What is an abstract in a paper?

Learn more about the purpose of these short yet powerful statements, the different types of abstracts, and how to use them.

Just as the trailer to a film gives the viewer an idea of what they can expect to see, an abstract at the beginning of a paper serves as a “preview” of what lies within a bigger document. The bigger document, in this case, is most often complicated texts such as scientific or academic research papers. Let’s dive deeper into an abstract’s purpose and what you can expect from one.

Discover a document’s contents through its abstract.

Because research papers are often lengthy, the purpose of an abstract is to help you as a reader determine if a particular document contains the information you need. By preventing you from having to skim through hundreds of pages when looking for specific information, it saves you valuable time.

It’s also not uncommon for academic and research journals to charge a fee for accessing a document. The abstract is also useful here as it helps you determine if the document will be relevant to your needs before you make a purchase.

Understand the two types of abstract.

There are two common types of abstracts: descriptive and informative.

Where can I find the abstract?

You can usually find abstracts at the beginning of the work. Most abstracts are between 100-250 words and broken down into a paragraph or two. With advanced scientific research, don’t be surprised if you find an abstract that stretches out more than 250 words.

Keep in mind that not all papers will have abstracts. Here are common instances where you can expect to find one:

From abstract to download.

You’ll likely find digital versions of abstracts at many libraries — especially those dedicated to academia. This is especially helpful because it allows you to quickly search for specific keywords that may pertain to your topic or area of interest.

Once you find one or more abstracts that appear relevant to your topic or area of interest, you can view the document or download a copy. If working with many documents, it can be helpful to download them as PDF files and organize them into a folder for safekeeping. You can view, mark up, or highlight important text from there. You can also split the PDF into pages or sections to keep the most relevant information and discard the rest.

Take the headache out of research — discover everything you can do with Adobe Acrobat online services to organize your most important documents.