Definition and Purpose of Abstracts
An abstract is a short summary of your (published or unpublished) research paper, usually about a paragraph (c. 6-7 sentences, 150-250 words) long. A well-written abstract serves multiple purposes:
- an abstract lets readers get the gist or essence of your paper or article quickly, in order to decide whether to read the full paper;
- an abstract prepares readers to follow the detailed information, analyses, and arguments in your full paper;
- and, later, an abstract helps readers remember key points from your paper.
It’s also worth remembering that search engines and bibliographic databases use abstracts, as well as the title, to identify key terms for indexing your published paper. So what you include in your abstract and in your title are crucial for helping other researchers find your paper or article.
If you are writing an abstract for a course paper, your professor may give you specific guidelines for what to include and how to organize your abstract. Similarly, academic journals often have specific requirements for abstracts. So in addition to following the advice on this page, you should be sure to look for and follow any guidelines from the course or journal you’re writing for.
The Contents of an Abstract
Abstracts contain most of the following kinds of information in brief form. The body of your paper will, of course, develop and explain these ideas much more fully. As you will see in the samples below, the proportion of your abstract that you devote to each kind of information—and the sequence of that information—will vary, depending on the nature and genre of the paper that you are summarizing in your abstract. And in some cases, some of this information is implied, rather than stated explicitly. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, which is widely used in the social sciences, gives specific guidelines for what to include in the abstract for different kinds of papers—for empirical studies, literature reviews or meta-analyses, theoretical papers, methodological papers, and case studies.
Here are the typical kinds of information found in most abstracts:
- the context or background information for your research; the general topic under study; the specific topic of your research
- the central questions or statement of the problem your research addresses
- what’s already known about this question, what previous research has done or shown
- the main reason(s), the exigency, the rationale, the goals for your research—Why is it important to address these questions? Are you, for example, examining a new topic? Why is that topic worth examining? Are you filling a gap in previous research? Applying new methods to take a fresh look at existing ideas or data? Resolving a dispute within the literature in your field? . . .
- your research and/or analytical methods
- your main findings, results, or arguments
- the significance or implications of your findings or arguments.
Your abstract should be intelligible on its own, without a reader’s having to read your entire paper. And in an abstract, you usually do not cite references—most of your abstract will describe what you have studied in your research and what you have found and what you argue in your paper. In the body of your paper, you will cite the specific literature that informs your research.
When to Write Your Abstract
Although you might be tempted to write your abstract first because it will appear as the very first part of your paper, it’s a good idea to wait to write your abstract until after you’ve drafted your full paper, so that you know what you’re summarizing.
What follows are some sample abstracts in published papers or articles, all written by faculty at UW-Madison who come from a variety of disciplines. We have annotated these samples to help you see the work that these authors are doing within their abstracts.
Choosing Verb Tenses within Your Abstract
The social science sample (Sample 1) below uses the present tense to describe general facts and interpretations that have been and are currently true, including the prevailing explanation for the social phenomenon under study. That abstract also uses the present tense to describe the methods, the findings, the arguments, and the implications of the findings from their new research study. The authors use the past tense to describe previous research.
The humanities sample (Sample 2) below uses the past tense to describe completed events in the past (the texts created in the pulp fiction industry in the 1970s and 80s) and uses the present tense to describe what is happening in those texts, to explain the significance or meaning of those texts, and to describe the arguments presented in the article.
The science samples (Samples 3 and 4) below use the past tense to describe what previous research studies have done and the research the authors have conducted, the methods they have followed, and what they have found. In their rationale or justification for their research (what remains to be done), they use the present tense. They also use the present tense to introduce their study (in Sample 3, “Here we report . . .”) and to explain the significance of their study (In Sample 3, This reprogramming . . . “provides a scalable cell source for. . .”).
Sample Abstract 1
From the social sciences
Reporting new findings about the reasons for increasing economic homogamy among spouses
Gonalons-Pons, Pilar, and Christine R. Schwartz. “Trends in Economic Homogamy: Changes in Assortative Mating or the Division of Labor in Marriage?” Demography, vol. 54, no. 3, 2017, pp. 985-1005.
Sample Abstract 2
From the humanities
Analyzing underground pulp fiction publications in Tanzania, this article makes an argument about the cultural significance of those publications
Emily Callaci. “Street Textuality: Socialism, Masculinity, and Urban Belonging in Tanzania’s Pulp Fiction Publishing Industry, 1975-1985.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 59, no. 1, 2017, pp. 183-210.
