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An abstract summarizes, usually in one paragraph of 300 words or less, the major aspects of the entire paper in a prescribed sequence that includes: 1) the overall purpose of the study and the research problem(s) you investigated; 2) the basic design of the study; 3) major findings or trends found as a result of your analysis; and, 4) a brief summary of your interpretations and conclusions.
Writing an Abstract. The Writing Center. Clarion University, 2009; Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper. The Writing Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Importance of a Good Abstract
Sometimes your professor will ask you to include an abstract, or general summary of your work, with your research paper. The abstract allows you to elaborate upon each major aspect of the paper and helps readers decide whether they want to read the rest of the paper. Therefore, enough key information [e.g., summary results, observations, trends, etc.] must be included to make the abstract useful to someone who may want to examine your work.
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? Does it tell the whole story about your study? If the answer is "no" then the abstract likely needs to be revised.
How to Write a Research Abstract. Office of Undergraduate Research. University of Kentucky; Staiger, David L. “What Today’s Students Need to Know about Writing Abstracts.” International Journal of Business Communication January 3 (1966): 29-33; Swales, John M. and Christine B. Feak. Abstracts and the Writing of Abstracts . Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2009.
Structure and Writing Style
I. Types of Abstracts
To begin, you need to determine which type of abstract you should include with your paper. There are four general types.
Critical Abstract A critical abstract provides, in addition to describing main findings and information, a judgment or comment about the study’s validity, reliability, or completeness. The researcher evaluates the paper and often compares it with other works on the same subject. Critical abstracts are generally 400-500 words in length due to the additional interpretive commentary. These types of abstracts are used infrequently.
Descriptive Abstract A descriptive abstract indicates the type of information found in the work. It makes no judgments about the work, nor does it provide results or conclusions of the research. It does incorporate key words found in the text and may include the purpose, methods, and scope of the research. Essentially, the descriptive abstract only describes the work being summarized. Some researchers consider it an outline of the work, rather than a summary. Descriptive abstracts are usually very short, 100 words or less. Informative Abstract 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. An informative abstract includes the information that can be found in a descriptive abstract [purpose, methods, scope] but it also includes the results and conclusions of the research and the recommendations of the author. The length varies according to discipline, but an informative abstract is usually no more than 300 words in length.
Highlight Abstract A highlight abstract is specifically written to attract the reader’s attention to the study. No pretense is made of there being either a balanced or complete picture of the paper and, in fact, incomplete and leading remarks may be used to spark the reader’s interest. In that a highlight abstract cannot stand independent of its associated article, it is not a true abstract and, therefore, rarely used in academic writing.
II. Writing Style
Use the active voice when possible , but note that much of your abstract may require passive sentence constructions. Regardless, write your abstract using concise, but complete, sentences. Get to the point quickly and always use the past tense because you are reporting on a study that has been completed.
Abstracts should be formatted as a single paragraph in a block format and with no paragraph indentations. In most cases, the abstract page immediately follows the title page. Do not number the page. Rules set forth in writing manual vary but, in general, you should center the word "Abstract" at the top of the page with double spacing between the heading and the abstract. The final sentences of an abstract concisely summarize your study’s conclusions, implications, or applications to practice and, if appropriate, can be followed by a statement about the need for additional research revealed from the findings.
Composing Your Abstract
Although it is the first section of your paper, the abstract should be written last since it will summarize the contents of your entire paper. A good strategy to begin composing your abstract is to take whole sentences or key phrases from each section of the paper and put them in a sequence that summarizes the contents. Then revise or add connecting phrases or words to make the narrative flow clearly and smoothly. Note that statistical findings should be reported parenthetically [i.e., written in parentheses].
Before handing in your final paper, check to make sure that the information in the abstract completely agrees with what you have written in the paper. Think of the abstract as a sequential set of complete sentences describing the most crucial information using the fewest necessary words. The abstract SHOULD NOT contain:
- A catchy introductory phrase, provocative quote, or other device to grab the reader's attention,
- Lengthy background or contextual information,
- Redundant phrases, unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, and repetitive information;
- Acronyms or abbreviations,
- References to other literature [say something like, "current research shows that..." or "studies have indicated..."],
- Using ellipticals [i.e., ending with "..."] or incomplete sentences,
- Jargon or terms that may be confusing to the reader,
- Citations to other works, and
- Any sort of image, illustration, figure, or table, or references to them.
