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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.
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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 Proposal Abstract
Today we look at the paper/conference proposal abstract . This is a critical genre of writing for scholars in the humanities and social sciences. Usually between 200 and 500 words long, it is a short abstract that describes research/a talk/a journal article that you are GOING to write. This is in contrast to the abstract of the research/dissertation/article that you have already written.
Mastering the paper abstract is one of the most important skills you can acquire while still a graduate student. Learn the tricks of the paper abstract and you have the ticket in hand to a steady ride of conference and publishing opportunities. These are the conferences and publications that a few years down the line, set your c.v. apart from your peers, and land you that job.
The paper abstract is highly formulaic. Let’s break it down. It needs to show the following:
1) big picture problem or topic widely debated in your field.
2) gap in the literature on this topic.
3) your project filling the gap.
4) the specific material that you examine in the paper.
5) your original argument.
6) a strong concluding sentence.
Each of these six elements is mostly likely contained in a single sentence.
Sentence 1: Big picture topic that is being intensively debated in your field/fields, possibly with reference to scholars (“The question of xxx has been widely debated in xxx field, with scholars such as xxx and xx arguing xxx]”).
Sentence 2: Gap in the literature on this topic. This GAP IN KNOWLEDGE is very, very bad, and detrimental to the welfare of all right thinking people. This is the key sentence of the abstract. (“However, these works/articles/arguments/perspectives have not adequately addressed the issue of xxxx.” ).
Sentence 3: Your project fills this gap (“My paper addresses the issue of xx with special attention to xxx”).
Sentence 4+ (length here depends on your total word allowance, and more sentences may be possible): The specific material that you are examining–your data, your texts, etc. ( “Specifically, in my project, I will be looking at xxx and xxx, in order to show xxxx. I will discuss xx and xx, and juxtapose them against xx and xx, in order to reveal the previously misunderstood connections between xx and xx.”)
Sentence 5: Your main argument and contribution, concisely and clearly stated. (“I argue that…”)
Sentence 6: Strong Conclusion! (“In conclusion, this project, by closely examining xxxxx, sheds new light on the neglected/little recognized/rarely acknowledged issue of xxxxx. ”).
Start by writing out your own version of the sentences above, succinctly if you can, but without stressing about your word limit too much.
Once that is done, edit to your word count.
One of the key points of the paper abstract is that it is very short, and every word must count. No fluff, no filler, no blather.
Remove wordy phrases like, “it can be argued that,” “Is is commonly acknowledged that,” “I wish to propose the argument that”—these are all empty filler. Work in short, declarative sentences.
If you are wondering—how do I make an argument when I haven’t written the paper yet? Well–that’s the challenge. Come up with a plausible, reasonable argument for the purposes of the abstract. If you end up writing something different in the actual paper itself, that’s ok!
Make sure that your final product shows your:
1) big picture
2) gap in the literature
3) your project filling the gap
5) your argument.
6) A strong conclusion.
For your reference, here are two abstracts that demonstrate how the principles above work. Each has parts missing, as noted. Inclusion would have strengthened the abstract:
1. Access to marriage or marriage-like institutions, and the recognition of lesbian and gay familial lives more generally, has become central to lesbian and gay equality struggles in recent years [Sentence 1–Big problem]. [Sentence 2–Gap in literature MISSING here]. This paper considers what utopian fiction has to offer by way of alternatives to this drive for ever more regulation of the family [Sentence 3–Her project fills the gap]. Through analysis of Marge Piercy’s classic feminist novel, Woman on the Edge of Time , and Thomas Bezucha’s award-winning gay film, Big Eden , alternative ways of conceptualizing the place of law in lesbian and gay familial lives are considered and explored [Sentence 4–Her specific material in the paper]. Looking to utopia as a method for rethinking the place of law in society offers rich new perspectives on the issue of lesbian and gay familial recognition [Sentence 5–Her argument, weak]. I argue that utopian fiction signals that the time is now ripe for a radical reevaluation of how we recognize and regulate not only same-sex relationships but all family forms [Sentence 6– a strong conclusion.].