Sample Abstract/Summary 3
From the sciences
Reporting a new method for reprogramming adult mouse fibroblasts into induced cardiac progenitor cells
Lalit, Pratik A., Max R. Salick, Daryl O. Nelson, Jayne M. Squirrell, Christina M. Shafer, Neel G. Patel, Imaan Saeed, Eric G. Schmuck, Yogananda S. Markandeya, Rachel Wong, Martin R. Lea, Kevin W. Eliceiri, Timothy A. Hacker, Wendy C. Crone, Michael Kyba, Daniel J. Garry, Ron Stewart, James A. Thomson, Karen M. Downs, Gary E. Lyons, and Timothy J. Kamp. “Lineage Reprogramming of Fibroblasts into Proliferative Induced Cardiac Progenitor Cells by Defined Factors.” Cell Stem Cell, vol. 18, 2016, pp. 354-367.
Note: This journal calls this paragraph at the beginning of the article a “Summary,” rather than an “Abstract.” This journal provides multiple ways for readers to grasp the content of this research article quickly. In addition to this paragraph-length prose summary, this article also has an effective graphical abstract, a bulleted list of highlights list at the beginning of the article, and a two-sentence “In Brief” summary.
Sample Abstract 4, a Structured Abstract
From the sciences
Reporting results about the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy in managing acute bacterial sinusitis, from a rigorously controlled study
Note: This journal requires authors to organize their abstract into four specific sections, with strict word limits. Because the headings for this structured abstract are self-explanatory, we have chosen not to add annotations to this sample abstract.
Wald, Ellen R., David Nash, and Jens Eickhoff. “Effectiveness of Amoxicillin/Clavulanate Potassium in the Treatment of Acute Bacterial Sinusitis in Children.” Pediatrics, vol. 124, no. 1, 2009, pp. 9-15.
“OBJECTIVE: The role of antibiotic therapy in managing acute bacterial sinusitis (ABS) in children is controversial. The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of high-dose amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate in the treatment of children diagnosed with ABS.
METHODS: This was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Children 1 to 10 years of age with a clinical presentation compatible with ABS were eligible for participation. Patients were stratified according to age (<6 or ≥6 years) and clinical severity and randomly assigned to receive either amoxicillin (90 mg/kg) with potassium clavulanate (6.4 mg/kg) or placebo. A symptom survey was performed on days 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 20, and 30. Patients were examined on day 14. Children’s conditions were rated as cured, improved, or failed according to scoring rules.
RESULTS: Two thousand one hundred thirty-five children with respiratory complaints were screened for enrollment; 139 (6.5%) had ABS. Fifty-eight patients were enrolled, and 56 were randomly assigned. The mean age was 6630 months. Fifty (89%) patients presented with persistent symptoms, and 6 (11%) presented with nonpersistent symptoms. In 24 (43%) children, the illness was classified as mild, whereas in the remaining 32 (57%) children it was severe. Of the 28 children who received the antibiotic, 14 (50%) were cured, 4 (14%) were improved, 4(14%) experienced treatment failure, and 6 (21%) withdrew. Of the 28children who received placebo, 4 (14%) were cured, 5 (18%) improved, and 19 (68%) experienced treatment failure. Children receiving the antibiotic were more likely to be cured (50% vs 14%) and less likely to have treatment failure (14% vs 68%) than children receiving the placebo.
CONCLUSIONS: ABS is a common complication of viral upper respiratory infections. Amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate results in significantly more cures and fewer failures than placebo, according to parental report of time to resolution.” (9)
Some Excellent Advice about Writing Abstracts for Basic Science Research Papers, by Professor Adriano Aguzzi from the Institute of Neuropathology at the University of Zurich:
Abstracts should be between 100 and 200 words long and usually contain a list of keywords at the end to help readers identify the main points of the paper. While abstract requirements differ across academic disciplines, there are two main types of abstracts: humanities abstracts and scientific abstracts.How should you write the abstract of your research 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.How do you know when you have enough information in your abstract? ›
How do you know when you have enough information in your abstract? A simple rule-of-thumb is to imagine that you are another researcher doing a similar study. Then ask yourself: if your abstract was the only part of the paper you could access, would you be happy with the amount of information presented there?Can an abstract be less than 250 words? ›
1) An abstract should be typed as a single paragraph in a block format This means no paragraph indentation! 2) A typical abstract should only be about 6 sentences long or 150 words or less.How long should it take to write an abstract? ›
How long does it take to write an abstract? If the paper sections are well-written and you follow the steps outlined below, it should not take you longer than 15-20 minutes to write a very informative abstract.Can abstract exceed 200 words? ›
Most journals only allow 100-200 words for an abstract and will not let you submit your manuscript if the abstract is even one word over the wordcount.What are the 4 qualities of a good abstract? ›
An abstract should be brief, concise, objective and balanced. It is a "just the facts" presentation of the research with major emphasis on conveying methods and main results so that readers are able to understand the basis of the "take home" messages that are expressed in "conclusions".What are the 5 basic contents of your abstract? ›
- Reason for writing: What is the importance of the research? ...
