how to write an abstract


While doing online search for scholarly articles, you have probably noticed that an abstract is the first thing you access, so its function is to provide the readers with a concise but comprehensive description of the paper content. But how to write an abstract that both accurately represents the research and attracts the readers’ attention? This article will explain how to write an abstract for a research paper on any topic. We will discuss the core elements of an abstract, such as the purpose of the research, problem statement, methodology, results, and conclusion. This checklist will be useful for any student who wants to know how to write an abstract that increases the chances of their publications being accessed and read. 

What is an Abstract

The importance of a good abstract has changed these days when the use of online databases has become more popular among students and researchers. Unlike decades ago, a good quality of an abstract today is as critical as the quality of the paper itself. When writing an abstract, think of it not only as of a marketing tool that will help to sell your work or convince the audience to read the paper till the end. More than that, an abstract has to shine with a power of persuasion that will encourage the reader to leave the comfort of their home and go looking for a printed copy in a local library or maybe even get one after surviving through a long waiting  library loan list. If to translate it into the business language, an abstract is similar to an executive summary in so that this is frequently the only part of the whole report the ‘important’ people will read to evaluate the quality of the rest. In its tone and content, an executive summary is similar to an abstract. 

Writing Stages A to Z

How long is an abstract? Even though an abstract is characterized by brevity, it should present almost as much information as the subsequent research paper. Regardless of a topic you explore, an abstract should have the structure outlined below. Typically, you will dedicate one or two sentences per part, so the information has to be presented concisely. Of course, there is always room for creativity, so you do not have to follow this abstract format precisely. Feel free to merge some sections. Here is what to include in an abstract:


What is your motivation for conducting the research? In other words, why should people care about the results of the research? In professional writing, your motivation has to be stated explicitly. Start your abstract with the purpose statement if the problem does not seem interesting at first glance. However, if your research adds something new to a burning issue, you can state the problem first to show that the paper is valuable from a global perspective. In this section, outline the value of your work, the difficulty of the problem, and the significance of the results.

Problem statement

In this part, provide a definition of the problem you are hoping to solve. Describe the scope of the study – e.g., is it generalized or focused on a specific issue? However, try to avoid specific terms and jargon that might be not familiar to the interested layman. As it has been mentioned, it might be appropriate to put the problem before motivation but this should happen only in cases the reader is already familiar with the problem and its significance. 


Explain the approach you used when looking for a solution to the problem. For example, was it a qualitative or quantitative research? Did you use case study or simulation? Did you construct a prototype or analyzed an existing product? What tools did you use to measure the results? What were the depended and independent variables of the research?


What are the results of the study? For example, a research on a topic in the field of computer design will explain how much something is faster, cheaper, and more efficient than something else. Alternatively, it might have turned out to be worse, which is also a result worth explaining. When you will be reading examples of abstracts, pay attention to how precise the language is. Note how vague and non-specific phrases discourage you from reading the study further. For this reason, avoid generalizations like ‘many,’ ‘a lot,’ ‘quite effective,’ and so on. Instead, use precise numbers, percentage, statistical data, and facts. This might be tricky because on the one hand, you do not want to include the data that might be misinterpreted without the broader context, but on the other hand, there is no space for detailed explanations. 


Provide a brief summary of the study and explain the implications. Will your research go down in history (do not be too confident), be a small step forwards, or will simply help other researchers indicating that moving in this direction will not bear any results and they should try their luck elsewhere. If the latter is the case, do not be disappointed. Remember how you were working on the literature review section. Are the study results specific or can be generalized?

One More Valuable Tip

If you do not know how to write an abstract, think of it as a short description of the study. Make sure the reader does not have to flip through half of the paper to understand some terms or vague claims. A strong abstract has to be informative on its own. Here is something else you should keep in mind if you want to know how to write a good abstract: do not ignore the word count requirements. Usually, an abstract should be between 150-250 words (if the journal does not indicate otherwise). With an abstract that is too long or too short, you risk to lose the chance of being published. Alternatively, the editor might cut it down the way he/she wants. If you do not want to jeopardize the clarity of your abstract, do not leave the job of meeting the word count requirement to someone else. 


20 June, 2018