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- How to Write an Abstract | Steps & Examples
How to Write an Abstract | Steps & Examples
Published on February 28, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 18, 2023 by Eoghan Ryan.
An abstract is a short summary of a longer work (such as a thesis , dissertation or research paper ). The abstract concisely reports the aims and outcomes of your research, so that readers know exactly what your paper is about.
Although the structure may vary slightly depending on your discipline, your abstract should describe the purpose of your work, the methods you’ve used, and the conclusions you’ve drawn.
One common way to structure your abstract is to use the IMRaD structure. This stands for:
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 .
Table of contents
Abstract example, when to write an abstract, step 1: introduction, step 2: methods, step 3: results, step 4: discussion, tips for writing an abstract, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about abstracts.
Hover over the different parts of the abstract to see how it is constructed.
This paper examines the role of silent movies as a mode of shared experience in the US during the early twentieth century. At this time, high immigration rates resulted in a significant percentage of non-English-speaking citizens. These immigrants faced numerous economic and social obstacles, including exclusion from public entertainment and modes of discourse (newspapers, theater, radio).
Incorporating evidence from reviews, personal correspondence, and diaries, this study demonstrates that silent films were an affordable and inclusive source of entertainment. It argues for the accessible economic and representational nature of early cinema. These concerns are particularly evident in the low price of admission and in the democratic nature of the actors’ exaggerated gestures, which allowed the plots and action to be easily grasped by a diverse audience despite language barriers.
Keywords: silent movies, immigration, public discourse, entertainment, early cinema, language barriers.
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You will almost always have to include an abstract when:
- Completing a thesis or dissertation
- Submitting a research paper to an academic journal
- Writing a book or research proposal
- Applying for research grants
It’s easiest to write your abstract last, right before the proofreading stage, because it’s a summary of the work you’ve already done. Your abstract should:
- Be a self-contained text, not an excerpt from your paper
- Be fully understandable on its own
- Reflect the structure of your larger work
Start by clearly defining the purpose of your research. What practical or theoretical problem does the research respond to, or what research question did you aim to answer?
You can include some brief context on the social or academic relevance of your dissertation topic , but don’t go into detailed background information. If your abstract uses specialized terms that would be unfamiliar to the average academic reader or that have various different meanings, give a concise definition.
After identifying the problem, state the objective of your research. Use verbs like “investigate,” “test,” “analyze,” or “evaluate” to describe exactly what you set out to do.
This part of the abstract can be written in the present or past simple tense but should never refer to the future, as the research is already complete.
- This study will investigate the relationship between coffee consumption and productivity.
- This study investigates the relationship between coffee consumption and productivity.
Next, indicate the research methods that you used to answer your question. This part should be a straightforward description of what you did in one or two sentences. It is usually written in the past simple tense, as it refers to completed actions.
- Structured interviews will be conducted with 25 participants.
- Structured interviews were conducted with 25 participants.
Don’t evaluate validity or obstacles here — the goal is not to give an account of the methodology’s strengths and weaknesses, but to give the reader a quick insight into the overall approach and procedures you used.
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Next, summarize the main research results . This part of the abstract can be in the present or past simple tense.
- Our analysis has shown a strong correlation between coffee consumption and productivity.
- Our analysis shows a strong correlation between coffee consumption and productivity.
- Our analysis showed a strong correlation between coffee consumption and productivity.
Depending on how long and complex your research is, you may not be able to include all results here. Try to highlight only the most important findings that will allow the reader to understand your conclusions.
Finally, you should discuss the main conclusions of your research : what is your answer to the problem or question? The reader should finish with a clear understanding of the central point that your research has proved or argued. Conclusions are usually written in the present simple tense.
- We concluded that coffee consumption increases productivity.
- We conclude that coffee consumption increases productivity.
If there are important limitations to your research (for example, related to your sample size or methods), you should mention them briefly in the abstract. This allows the reader to accurately assess the credibility and generalizability of your research.
If your aim was to solve a practical problem, your discussion might include recommendations for implementation. If relevant, you can briefly make suggestions for further research.
If your paper will be published, you might have to add a list of keywords at the end of the abstract. These keywords should reference the most important elements of the research to help potential readers find your paper during their own literature searches.
Be aware that some publication manuals, such as APA Style , have specific formatting requirements for these keywords.
It can be a real challenge to condense your whole work into just a couple of hundred words, but the abstract will be the first (and sometimes only) part that people read, so it’s important to get it right. These strategies can help you get started.
Read other abstracts
The best way to learn the conventions of writing an abstract in your discipline is to read other people’s. You probably already read lots of journal article abstracts while conducting your literature review —try using them as a framework for structure and style.
You can also find lots of dissertation abstract examples in thesis and dissertation databases .
Not all abstracts will contain precisely the same elements. For longer works, you can write your abstract through a process of reverse outlining.
For each chapter or section, list keywords and draft one to two sentences that summarize the central point or argument. This will give you a framework of your abstract’s structure. Next, revise the sentences to make connections and show how the argument develops.
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. You can easily make them shorter and clearer by using the active voice.
- Avoid long sentences: Substitute longer expressions for concise expressions or single words (e.g., “In order to” for “To”).
- Avoid obscure jargon: The abstract should be understandable to readers who are not familiar with your topic.
- Avoid repetition and filler words: Replace nouns with pronouns when possible and eliminate unnecessary words.
- Avoid detailed descriptions: An abstract is not expected to provide detailed definitions, background information, or discussions of other scholars’ work. Instead, include this information in the body of your thesis or paper.