Abstract. Writing Center. University of Kansas; Abstract. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College; Abstracts. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Borko, Harold and Seymour Chatman. "Criteria for Acceptable Abstracts: A Survey of Abstracters' Instructions." American Documentation 14 (April 1963): 149-160; Abstracts. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Hartley, James and Lucy Betts. "Common Weaknesses in Traditional Abstracts in hte Social Sciences." Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 60 (October 2009): 2010-2018; Procter, Margaret. The Abstract. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Riordan, Laura. “Mastering the Art of Abstracts.” The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 115 (January 2015 ): 41-47; Writing Report Abstracts. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Abstracts. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Koltay, Tibor. Abstracts and Abstracting: A Genre and Set of Skills for the Twenty-First Century . Oxford, UK: 2010; Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper. The Writing Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Never Cite Just the Abstract!
Citing to just a journal article's abstract does not confirm for the reader that you have conducted a thorough or reliable review of the literature. If the full-text is not available, go to the USC Libraries main page and enter the title of the article [NOT the title of the journal]. If the Libraries have a subscription to the journal, the article should appear with a link to the full-text or to the journal publisher page where you can get the article. If the article does not appear, try searching Google Scholar using the link on the USC Libraries main page. If you still can't find the article after doing this, contact a librarian or you can request it from our free i nterlibrary loan and document delivery service .
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How to Write an Abstract for Research Proposal
by Antony W
December 13, 2021
An abstract in a research proposal summarizes the main aspect of the assignment in a given sequence in 300 words or less. It highlights the purpose of the study, the research problem, design of the study, findings, summary of your interpretations and conclusions.
For what it’s worth, the abstract of your research proposal should give a clear and concise elaboration of the major aspects of an issue you’ve investigated.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to write an abstract for any research proposal. We’ll look at why an abstract is important, the types of abstracts, writing style, and what to avoid when it comes to writing an abstract for your research proposal.
Types of Abstracts for a Research Proposal
There are four types of abstracts that you can write for a research proposal:
- Critical abstract
- Descriptive abstract
- Informative abstract
- Highlight abstract
1. Critical abstract
A critical abstract in a research proposal describes the primary findings and gives a solid judgment on the validity, completeness, and reliability of the study. It’s your responsibility as a researcher to evaluate your work and then compare it with already existing work on the same subject.
Because a critical abstract includes an additional commentary, it tends to longer. Often, the length falls between 400 and 500 words. However, do keep in mind that this type of an abstract is very are, which means your instructor may never ask you to write a critical abstract for your research proposal.
2. Highlight Abstract
A highlight abstract is a piece of writing that can’t stand independent of its associated document. It uses incomplete and leading remarks, with the primary goal of grabbing the attention of the reader to the study.
Professors have made it clear that a highlight abstract is not by itself a true abstract to use in a research proposal. Since it cannot stand on its away separate from the associated article, it’s unlikely that your teacher will ask you to use it in academic writing.
3. Descriptive abstract
A descriptive abstract gives a short description of the research proposal. It may include purpose, method, and the scope of the research, and it’s often 100 words or less in length. Some people consider it to be an outline of the research proposal rather than an actual abstract for the document.
While a descriptive abstract describes the type of information a reader will find in a research proposal, it neither critics the work nor provides results and conclusion of the study.
4. Informative Abstract
Many abstracts in academic writing are informative. They don’t analyze the study or investigation that you propose, but they explain a research project in a way that they can stand independently. In other words, an informative abstract gives an explanation for the main arguments, evidence, and significant results.
In addition to featuring purpose, method, and scope, an informative abstract also include the results, conclusion, as well as the recommendation of the author. As for the length, an informative abstract should not be more than 300 words.
