How to write a scholarly abstract

An abstract is a synopsis of the most important information presented in a report. A good abstract helps the reader to decide whether to read all or parts of a report. The abstract in a scientific report is a brief account of the purpose of the work being reported, methods achieved, results obtained and conclusions reached. The summary and conclusions section of the report provides the source material for the abstract. The abstract should be suitable for publication separate from the entire report.

Step 1

Read the entire report. Focus on the significant scientific findings and conclusions discussed in the report. A well-composed abstract is a concise summary of the report.

Step 2

Write a strong topic sentence by putting the news at the forefront. State the reason for and the objective of the scientific research being done. Provoke the reader’s interest.

Step 3

Spell out the type and methods of research. Inform the reader whether the scientific study is a preliminary or comprehensive assessment, a historical compilation, a progress report, or original research that is of local, regional, or national interest. Reiterate any methods used as a result of the research, if applicable.

Step 4

State the findings and results. Touch on all principal findings that appear in the body of the report. Be informative rather than figurative. State what the report tells and not what the report is about. Report the results or findings in order of decreasing importance. Emphasize key words that reflect the report title and the major body headings in the report.

Step 5

Write concluding statements. Briefly draw together any conclusions reached as a result of the findings described in the body of the report. Conclusions should be as specific as possible, with no more than a sentence or two needed.

Step 6

Review, revise and prepare the final abstract. Ensure that the final abstract is a concise summary of the entire report. Preparation of a good abstract—one that summarizes the important content of the scientific report and nothing more—deserves as much pondering, rewriting and perfecting as any other section of the report.

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.

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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.

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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

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.

Methods

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.

Results

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.

Conclusion

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:

  • Abbreviations
  • Fluff, abstracts should be relatively short, no need to pump up the word volume
  • Images, illustration figures, tables
  • Incomplete sentences
  • Jargon
  • 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”
  • References
  • Slang
  • 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.

An abstract is a 150- to 250-word paragraph that provides readers with a quick overview of your essay or report and its organization. It should express your thesis (or central idea) and your key points; it should also suggest any implications or applications of the research you discuss in the paper.

According to Carole Slade, an abstract is “a concise summary of the entire paper.”

The function of an abstract is to describe, not to evaluate or defend, the paper.

The abstract should begin with a brief but precise statement of the problem or issue, followed by a description of the research method and design, the major findings, and the conclusions reached.

The abstract should contain the most important key words referring to method and content: these facilitate access to the abstract by computer search and enable a reader to decide whether to read the entire dissertation.

Note: Your abstract should read like an overview of your paper, not a proposal for what you intended to study or accomplish. Avoid beginning your sentences with phrases like, “This essay will examine. ” or “In this research paper I will attempt to prove. ”

Bad abstract:

This paper will look at the human genome project and its goals. I will prove that scientists have ethical and moral questions about genetic engineering because of this project.

Good abstract:

Begun in 1988, the human genome project intends to map the 23 chromosomes that provide the blueprint for the human species. The project has both scientific and ethical goals. The scientific goals underscore the advantages of the genome project, including identifying and curing diseases and enabling people to select the traits of their offspring, among other opportunities. Ethically, however, the project raises serious questions about the morality of genetic engineering. To handle both the medical opportunities and ethical dilemmas posed by the genome project, scientists need to develop a clear set of principles for genetic engineering and to continue educating the public about the genome project.

(The examples above are taken from Form and Style (10th ed.), by Carole Slade; The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers (5th ed.); and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.).)

Note: The following are specifications for an abstract in APA style, used in the social sciences, such as psychology or anthropology. If you are in another discipline, check with your professor about the format for the abstract.

Writing an Abstract for an IMRaD Paper

Many papers in the social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering sciences follow IMRaD structure: their main sections are entitled Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. People use the abstract to decide whether to read the rest of the paper, so the abstract for such a paper is important.

Because the abstract provides the highlights of the paper, you should draft your abstract after you have written a full draft of the paper. Doing so, you can summarize what you’ve already written in the paper as you compose the abstract.