If you’re struggling to edit down to the required length, you can get help from expert editors with Scribbr’s professional proofreading services or use the paraphrasing tool .
Check your formatting
If you are writing a thesis or dissertation or submitting to a journal, there are often specific formatting requirements for the abstract—make sure to check the guidelines and format your work correctly. For APA research papers you can follow the APA abstract format .
The word count is within the required length, or a maximum of one page.
The abstract appears after the title page and acknowledgements and before the table of contents .
I have clearly stated my research problem and objectives.
I have briefly described my methodology .
I have summarized the most important results .
I have stated my main conclusions .
I have mentioned any important limitations and recommendations.
The abstract can be understood by someone without prior knowledge of the topic.
You've written a great abstract! Use the other checklists to continue improving your thesis or dissertation.
If you want to know more about AI for academic writing, AI tools, or research bias, make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!
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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.
Abstracts are often indexed along with keywords on academic databases, so they make your work more easily findable. Since the abstract is the first thing any reader sees, it’s important that it clearly and accurately summarizes the contents of your paper.
An abstract for a thesis or dissertation is usually around 200–300 words. There’s often a strict word limit, so make sure to check your university’s requirements.
The abstract is the very last thing you write. You should only write it after your research is complete, so that you can accurately summarize the entirety of your thesis , dissertation or research paper .
Avoid citing sources in your abstract . There are two reasons for this:
- The abstract should focus on your original research, not on the work of others.
- The abstract should be self-contained and fully understandable without reference to other sources.
There are some circumstances where you might need to mention other sources in an abstract: for example, if your research responds directly to another study or focuses on the work of a single theorist. In general, though, don’t include citations unless absolutely necessary.
The abstract appears on its own page in the thesis or dissertation , after the title page and acknowledgements but before the table of contents .
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McCombes, S. (2023, July 18). How to Write an Abstract | Steps & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved December 5, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/abstract/
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Writing an Abstract
What is an 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...”
(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)
25% of their space on what you did (Methods)
35% of their space on what you found (Results)
15% of their space on the implications of the research
Try to avoid these common problems in IMRaD abstracts:
1. The abstract provides a statement of what the paper will ask or explore rather than what it found:
X This report examines the causes of oversleeping. (What did it find out about these causes?) √ Individuals oversleep because they go to bed too late, forget to set their alarms, and keep their rooms dark.
2. The abstract provides general categories rather than specific details in the findings:
X The study draws conclusions about which variables are most important in choosing a movie theater. (What, specifically, are these variables?)
√ The study concludes that the most important variables in choosing a movie theater are comfortable seats and high-quality popcorn.
Writing an abstract
Although it is usually brief (typically 150-300 words), an abstract is an important part of journal article writing (as well as for your thesis and for conferences). Done well, the abstract should create enough reader interest that readers will want to read more!
Whereas the purpose of an introduction is to broadly introduce your topic and your key message, the purpose of an abstract is to give an overview of your entire project, in particular its findings and contribution to the field. An abstract should be a standalone summary of your paper, which readers can use to decide whether it's relevant to them before they dive in to read the paper.
Usually an abstract includes the following.
- A brief introduction to the topic that you're investigating.
- Explanation of why the topic is important in your field/s.
- Statement about what the gap is in the research.
- Your research question/s / aim/s.
- An indication of your research methods and approach.
- Your key message.
- A summary of your key findings.
- An explanation of why your findings and key message contribute to the field/s.
In other words, an abstract includes points covering these questions.
- What is your paper about?
- Why is it important?
- How did you do it?
- What did you find?
- Why are your findings important?
To see the specific conventions in your field/s, have a look at the structure of a variety of abstracts from relevant journal articles. Do they include the same kinds of information as listed above? What structure do they follow? You can model your own abstract on these conventions.
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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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This handout discusses how to write good abstracts for reports. It covers informational and descriptive abstracts and gives pointers for success.
Types of abstracts
There are two types of abstracts: informational and descriptive.
- Communicate contents of reports
- Include purpose, methods, scope, results, conclusions, and recommendations
- Highlight essential points
- Are short—from a paragraph to a page or two, depending upon the length of the report (10% or less of the report)
- Allow readers to decide whether they want to read the report
- Tell what the report contains
- Include purpose, methods, scope, but NOT results, conclusions, and recommendations
- Are always very short— usually under 100 words
- Introduce subject to readers, who must then read the report to learn study results
Qualities of a good abstract
An effective abstract
- Uses one or more well-developed paragraphs, which are unified, coherent, concise, and able to stand alone
- Uses an introduction-body-conclusion structure in which the parts of the report are discussed in order: purpose, findings, conclusions, recommendations
- Follows strictly the chronology of the report
- Provides logical connections between material included
- Adds no new information but simply summarizes the report
- Is intelligible to a wide audience
Steps for writing effective report abstracts
To write an effective report abstract, follow these four steps.
Reread your report with the purpose of abstracting in mind. Look specifically for these main parts: purpose, methods, scope, results, conclusions, and recommendations.
After you have finished rereading your report, write a rough draft without looking back at your report. Consider the main parts of the abstract listed in step #1. Do not merely copy key sentences from your report. You will put in too much or too little information. Do not summarize information in a new way.
Revise your rough draft to
Correct weaknesses in organization and coherence,
Drop superfluous information,
Add important information originally left out,
Eliminate wordiness, and
Correct errors in grammar and mechanics.
Carefully proofread your final copy.