- Problem: What problem does this work attempt to solve? ...
- Methodology: An abstract of a scientific work may include specific models or approaches used in the larger study. ...
- Results: ...
- Write your paper. Since the abstract is a summary of a research paper, the first step is to write your paper . ...
- Review the requirements. ...
- Consider your audience and publication. ...
- Explain the problem. ...
- Explain your methods. ...
- Describe your results. ...
- Give a conclusion.
Write clearly and concisely
A good abstract is short but impactful, so make sure every word counts. Each sentence should clearly communicate one main point. To keep your abstract or summary short and clear: Avoid passive sentences: Passive constructions are often unnecessarily long.
The results section is the most important part of the abstract and nothing should compromise its range and quality. This is because readers who peruse an abstract do so to learn about the findings of the study.What does a good abstract contain? ›
- the context or background information for your research; the general topic under study; the specific topic of your research.
- the central questions or statement of the problem your research addresses.
- what's already known about this question, what previous research has done or shown.
IELTS says that you should write at least 250 words in writing task 2 and 150 words in writing task 1. There is no penalty anymore but I advise writing more than 250 words to fully develop your essay. 2. A very long essay will not give you a higher band score.Can an abstract be too short? ›
Bad abstract: Too short and readers won't know enough about your work; too long and it may be rejected by the journal. Good abstract: Depending on the journal's requirements, 200 words is short enough for readers to scan quickly but long enough to give them enough information to decide to read the article.Does an abstract have to be 300 words? ›
Abstracts are usually around 100–300 words, but there's often a strict word limit, so make sure to check the relevant requirements. In a dissertation or thesis, include the abstract on a separate page, after the title page and acknowledgements but before the table of contents.Why is it hard to write an abstract? ›
The abstract structure generally follows that of the wider paper or thesis, with sections corresponding to aspects of the introduction, methods, results and discussion. As essentially micro-theses, abstracts are short, but writing them is deceivingly hard, as they need to be packed with a lot of information.What should not be included in an abstract? ›
- Not writing a summary. ...
- Not paraphrasing your own work. ...
- Not summarising your entire project. ...
- Using the abstract as a de facto Introduction or Discussion. ...
- Including too much (or not enough) background. ...
- Including too many (or not enough) methods.
- Write the paper first. ...
- Provide introductory background information that leads into a statement of your aim. ...
- Briefly describe your methodology. ...
- Clearly describe the most important findings of your study.
Answer: Front matter such as title, author, and abstract and end matter such as references and acknowledgments are typically not included in the manuscript word count. The main text and also tables, figures, and captions for them are included in the count.How strict are abstract word limits? ›
The abstract may also be the only part of your paper that has a word limit. Most word limits specify a maximum of between 250 and 300 words, and some journals require that abstracts be as short as 150 words. Writing a great abstract is almost an art—but writing an abstract that meets word limits is, well, a science.
Keep it short. In general, an abstract should be around 150 to 250 words, written in a single paragraph. The exact number varies per institution, journal, publisher, funding agency, etc. You should verify the required word-count to ensure you are submitting an abstract within the acceptable length.What are the 4 C's in writing an abstract? ›
Abstract. Writing is a complex process that involves a number of competences and a degree of imagination. It can be evolved by using the 4Cs in the content areas: integrating creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication, all of which teachers have struggled to include as part of their curricula.What is a weakness of an abstract? ›
The data were often too brief, and details were not provided. This makes it difficult for readers to see how relevant the particular study might be to their own concerns. Many abstracts did not provide details of the numbers of participants, their sexes, their ages, and their background.What key skills are needed when writing an abstract? ›
Abstracts should be accurate and succinct, self-contained, and readable. The abstract should paraphrase and summarise rather than quote from the paper. Abstracts should relate only to the paper to be presented/assessed.What are the 3 types of abstract? ›
- Indicative abstracts are short, simple and objective. They describe the theme of the article or publication.
- Informative abstracts are longer and more thorough. ...
- Evaluative abstracts (also known as critical abstracts) are subjective.
- Title (cover page)
- Literature review.
- Research methodology.
- Data analysis.
- Reference page.
An abstract is an outline/brief summary of your paper and your whole project. It should have an intro, body and conclusion. It is a well-developed paragraph, should be exact in wording, and must be understandable to a wide audience.How do you start an abstract sentence? ›
- State a real-world phenomena or a standard practice.
- Start with a purpose or an objective.
- Start with present research action. (This is a general statement - and often contains words like "currently" or "presently" or some variation of those words.)
- Start with a problem or an uncertainty.
- Introduction. ...
- State the problem you tackle. ...
- Summarize (in one sentence) why nobody else has adequately answered the research question yet. ...