Typically, an abstract for an IMRaD paper or presentation is one or two paragraphs long (120 – 500 words). Abstracts usually spend

25% of their space on the purpose and importance of the research (Introduction)

Published on February 28, 2019 by Shona McCombes. Revised on May 20, 2021.

An abstract is a short summary of a longer work (such as a dissertation or research paper). The abstract concisely reports the aims and outcomes of your research so that readers know exactly what the paper is about.

Write the abstract at the very end, when you’ve completed the rest of the text. There are four things you need to include:

  1. Your research problem and objectives
  2. Your methods
  3. Your key results or arguments
  4. Your conclusion

An abstract is usually around 150–300 words, but there’s often a strict word limit, so make sure to check the requirements of the university or journal.

In a dissertation or thesis, include the abstract on a separate page, after the title page and acknowledgements but before the table of contents.

Table of contents

  1. Abstract example
  2. When to write an abstract
  3. Aims
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusion
  7. Keywords
  8. Tips for writing an abstract
  9. Frequently asked questions about abstracts

Abstract example

Hover over the different parts of the abstract to see how it is constructed.

Example of an abstract

UK environmental organizations currently face a significant funding gap. It is well-established that representations of individual victims are more effective than abstract concepts like climate change when designing fundraising campaigns. This study aims to determine how such representations can be better targeted in order to increase donations. Specifically, it investigates whether the perceived social distance between victims and potential donors has an impact on donation intention. In this context, social distance is defined as the extent to which people feel they are in the same social group (in-group) or another social group (out-group) in relation to climate change victims.

To test the hypothesis that smaller social distance leads to higher donation intention , an online survey was distributed to potential donors based across the UK. Respondents were randomly divided into two conditions (large and small social distance) and asked to respond to one of two sets of fundraising material. Responses were analyzed using a two-sample t-test. The results showed a small effect in the opposite direction than hypothesized: large social distance was associated with higher donation intention than small social distance.

These results suggest that potential donors are more likely to respond to campaigns depicting victims that they perceive as socially distant from themselves. On this basis, the concept of social distance should be taken into account when designing environmental fundraising campaigns.

When to write an abstract

You will almost always have to include an abstract when writing a thesis, dissertation, research paper, or submitting an article to an academic journal.

In all cases, the abstract is the very last thing you write. It should be a completely independent, self-contained text, not an excerpt copied from your paper or dissertation. An abstract should be fully understandable on its own to someone who hasn’t read your full paper or related sources.

The easiest approach to writing an abstract is to imitate the structure of the larger work — think of it as a miniature version of your dissertation or research paper. In most cases, this means the abstract should contain four key elements.

Writing chapters for an edited book is one of many types of academic writing. Writing a chapter for an edited book is no less than writing a scholarly paper in terms of quality barring some presentational aspects.

Writing an acceptable abstract is the first step towards getting an invitation to write a full-text chapter by the book’s editors. So, it becomes vital to understand how should an abstract be to get the same considered and accepted by the book’s editors. No editor will be accepting anything for their book. After all, the content specialty of their book is the primary parameter to judge their editorial credibility, and they wouldn’t like to compromise to accept general but specific stuff for their book.

Writing an acceptable abstract is the first step towards getting an invitation to write a full-text chapter by the book’s editors.

So, here are some guidelines for writing chapter abstract which would help you get your chapter abstract considered and accepted by the book’s editors:

Have a clear mind on the book’s scope

Don’t get rejected on the very face of it. Before moving ahead to write and sending your chapter abstract, make sure that you have thoroughly understood the book’s coverage & scope. By book’s coverage & scope, we mean, what are topics and issues on which a chapter can be written. Make yourself specific about the subject domain of the book. An edited book, by its definition, uses to be a compilation of works on a very specific domain. Getting yourself clear about the scope of the book will help you write an abstract capable of getting noticed by the book’s editors.

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Be specific over general

Once, you have got the specifics of the subject domain of the book, you can now go ahead writing your abstract. While writing the abstract to be specific and propose a work that is specific to the book’s scope. Try to choose a specific topic from within the scope of the book instead of a general one. The book’s editors prefer special content over general. Being specific will help you avoid editorial rejection causing you loss of time and effort.

