What is an abstract in a paper?

A woman sitting at a desk with a monitor and a laptop reads 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.

What is the abstract of a paper, and what can you find in it? Just as the trailer for 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 a complicated text, such as a scientific or academic research paper.

You may be wondering, “What is the purpose of an abstract?” Let’s dive deeper into the “why” behind an abstract and what you can expect from one.

What is the purpose of an 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.

What is an abstract misconception?

The abstract should be a summary of your research paper and make sense on its own.

An abstract will not do any of the following:

Your abstract should be concise and provide the reader with enough information to understand what your research is about. Too much detail defeats the purpose of an abstract that readers should be able to quickly glance at for an understanding of your paper.

There are a couple of ways you can write your abstract, depending on the content of your research paper. We’ll explore the two types of abstracts you can use to keep your reader informed and interested in your work.

What are the two types of abstracts in a paper?

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

Where can I find the abstract of a paper?

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 digital abstract to PDF download.

Understanding what an abstract is in a paper is essential to research success. Equally important is knowing how to organize study notes effectively, ensuring a comprehensive and structured approach to retaining key information from research papers.

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. When 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 PDFs 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.