- Explain, in one sentence, how you tackled the research question. ...
- In one sentence, how did you go about doing the research that follows from your big idea.
- Is the question or issue clearly stated?
- Is the significance of the work clearly stated? ...
- If relevant, are the method, data collection, and analysis procedures well-designed and appropriate to the question addressed?
- Is the conceptual framework coherent? ...
- Is the work original?
- Sentences 1-2. Set the stage. The beginning of a killer abstract must convey the scientific question that keeps you up at night and why. ...
- Sentence 3. State the mystery. ...
- Sentences 4-8. Describe your detective work. ...
- Sentence 9. Solving the mystery. ...
- Sentence 10. So what?
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.What is the main purpose of an abstract? ›
An abstract is a short statement about your paper designed to give the reader a complete, yet concise, understanding of your paper's research and findings. It is a mini-version of your paper.What is the main objective of writing an abstract? ›
An abstract is a concise summary of an academic text (such as a journal article or dissertation). It serves two main purposes: To help potential readers determine the relevance of your paper for their own research. To communicate your key findings to those who don't have time to read the whole paper.What is the most common type of abstract used? ›
There are four types of abstracts: informative, descriptive, critical, and highlight abstracts. However, students most often use informative abstracts.What happens if you write under the word count? ›
It is possible to write under the word count and you will get no fixed penalty. But will it impact your score? Writing a short essay which is under 250 words will definitely impact your score and not in a good way.What is the lowest score in IELTS writing? ›
They are designed to be simple and easy to understand. They are reported as band scores on a scale from 1 (the lowest) to 9 (the highest). All formats of IELTS use the same scoring system.How many marks do you lose for going under word count? ›
You can lose marks for both not meeting the word count and going over it. Markers usually allow a buffer of 10%, which means if your word count limit is 1,000 words, you can go up to 1,100 words. Check with your subject coordinator, lecturer or tutor to see if this rule applies to you.How many pages an abstract should contain? ›
An abstract is a short summary of a research paper. It is embedded between the title page and the table of contents, and appears before the actual text. The abstract should not exceed one page (at the most, two pages). Ideally, it should fit on a single page.Can an abstract be 500 words? ›
Typically, an abstract describes the topic you would like to present at the conference, highlighting your argument, evidence and contribution to the historical literature. It is usually restricted to 250-500 words.
Word count: 3,000 words (excluding abstract and references)
Abstract: An unstructured abstract limited to 175 words should be provided.
Abstracts are typically 100–250 words and comprise one or two paragraphs. However, more complex papers require more complex abstracts, so you may need to stretch it out to cover everything.Do abstracts have titles? ›
Thus the first rule of Abstract writing is that it should engage the reader by telling him or her what your paper is about and why they should read it. Although strictly not part of your Abstract, the title of the proposed paper is also important. Short attention-catching titles are the most effective.How many words should be there in abstract? ›
Although some journals still publish abstracts that are written as free-flowing paragraphs, most journals require abstracts to conform to a formal structure within a word count of, usually, 200–250 words.Is 100 words enough for an introduction? ›
Most introductions should be about three to five sentences long. And you should aim for a word count between 50-80 words.Is a 100 word essay a lot? ›
A 100-word essay is quite a short piece. However, it should be properly planned. Your essay should contain four to five concise paragraphs. It is to consist of an introduction paragraph, two to three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.Can an abstract be very short? ›
Abstracts can be informative and descriptive. Descriptive abstracts describe the work being abstracted. They are more like an outline of the work and are usually very short - 100 words or less.How long is a research abstract? ›
An abstract is a short summary of your (published or unpublished) research paper, usually about a paragraph (c. 6-7 sentences, 150-250 words) long.Is 3 sentences enough for an introduction? ›
A good intro will be clear, brief, purposeful, and focused. While there are some exceptions to this rule, it's common for intro paragraphs to consist of three to five sentences.Is 70 words enough for a paragraph? ›
70 words is about 0.35-0.7 paragraphs for essays or 0-2 for easier reading (to allow skimming). A paragraph length typically has 100-200 words and 5-6 sentences.
Writing 3,000 words can take anywhere between six and 24 hours depending on the topic but, with our tips, you can easily get it done within a day. Get your head down and you could meet the deadline, and even produce an essay you are proud of.Is it OK to write 1000 words in an essay? ›
1,000 words is actually a relatively short piece. A dissertation would usually be in the region of 12,000 words, and university assignments can stretch to essays of 5,000 words.Can you write 1000 words in an hour? ›
The average writing speed by hand is around 20 words per minute. And the average for typing is usually double at 40 words per minute. Following this logic, it should take 25 minutes for the average person to type out 1000 words. And 50 minutes if writing by hand.