[Imagining a Different World: Reconsidering the Regulation of Family Lives. Rosie Harding. Law and Literature . Vol. 22, No. 3 (Fall 2010) (pp. 440-462)]
2. History, it seems, has to attain a degree of scientificity, resident in the truth-value of its narrative, before it can be called history, as distinguished from the purely literary or political [Sentence 1–Big problem]. Invoking the work of Jacques Rancière and Hayden White, this essay investigates the manner in which history becomes a science through a detour that gives speech a regime of truth [Sentence 2–Literature, no gap mentioned]. It does this by exploring the nineteenth-century relationship of history to poetry and to truth in the context of the emerging discipline of history in Bengal [Sentence 3–Her project fills the gap]. The question is discussed in relation to a patriotic poem, Palashir Yuddha (1875), accused of ahistoricality, as well as to a defense made by Bengal’s first professional historian, Jadunath Sarkar, against a similar charge in the context of Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s historical novels [Sentence 4–Her specific material in the paper]. That the relationship of creativity to history is a continuing preoccupation for the historian is finally explored through Ranajit Guha’s invocation of Tagore in “History at the Limit of World-History” (2002) [Sentence 5–Her argument, weakly stated]. [MISSING Sentence 6—a strong conclusion].
[History in Poetry: Nabinchandra Sen’s “Palashir Yuddha” and the Question of Truth. Rosinka Chaudhuri. The Journal of Asian Studies . Vol. 66, No. 4 (Nov., 2007) (pp. 897-918)]
Good luck with your abstract!! And be sure and get in touch with Karen at [email protected] if you need some help.
(this post originally published by Karen on http://theprofessorisin.com .)
One response to “ How to Write a Proposal Abstract ”
Karen, I’ve read up on your posts and hope to share them with our McNair Scholars. Your writing is enjoyable and your topics are right on target. Let’s hope we can keep our McNair Programs running beyond next year!
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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.
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 November 3, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/abstract/
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Free Guide for Writing Abstracts for Research Proposals
Table of Contents
Writing an abstract for a research proposal is a necessary step in the process of submitting your paper for review or publication. It should give readers a clear understanding of what you’re proposing to study, how it will be conducted, and its importance.
A well-written abstract should include critical information from the larger paper, such as its purpose, main points, and methodologies used. If you need to learn how to write abstract for research proposal , this article shows you how.
How to Write Abstract for Research Proposal
An abstract is an excellent way of giving readers a preview of your research. Librarians, for instance, cherish well-written abstracts. This is because well-written abstracts help them to organize their indexes much better.
Let’s get right into it to understand how to write abstract for research proposal .
Start With an Introduction
The introduction to your abstract should dwell on the core of your research. It should provide information about the topic or highlight its relevance to current events.
In essence, it should answer the question of what the study is all about. Depending on individual preference and the topic at hand, the introduction often has two to three sentences.
When writing an abstract for a research proposal, it is important to include the methodology used. This section should explain how you plan to collect data and analyze results to answer your research question. It should indicate any ethical considerations or challenges during the project.
In this section, you must state the methods you will use to gather information and complete the project. If you’re conducting a survey, explain who will participate, the number of people, and the questions you’ll ask. You should also indicate the setting of your study and other relevant variables.
You should present your results in an organized, clear, and concise manner that allows readers to follow easily. It is important to highlight any interesting findings or key points that may have been discovered during the work.
When writing about the results, it is important to look at both the general field and specific issues identified by the researcher. This will allow for a more comprehensive understanding of the data collected and its implications. In addition, you should draw attention to any challenges faced while conducting the research and how you addressed them.
The conclusion should draw attention to any interesting or key findings, as well as highlight the importance of the research and its potential effects. In this section, you can discuss whether your results apply to other situations or not.
In addition, you should discuss how your results are similar or dissimilar to previous works. At this point, it’s crucial to avoid falling into the pit of exaggerating the implications of your research. It’s better to only make rational inferences from the result of your research.
Writing an effective abstract for a research proposal can be daunting. To make the process easier, it’s important to keep certain things in mind when composing your abstracts.
Begin by understanding what an abstract is and why it is necessary for academic writing. An abstract should summarize the most important points of your paper and highlight any new or innovative ideas you are presenting.
Additionally, make sure that your abstract follows the correct format, which may vary depending on the journal or other publication requirements. Furthermore, examine different ways to improve the clarity and effectiveness of your abstracts, such as adding keywords and terms to help enhance readability.
Finally, take time to draft and review multiple versions of your abstracts until you achieve one that succinctly summarizes your work.
Abir is a data analyst and researcher. Among her interests are artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. As a humanitarian and educator, she actively supports women in tech and promotes diversity.
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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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