What is an abstract?

  • An abstract serves as a summary of your research paper or thesis, giving your reader insight into what the paper is going to be about.
  • It has a simple goal: Tell the reader whether or not the paper will be useful for them.
  • Learning to write one well is an important step to getting your reader hooked on your project.

Abstracts give your reader a preview.

Whether you’re studying the humanities, social sciences, or any other field, an abstract introduces your audience to your research paper. Often a research paper or journal article is written for a specialized audience that’s educated about the topic. The abstract needs to be explicit about what the paper contains, so a reader can know if it’s what they’re looking for.

3 tips for writing great abstracts.

While an abstract is placed at the beginning of your paper to summarize everything that follows, you should only write it after your paper is complete.

1. To start an abstract, first read through your completed paper.

2. Identify the key elements a reader needs to understand before committing to reading the full paper.

3. Think of a compelling hook to grab the reader at the beginning of your abstract.

And if you’re ready to go, here are the steps to creating a clear, concise, and cogent abstract.

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How to write an abstract in 4 simple steps.

Abstracts can be broken up into several parts, which is surprising considering that they’re relatively short compared to the rest of what you’re writing. Make sure to hit all the important points so people will be more likely to read your full paper. Your word limit depends on where your abstract will be published, but as a general rule, it should usually run 250 to 500 words. Check with your publication, professor, or advisor for clear length guidelines, and bear in mind that you may only have a few short sentences to explain each of the sections below.

1. Describe the background, question, and goals.

These three pieces of information form the backbone of your research project. In four to five sentences, give the background for your research, state the question you’re trying to answer with that research, and then define the goal of your study. Here’s an example:

Everyone has had the experience of getting caught in the rain. But why does it rain? My intuition is that by analyzing barometer data, I will be able to determine the likelihood that it will rain on any given day.

This simple example makes it easy to see the critical details: There’s background (rain), a question (why?), and a goal (figuring out the likelihood of rain).

2. Define your methodology.

Methods come next — this is where you detail in brief the research methods. In the example above, the person writing the paper is going to use a barometer to try and predict the likelihood of rain. Go into additional detail about exactly how you intend to use your methodology to collect data.

3. Summarize your findings.

Write out your main findings in your abstract in one to two sentences. This part is simple: Summarize what you found with your research project. In the rain example, you simply say if there was any correlation between the occurrence of rain and the barometric pressure.

4. Explain the significance.

This section is where you tell your audience why your research matters. This is the moneymaker, where you illustrate why your findings are important and why people should read your full paper. An example of significance might be:

We can measure the likelihood of rainfall based on barometric pressure.

Now you have all the tools you need to write an abstract for your research paper. Read on to learn how to make your hard work look as professional as possible.

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Maximize the professionalism of your research paper.

Clean and professional-looking documents lend credibility to your abstract and research paper and help you put your best foot forward.

Preserve formatting.

In addition to a well-written abstract, a well-formatted document encourages people to read it. Make sure to submit a document that prints cleanly and works on any platform so your research isn’t warped or distorted by poor formatting. Remove any gaps, get rid of extra spaces, and extract unwanted pages to keep your document length reasonable.

Add charts and imagery.

Sometimes you need to include charts, imagery, and other visual elements in a research paper, and you want that information to look good. With tools like Acrobat Pro, you can add whatever elements you need and be sure they’ll show up for the reader exactly how you want. Plus, you can add a page to a PDF quickly, so it’s no trouble to add anything new right where you want it.

Compress and share.

Finally, use the Compress PDF tool to shrink the file size of image-heavy papers so you can more easily download and share them. Your professors or collaborators can also add comments and annotations, without accidentally affecting the layout of your document.

3 FAQs about abstracts.

What’s the purpose of an abstract?

An abstract summarizes all of the research findings within a research paper, often in a single paragraph. Think of an abstract as the teaser trailer for a film, but for research papers.

What is something to avoid in an abstract?

While you might feel like you need to add additional flourishes to the writing you do for an abstract, that’s unnecessary. Often your audience cares more about findings than they do about a clever turn of phrase. Keep it simple.

What’s a literature review and how does it differ from an abstract?

A literature review is completely distinct from an abstract. It summarizes all of the relevant published works on the topic you’re writing about. It’s like a bibliography, but it often comes with commentary and responses to various research papers. While it’s not a part of the abstract, it can also be a vital part of a research paper.

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