How to Write an Abstract for a Research Proposal
Of the four type of abstracts that we’ve discussed above, an informative abstract is what you’ll need to write in your research proposal. Writing an abstract for a research proposal isn’t difficult at all. You only need to know what to write and how to write it, and you’re good to get started.
1. Write in Active Voice
First, use active voice when writing an abstract for your research proposal. However, this doesn’t mean you should avoid passive voice in entirety. If you find that some sentences can’t make sense unless with passive sentence construction, feel free to bend this rule somewhat.
Second, make sure your sentences are concise and complete. Refrain from using ambiguous words. Keep the language simple instead.
Lastly, never use present or future tense to write an abstract for a research proposal. You’re reporting a study that you’ve already conducted and therefore writing in past sense makes the most sense.
Your abstract should come immediately after the title page. Write in block format without paragraph indentations. The abstract should not be more than 300 words long and the page should not have a number. The word “Abstract” in your research proposal should be center aligned in the page, unless otherwise stated.
In addition to these formatting rules, the last sentence of your abstract should summarize the application to practice or the conclusions of your study. In the case where it seems appropriate, you might want follow this by statement that suggests a need for additional research.
3. Time to Write the Abstract
There are no hard rules on when to write an abstract for a research proposal. Some students choose to write the section first while others choose to write it last. We strongly recommend that you write the abstract last because it’s a summary of the whole paper. You can also write it in the beginning if you’ve already outlined your draft and know what you want to talk about even before you start writing.
Your informative abstract is subject to frequent changes as you work on your paper, and that holds whether you write the section first or last. Be flexible and tweak this part of the assignment as necessary. Also, make sure you report statistical findings in parentheses.
Read abstract to be sure the summary of the study agrees with what you’ve written in your proposal. As we mentioned earlier, this section is subject to change depending on the direction your research takes. So make sure you identify and correct any anomalies if any.
Mistakes to Avoid When Writing an Abstract for Research Proposal
To wind up this guide, here are some of the most common mistakes that you should avoid when writing an abstract for your research proposal:
- Avoid giving a lengthy background
- Don’t include citations to other people’s work
- An abstract shouldn’t include a table, figure, image, or any kind of illustration
- Don’t include terms that are difficult to understand
About the author
Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.
Research Proposal Example/Sample
Detailed Walkthrough + Free Proposal Template
If you’re getting started crafting your research proposal and are looking for a few examples of research proposals , you’ve come to the right place.
In this video, we walk you through two successful (approved) research proposals , one for a Master’s-level project, and one for a PhD-level dissertation. We also start off by unpacking our free research proposal template and discussing the four core sections of a research proposal, so that you have a clear understanding of the basics before diving into the actual proposals.
- Research proposal example/sample – Master’s-level (PDF/Word)
- Research proposal example/sample – PhD-level (PDF/Word)
- Proposal template (Fully editable)
If you’re working on a research proposal for a dissertation or thesis, you may also find the following useful:
- Research Proposal Bootcamp : Learn how to write a research proposal as efficiently and effectively as possible
- 1:1 Proposal Coaching : Get hands-on help with your research proposal
FAQ: Research Proposal Example
Research proposal example: frequently asked questions, are the sample proposals real.
Yes. The proposals are real and were approved by the respective universities.
Can I copy one of these proposals for my own research?
As we discuss in the video, every research proposal will be slightly different, depending on the university’s unique requirements, as well as the nature of the research itself. Therefore, you’ll need to tailor your research proposal to suit your specific context.
You can learn more about the basics of writing a research proposal here .
How do I get the research proposal template?
You can access our free proposal template here .
Is the proposal template really free?
Yes. There is no cost for the proposal template and you are free to use it as a foundation for your research proposal.
Where can I learn more about proposal writing?
For self-directed learners, our Research Proposal Bootcamp is a great starting point.
For students that want hands-on guidance, our private coaching service is recommended.
Psst… there’s more!
This post is an extract from our bestselling Udemy Course, Research Proposal Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .
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How to Write an Abstract for a Proposal
A proposal paper sets out your reasoning for the study, justifies the research and explains your intended methods. Dissertations and other graduate-level research often require proposals, or you may create one to apply for grant money. An abstract summarizes the information in the proposal. An effective abstract can make the difference between a positive or negative response to the proposal.
Write About the Introduction and Problem
A strong abstract touches on all the sections in the proposal, including the introduction, where you should give some information about the issue and why you chose it. While you do not want to go into detail about the problem, you need to state what issue your project will address, such as the high dropout rate for sophomores at a college. If you find you cannot focus your abstract on a single problem, your research may be too broad.
Summarize the Background and Focus
A proposal identifies a reason for the project, so the abstract also needs to establish how this project fulfills a need. You may indicate how your plan differs from previous research or fills a void in past research while summarizing information included in the literature review portion of your paper. Include a brief explanation of the project's objectives, the research or other material you will rely on in the paper and in your proposed thesis.
Explain the Methods and Conclusions
The abstract should include some general information about the procedures for your project. Explain if you will use qualitative, quantitative or mixed measures and why. What type of sample and procedures will you use to obtain your data? Add a sentence at the end of the abstract to indicate the conclusion you expect to draw from the project and the implications of the results, which will create a sense of closure for the document. Remember, the abstract is a summary of material in the paper, so only include information in the abstract that will also appear in the actual paper.
Follow Proper Formatting
First person point of view -- "I" and "my" -- are usually acceptable in APA proposals, but you should double check your field's style guide. After finishing a draft, revise your abstract to create concise language, keeping the abstract to a maximum of 250 words. Find examples of acceptable abstracts from your field and institution to use as models. If you write the abstract before finishing the proposal, review it once you have completed the paper to make sure the abstract summarizes the ideas you have presented. Insert a page break after the title page and place the abstract there, including the running head and page number in the header.
- University of Utah: How to Write a Graduate Proposal
- University of Nevada, Las Vegas: Writing Tips: How to Write an Abstract
- Rochester Institute of Technology: Writing a Successful Proposal
- University of Oregon: How to Write a Proposal Abstract
- Chapman University: How to Write an Abstract
- Purdue University: APA Stylistics: Basics
- Purdue University: General Format
Kristie Sweet has been writing professionally since 1982, most recently publishing for various websites on topics like health and wellness, and education. She holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Northern Colorado.
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- How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates
How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates
Published on October 12, 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on November 21, 2023.
A research proposal describes what you will investigate, why it’s important, and how you will conduct your research.
The format of a research proposal varies between fields, but most proposals will contain at least these elements:
- Research design
While the sections may vary, the overall objective is always the same. A research proposal serves as a blueprint and guide for your research plan, helping you get organized and feel confident in the path forward you choose to take.
Table of contents
Research proposal purpose, research proposal examples, research design and methods, contribution to knowledge, research schedule, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about research proposals.
Academics often have to write research proposals to get funding for their projects. As a student, you might have to write a research proposal as part of a grad school application , or prior to starting your thesis or dissertation .
In addition to helping you figure out what your research can look like, a proposal can also serve to demonstrate why your project is worth pursuing to a funder, educational institution, or supervisor.
Research proposal length
The length of a research proposal can vary quite a bit. A bachelor’s or master’s thesis proposal can be just a few pages, while proposals for PhD dissertations or research funding are usually much longer and more detailed. Your supervisor can help you determine the best length for your work.
One trick to get started is to think of your proposal’s structure as a shorter version of your thesis or dissertation , only without the results , conclusion and discussion sections.
Download our research proposal template
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See an example
Writing a research proposal can be quite challenging, but a good starting point could be to look at some examples. We’ve included a few for you below.
- Example research proposal #1: “A Conceptual Framework for Scheduling Constraint Management”
- Example research proposal #2: “Medical Students as Mediators of Change in Tobacco Use”
Like your dissertation or thesis, the proposal will usually have a title page that includes:
- The proposed title of your project
- Your supervisor’s name
- Your institution and department
The first part of your proposal is the initial pitch for your project. Make sure it succinctly explains what you want to do and why.