Getting yourself clear about the scope of the book will help you write an abstract capable of getting noticed by the book’s editors.

Propose a ‘solution’ not a ‘review’

Editors prefer to consider those abstracts which specifically identify a particular issue and propose to offer it a solution. Your abstract should sound as ‘to advise/to offer’ instead of ‘this is how it is’. ‘To advise/to offer’ is the approach where an author proposes to come out with an empirical solution or something new through the full-text chapter to advance the achievement of the book’s objectives fully or partially.

On the other hand, ‘this is how it is’ is nothing but a review of already known facts and figures. Though review works are acceptable in some cases but the authors should avoid making their abstract sounding as a review of already known knowledge or previously published works.

‘To advise/to offer’ is the approach where an author proposes to come out with an empirical solution or something new through the full-text chapter to advance the achievement of the book’s objectives fully or partially.

Mind your grammar

An author is expected to write following the rules of grammar. Poor grammar or sentence selection may put the book’s editors off your abstract. The abstracts having poor grammar aren’t considered, sometimes even not acknowledged for their receipt.

Good grammar is another tool making your abstract an acceptable piece which the editors or the publishers love to look at.

Address to book’s editors

Generally, the book abstracts are invited by the book’s editors or sometimes by the book’s publishers on behalf of the editors. In both cases, the author should address the covering mail to the editors of the book. This, though not a strict norm, is another way to showcase your seriousness towards your proposed contribution to the book.

Never email your abstract without covering letter simply as an attachment. There are cases where authors simply attach their abstract and hit the ‘send’ button without caring for writing even the name of the book or series to which the abstract is being submitted. This may create confusion especially when an editor is editing more than one book.

Never email your abstract without covering letter, simply as an attachment. The author should address the covering mail to the editors of the book.

Some dos and don’ts

Follow and adhere to word limits, format and the editorial policies of the book if prescribed.

Ensure that the work being submitted is entirely of your own and you hold all intellectual property rights to the same.

Don’t submit a full-text chapter when you need to submit its abstract only. Submit the full-text when you are invited for the same.

Adhere to the ethical conduct while communicating with the book editors, publisher or the editorial support staff.

If you have questions in mind, you should contact the book’s editors or publisher’s editorial staff for the necessary information before submitting your abstract.

[GUIDE] How to publish an edited book: A guide for book editors, read here

Additional resources (external)

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How to write a scholarly abstract

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An abstract is "a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of the paper" (American Psychological Association [APA], 2020, p. 38). This summary is intended to share the topic, argument, and conclusions of a research study or course paper, similar to the text on the back cover of a book. When submitting your work for publication, an abstract is often the first piece of your writing a reviewer will encounter. An abstract may not be required for course papers.

Read on for more tips on making a good first impression with a successful abstract.

Format

An abstract is a single paragraph preceded by the heading "Abstract," centered and in bold font. The abstract does not begin with an indented line. APA (2020) recommends that abstracts should generally be less than 250 words, though many journals have their own word limits; it is always a good idea to check journal-specific requirements before submitting. The Writing Center's APA templates are great resources for visual examples of abstracts.

Abstracts use the present tense to describe currently applicable results (e.g., "Results indicate. ") and the past tense to describe research steps (e.g., "The survey measured. "), and they do not typically include citations.

Key terms are sometimes included at the end of the abstract and should be chosen by considering the words or phrases that a reader might use to search for your article.

Content

An abstract should include information such as

  • The problem or central argument of your article
  • A brief exposition of research design, methods, and procedures.
  • A brief summary of your findings
  • A brief summary of the implications of the research on practice and theory

It is also appropriate, depending on the type of article you are writing, to include information such as:

  • Participant number and type
  • Study eligibility criteria
  • Limitations of your study
  • Implications of your study's conclusions or areas for additional research

Your abstract should avoid unnecessary wordiness and focus on quickly and concisely summarizing the major points of your work. An abstract is not an introduction; you are not trying to capture the reader's attention with timeliness or to orient the reader to the entire background of your study. When readers finish reading your abstract, they should have a strong sense of your article's purpose, approach, and conclusions. The Walden Office of Research and Doctoral Services has additional tutorial material on abstracts.

