the page with the rest of the paper, while other summaries are not necessarily tied to the paper itself.
  • Writing abstracts usually means following in a certain formula that includes the purpose of your paper, the methods used, the results, and the conclusions. A summary does not necessarily have a tight structure to it.
  • A structured abstract is often written in passive voice because it is used in scientific journals and publication manuals, while other summaries are not usually written this way.

These are a few of the main differences between an abstract and a summary. Even though an abstract is a type of summary on the title page, not all summaries are considered abstracts. 

How To Write an Abstract Step by Step

When you are writing a research paper, a dissertation, or a thesis, there is a good chance you will have to submit an abstract to an academic journal. In general, the abstract should be the last step of your research project.

You will not be able to write the abstract until you have collected and analyzed the results. Otherwise, you will have a difficult time trying conclusions from an unfinished project.

In general, the abstract you right should imitate the rest of your paper, just on a smaller scale. This means that all the important elements of your paper need to be summarized in the abstract. It is best to think of your abstract as a watered-down version of your research paper. 

If you want to write a strong abstract, there are several steps you should follow. These include: 

1. Start With The Aims And Goals Of The Research Paper

In the first sentence of your abstract, you should Define the purpose of your research paper. What is the question you are trying to answer? Why are you conducting this project?

In the abstract, you may want to include a sentence or two to give context to the rest of your paper; however, you should not go into the detailed background information related to your project. This is reserved for the introduction of your research paper.

After you identify the problem you are trying to answer, clearly define the objective of your research. You may want to use verbs to describe what you set out to do 

When you write your abstract, you should use present tense or past tense. You should not use future tense because you have already finished your project. Otherwise, you would not be writing your abstract. 

2. Write the Methods Used in the Research Paper

Next, you need to clearly specify the methods you used in your research project. This needs to be a straightforward description using only one or two sentences. It should also be written in the past or present tense.

In your abstract, you should not evaluate the validity of your methods. You also should not cover any obstacles you had to overcome. This is reserved for the body of your research paper. Instead, your goal is to let the reader know exactly how you collected the data you present in your paper. If you want to provide context to the data, you should do so in the body of the paper. 

3. Summarize the Results of the Paper

After this, you need to summarize the information you gathered. This part of your abstract should also be written using the past tense or present tense.

Keep in mind that research papers can vary widely in the type of data they collect. Therefore, you may have too much data to include specific numbers in your abstract. You may only be able to specify sweeping generalizations of the data.

On the other hand, if the research paper only selected one data set, then you may be able to include the exact numbers in the abstract. This is a stylistic point, and you need to think carefully about whether you want to include the hard numbers in the abstract. You may want to write the rest of the abstract first and then consider including or omitting the numbers when you proofread. 

4. Draw Conclusions from Your Work

Finally, you should State the main conclusion you are drawing from your research paper. Did you accept your hypothesis? Did you reject your hypothesis? Why do you think your research data supports the conclusion you have stated?

If there are limitations to the conclusion you can draw, you may want to state them briefly in the abstract. You do not want to dedicate more than one or two sentences to these limitations because you are probably going to cover them in greater detail in the body of the paper. 

Examples of Strong Abstracts

If you want to write a strong abstract, there are several tips you should follow. These include:

  • Always write the rest of the research paper before you write the abstract. This will help you figure out which points you want to include.
  • Always write your abstract in the past tense or present tense. For example, stay away from “in this study, we will…” and go with “in this project, we studied…”
  • Stay away from providing too much background information in the abstract. If you are including dates and other authors in the abstract, you have gone too far.
  • Brevity, self-sufficiency, and accuracy are important components of a strong abstract. Avoid being too wordy or you could lose the reader.

It takes a lot of practice to write a strong abstract. For example, you may want to take a look at a few examples of strong abstracts here. Remember that you do not necessarily have to include hard numbers in your abstract if there are too many of them. Think carefully about how wordy your abstract might be if you include all the numbers.

Final Word on How To Write an Abstract

If you want to write a strong research paper, you need to learn how to write an outstanding abstract. There is never a second chance to make a first impression, and the first impression people are going to have of your research paper will be reflected by your abstract. Your abstract needs to convey the main points of your research paper in an objective, unbiased manner.

It might even be helpful to write multiple abstracts using different templates for the same research paper. Then, you can think about which abstract most accurately reflects the results of your work. Do not hesitate to reach out to a professional who might be able to help you tweak your abstract. 

FAQs About How To Write an Abstract

What is the first step in writing a strong abstract? 

The first sentence of your abstract should clearly state the purpose of your research paper. What is the problem you are trying to solve, and why do you think the problem is worth solving? 

How long should your abstract be? 

There is no set length for an abstract, but you do want to avoid being too wordy. If you are submitting a research paper for an academic class, you should try to keep it to approximately 150 words. If you are submitting your abstract of a research journal, it is okay for your abstract to be longer or shorter than this.

Scroll to Top