Your introduction should:
- Introduce your topic
- Give necessary background and context
- Outline your problem statement and research questions
To guide your introduction , include information about:
- Who could have an interest in the topic (e.g., scientists, policymakers)
- How much is already known about the topic
- What is missing from this current knowledge
- What new insights your research will contribute
- Why you believe this research is worth doing
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As you get started, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re familiar with the most important research on your topic. A strong literature review shows your reader that your project has a solid foundation in existing knowledge or theory. It also shows that you’re not simply repeating what other people have already done or said, but rather using existing research as a jumping-off point for your own.
In this section, share exactly how your project will contribute to ongoing conversations in the field by:
- Comparing and contrasting the main theories, methods, and debates
- Examining the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches
- Explaining how will you build on, challenge, or synthesize prior scholarship
Following the literature review, restate your main objectives . This brings the focus back to your own project. Next, your research design or methodology section will describe your overall approach, and the practical steps you will take to answer your research questions.
To finish your proposal on a strong note, explore the potential implications of your research for your field. Emphasize again what you aim to contribute and why it matters.
For example, your results might have implications for:
- Improving best practices
- Informing policymaking decisions
- Strengthening a theory or model
- Challenging popular or scientific beliefs
- Creating a basis for future research
Last but not least, your research proposal must include correct citations for every source you have used, compiled in a reference list . To create citations quickly and easily, you can use our free APA citation generator .
Some institutions or funders require a detailed timeline of the project, asking you to forecast what you will do at each stage and how long it may take. While not always required, be sure to check the requirements of your project.
Here’s an example schedule to help you get started. You can also download a template at the button below.
Download our research schedule template
If you are applying for research funding, chances are you will have to include a detailed budget. This shows your estimates of how much each part of your project will cost.
Make sure to check what type of costs the funding body will agree to cover. For each item, include:
- Cost : exactly how much money do you need?
- Justification : why is this cost necessary to complete the research?
- Source : how did you calculate the amount?
To determine your budget, think about:
- Travel costs : do you need to go somewhere to collect your data? How will you get there, and how much time will you need? What will you do there (e.g., interviews, archival research)?
- Materials : do you need access to any tools or technologies?
- Help : do you need to hire any research assistants for the project? What will they do, and how much will you pay them?
If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
- Sampling methods
- Simple random sampling
- Stratified sampling
- Cluster sampling
- Likert scales
- Null hypothesis
- Statistical power
- Probability distribution
- Effect size
- Poisson distribution
- Optimism bias
- Cognitive bias
- Implicit bias
- Hawthorne effect
- Anchoring bias
- Explicit bias
Once you’ve decided on your research objectives , you need to explain them in your paper, at the end of your problem statement .
Keep your research objectives clear and concise, and use appropriate verbs to accurately convey the work that you will carry out for each one.
I will compare …
A research aim is a broad statement indicating the general purpose of your research project. It should appear in your introduction at the end of your problem statement , before your research objectives.
Research objectives are more specific than your research aim. They indicate the specific ways you’ll address the overarching aim.
A PhD, which is short for philosophiae doctor (doctor of philosophy in Latin), is the highest university degree that can be obtained. In a PhD, students spend 3–5 years writing a dissertation , which aims to make a significant, original contribution to current knowledge.
A PhD is intended to prepare students for a career as a researcher, whether that be in academia, the public sector, or the private sector.
A master’s is a 1- or 2-year graduate degree that can prepare you for a variety of careers.
All master’s involve graduate-level coursework. Some are research-intensive and intend to prepare students for further study in a PhD; these usually require their students to write a master’s thesis . Others focus on professional training for a specific career.
Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.
Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.
The best way to remember the difference between a research plan and a research proposal is that they have fundamentally different audiences. A research plan helps you, the researcher, organize your thoughts. On the other hand, a dissertation proposal or research proposal aims to convince others (e.g., a supervisor, a funding body, or a dissertation committee) that your research topic is relevant and worthy of being conducted.
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