Exemplars

Clinical or Empirical Study Abstract Exemplar

In the following abstract, the article's problem is stated in red , the approach and design are in blue , and the results are in green .

Foley, R. N., Parfrey, P. S., Harnett, J. D., Kent, G. M., Martin, C. J., Murray, D. C., & Barre, P. E. (1995). Clinical and echocardiographic disease in patients starting end-stage renal disease therapy. Kidney International, 47, 186–192. https://doi.org/10.1038/ki.1995.22

Literature Review Abstract Exemplar

In the following abstract, the purpose and scope of the literature review are in red , the specific span of topics is in blue , and the implications for further research are in green .

Academic conferences are an important part of graduate work. They offer researchers an opportunity to present their work and network with other researchers. So, how does a researcher get invited to present their work at an academic conference? The first step is to write and submit an abstract of your research paper.

The purpose of a conference abstract is to summarize the main points of your paper that you will present in the academic conference. In it, you need to convince conference organizers that you have something important and valuable to add to the conference. Therefore, it needs to be focused and clear in explaining your topic and the main points of research that you will share with the audience.

The Main Points of a Conference Abstract

Formula: topic + title + motivation + problem statement + approach + results + conclusions = conference abstract

Here are the main points that you need to include.

Title

The title needs to grab people’s attention. Most importantly, it needs to state your topic clearly and develop interest. This will give organizers an idea of how your paper fits the focus of the conference.

Problem Statement

You should state the specific problem that you are trying to solve.

Purpose

The abstract needs to illustrate the purpose of your work. This is the point that will help the conference organizer determine whether or not to include your paper in a conference session.

Methods

You have a problem before you: What approach did you take towards solving the problem? You can include how you organized this study and the research that you used.

Important Things to Know When Developing Your Abstract

Do Your Research on the Conference

You need to know the deadline for abstract submissions. And, you should submit your abstract as early as possible.

Do some research on the conference to see what the focus is and how your topic fits. This includes looking at the range of sessions that will be at the conference. This will help you see which specific session would be the best fit for your paper.

Select Your Keywords Carefully

Keywords play a vital role in increasing the discoverability of your article. Use the keywords that most appropriately reflect the content of your article.

Be Concise

Once you are clear on the topic of the conference, you can tailor your abstract to fit specific sessions.

An important part of keeping your focus is knowing the word limit for the abstract. Most word limits are around 250-300 words. So, be concise.

Use Example Abstracts as a Guide

Looking at examples of abstracts is always a big help. Look at general examples of abstracts and examples of abstracts in your field. Take notes to understand the main points that make an abstract effective.

Avoid Fillers and Jargon

As stated earlier, abstracts are supposed to be concise, yet informative. Avoid using words or phrases that do not add any specific value to your research. Keep the sentences short and crisp to convey just as much information as needed.

Edit with a Fresh Mind

After you write your abstract, step away from it. Then, look it over with a fresh mind. This will help you edit it to improve its effectiveness. In addition, you can also take the help of professional editing services that offer quick deliveries.

Remain Focused and Establish Your Ideas

The main point of an abstract is to catch the attention of the conference organizers. So, you need to be focused in developing the importance of your work. You want to establish the importance of your ideas in as little as 250-300 words.

Have you attended a conference as a student? What experiences do you have with conference abstracts? Please share your ideas in the comments. You can also visit our Q&A forum for frequently asked questions related to different aspects of research writing, presenting, and publishing answered by our team that comprises subject-matter experts, eminent researchers, and publication experts.

Enago Academy, the knowledge arm of Enago, offers comprehensive and up-to-date resources on academic research and scholarly publishing to all levels of scholarly professionals: students, researchers, editors, publishers, and academic societies. It is also a popular platform for networking, allowing researchers to learn, share, and discuss their experiences within their network and community. The team, which comprises subject matter experts, academicians, trainers, and technical project managers, are passionate about helping researchers at all levels establish a successful career, both within and outside academia.

If you are a student learning sociology, chances are you will be asked to write an abstract. Sometimes, your teacher or professor may ask you to write an abstract at the beginning of the research process to help you organize your ideas for the research. Other times, the organizers of a conference or editors of an academic journal or book will ask you to write one to serve as a summary of research you have completed and that you intend to share. Let’s review exactly what an abstract is and the five steps you need to follow in order to write one.

Definition

Within sociology, as with other sciences, an abstract is a brief and concise description of a research project that is typically in the range of 200 to 300 words. Sometimes you may be asked to write an abstract at the beginning of a research project and other times, you will be asked to do so after the research is completed. In any case, the abstract serves, in effect, as a sales pitch for your research. Its goal is to pique the interest of the reader such that he or she continues to read the research report that follows the abstract or decides to attend a research presentation you will give about the research. For this reason, an abstract should be written in clear and descriptive language and should avoid the use of acronyms and jargon.

Types

Depending on at what stage in the research process you write your abstract, it will fall into one of two categories: descriptive or informative. Those written before the research is completed will be descriptive in nature.

  • Descriptive abstracts provide an overview of the purpose, goals, and proposed methods of your study, but do not include discussion of the results or conclusions you might draw from them.
  • Informative abstracts are super-condensed versions of a research paper that provide an overview of the motivations for the research, problem(s) it addresses, approach and methods, the results of the research, and your conclusions and implications of the research.

Preparing to Write

Before you write an abstract there are a few important steps you should complete. First, if you are writing an informative abstract, you should write the full research report. It may be tempting to start by writing the abstract because it is short, but in reality, you can't write it until you the report is complete because the abstract should be a condensed version of it. If you've yet to write the report, you probably have not yet completed analyzing your data or thinking through the conclusions and implications. You can't write a research abstract until you've done these things.

Another important consideration is the length of the abstract. Whether you are submitting it for publication, to a conference, or to a teacher or professor for a class, you will have been given guidance on how many words the abstract can be. Know your word limit in advance and stick to it.

Finally, consider the audience for your abstract. In most cases, people you have never met will read your abstract. Some of them may not have the same expertise in sociology that you have, so it's important that you write your abstract in clear language and without jargon. Remember that your abstract is, in effect, a sales pitch for your research, and you want it to make people want to learn more.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Motivation. Begin your abstract by describing what motivated you to conduct the research. Ask yourself what made you pick this topic. Is there a particular social trend or phenomenon that sparked your interest in doing the project? Was there a gap in existing research that you sought to fill by conducting your own? Was there something, in particular, you set out to prove? Consider these questions and begin your abstract by briefly stating, in one or two sentences, the answers to them.
  2. Problem. Next, describe the problem or question to which your research seeks to provide an answer or better understanding. Be specific and explain if this is a general problem or a specific one affecting only certain regions or sections of the population. You should finish describing the problem by stating your hypothesis, or what you expect to find after conducting your research.
  3. Approach and methods. Following your description of the problem, you must next explain how your research approaches it, in terms of theoretical framing or general perspective, and which research methods you will use to do the research. Remember, this should be brief, jargon-free, and concise.
  4. Results. Next, describe in one or two sentences the results of your research. If you completed a complex research project that led to several results that you discuss in the report, highlight only the most significant or noteworthy in the abstract. You should state whether or not you were able to answer your research questions, and if surprising results were found too. If, as in some cases, your results did not adequately answer your question(s), you should report that as well.
  5. Conclusions. Finish your abstract by briefly stating what conclusions you draw from the results and what implications they might hold. Consider whether there are implications for the practices and policies of organizations and/or government bodies that are connected to your research, and whether your results suggest that further research should be done, and why. You should also point out whether the results of your research are generally and/or broadly applicable or whether they are descriptive in nature and focused on a particular case or limited population.

Example

Let’s take as an example the abstract that serves as the teaser for a journal article by sociologist Dr. David Pedulla. The article in question, published in American Sociological Review, is a report on how taking a job below one’s skill level or doing part-time work can hurt a person’s future career prospects in their chosen field or profession. The abstract is annotated with bolded numbers that show the steps in the process outlined above.