How to Write an Abstract for Your Paper

Matt Ellis

An abstract is a self-contained summary of a larger work, such as research and scientific papers or general academic papers . Usually situated at the beginning of such works, the abstract is meant to “preview” the bigger document. This helps readers and other researchers find what they’re looking for and understand the magnitude of what’s discussed. 

Like the trailer for a movie, an abstract can determine whether or not someone becomes interested in your work. Aside from enticing readers, abstracts are also useful organizational tools that help other researchers and academics find papers relevant to their work.  

Because of their specific requirements, it’s best to know a little about how to write an abstract before doing it. This guide explains the basics of writing an abstract for beginners, including what to put in them and some expert tips on writing them. 

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What’s the purpose of an abstract?

The main purpose of an abstract is to help people decide whether or not to read the entire academic paper. After all, titles can be misleading and don’t get into specifics like methodology or results. Imagine paying for and downloading a hundred-page dissertation on what you believe is relevant to your research on the Caucasus region—only to find out it’s about the other Georgia. 

Likewise, abstracts can encourage financial support for grant proposals and fundraising. If you lack the funding for your research, your proposal abstract would outline the costs and benefits of your project. This way, potential investors could make an informed decision, or jump to the relevant section of your proposal to see the details. 

Abstracts are also incredibly useful for indexing. They make it easier for researchers to find precisely what they need without wasting time skimming actual papers. And because abstracts sometimes touch on the results of a paper, researchers and students can see right away if the paper can be used as evidence or a citation to support their own theses. 

Nowadays, abstracts are also important for search engine optimization (SEO)—namely, for getting digital copies of your paper to appear in search engine results. If someone Googles the words used in your abstract, the link to your paper will appear higher in the search results, making it more likely to get clicks. 

How long should an abstract be? 

Abstracts are typically 100–250 words and comprise one or two paragraphs . However, more complex papers require more complex abstracts, so you may need to stretch it out to cover everything. It’s not uncommon to see abstracts that fill an entire page, especially in advanced scientific works. 

When do you need to write an abstract? 

Abstracts are only for lengthy, often complicated texts, as with scientific and research papers. Similar academic papers—including doctorate dissertations, master’s theses, or elaborate literary criticisms —may also demand them as well. If you’re learning how to write a thesis paper for college , you’ll want to know how to write an abstract, too. 

Specifically, most scientific journals and grant proposals require an abstract for submissions. Conference papers often involve them as well, as do book proposals and other fundraising endeavors. 

However, most writing, in particular casual and creative writing, doesn’t need an abstract. 

Types of abstracts

There are two main types of abstracts: informative and descriptive. Most abstracts fall into the informative category, with descriptive abstracts reserved for less formal papers. 

Informative abstracts

Informative abstracts discuss all the need-to-know details of your paper: purpose, method, scope, results, and conclusion. They’re the go-to format for scientific and research papers. 

Informative abstracts attempt to outline the entire paper without going into specifics. They’re written for quick reference, favor efficiency over style, and tend to lack personality. 

Descriptive abstracts

Descriptive abstracts are a little more personable and focus more on enticing readers. They don’t care as much for data and details, and instead read more like overviews that don’t give too much away. Think of descriptive abstracts like synopses on the back of a book. 

Because they don’t delve too deep, descriptive abstracts are shorter than informative abstracts, closer to 100 words, and in a single paragraph. In particular, they don’t cover areas like results or conclusions — you have to read the paper to satisfy your curiosity. 

Since they’re so informal, descriptive abstracts are more at home in artistic criticisms and entertaining papers than in scientific articles. 

What to include in an abstract

As part of a formal document, informative abstracts adhere to more scientific and data-based structures. Like the paper itself, abstracts should include all of the IMRaD elements: Introduction , Methods , Results , and Discussion . 

This handy acronym is a great way to remember what parts to include in your abstract. There are some other areas you might need as well, which we also explain at the end. 

Introduction

The beginning of your abstract should provide a broad overview of the entire project, just like the thesis statement. You can also use this section of your abstract to write out your hypothesis or research question. 

In the one or two sentences at the top, you want to disclose the purpose of your paper, such as what problem it attempts to solve and why the reader should be interested. You’ll also need to explain the context around it, including any historical references. 

This section covers the methodology of your research, or how you collected the data. This is crucial for verifying the credibility of your paper — abstracts with no methodology or suspicious methods won’t be taken seriously by the scientific community. 

If you’re using original research, you should disclose which analytical methods you used to collect your data, including descriptions of instruments, software, or participants. If you’re expounding on previous data, this is a good place to cite which data and from where to avoid plagiarism . 

For informative abstracts, it’s okay to “give away the ending.” In one or two sentences, summarize the results of your paper and the conclusive outcome. Remember that the goal of most abstracts is to inform, not entice, so mentioning your results here can help others better classify and categorize your paper. 

This is often the biggest section of your abstract. It involves most of the concrete details surrounding your paper, so don’t be afraid to give it an extra sentence or two compared to the others. 

The discussion section explains the ultimate conclusion and its ramifications. Based on the data and examination, what can we take away from this paper? The discussion section often goes beyond the scope of the project itself, including the implications of the research or what it adds to its field as a whole. 

Other inclusions

Aside from the IMRaD aspects, your abstract may require some of the following areas:

  • Keywords — Like hashtags for research papers, keywords list out the topics discussed in your paper so interested people can find it more easily, especially with online formats. The APA format (explained below) has specific requirements for listing keywords, so double-check there before listing yours. 
  • Ethical concerns — If your research deals with ethically gray areas, i.e., testing on animals, you may want to point out any concerns here, or issue reassurances. 
  • Consequences — If your research disproves or challenges a popular theory or belief, it’s good to mention that in the abstract — especially if you have new evidence to back it up. 
  • Conflicts of Interest/Disclosures — Although different forums have different rules on disclosing conflicts of interests, it’s generally best to mention them in your abstract. For example, maybe you received funding from a biased party. 

If you’re ever in doubt about what to include in your abstract, just remember that it should act as a succinct summary of your entire paper. Include all the relevant points, but only the highlights. 

Abstract formats

In general, abstracts are pretty uniform since they’re exclusive to formal documents. That said, there are a couple of technical formats you should be aware of. 

APA format  

The American Psychological Association (APA) has specific guidelines for their papers in the interest of consistency. Here’s what the 7th edition Publication Manual has to say about formatting abstracts:

  • Double-space your text.
  • Set page margins at 1 inch (2.54 cm).
  • Write the word “Abstract” at the top of the page, centered and in a bold font.
  • Don’t indent the first line.
  • Keep your abstract under 250 words.
  • Include a running header and page numbers on all pages, including the abstract.

Abstract keywords have their own particular guidelines as well: 

  • Label the section as “ Keywords: ” with italics.
  • Indent the first line at 0.5 inches, but leave subsequent lines as is.
  • Write your keywords on the same line as the label.
  • Use lower-case letters.
  • Use commas, but not conjunctions.

Structured abstracts

Structured abstracts are a relatively new format for scientific papers, originating in the late 1980s. Basically, you just separate your abstract into smaller subsections — typically based on the IMRaD categories — and label them accordingly. 

The idea is to enhance scannability; for example, if readers are only interested in the methodology, they can skip right to the methodology. The actual writing of structured abstracts, though, is more-or-less the same as traditional ones. 

Unstructured abstracts are still the convention, though, so double-check beforehand to see which one is preferred.

3 expert tips for writing abstracts

1 autonomous works.

Abstracts are meant to be self-contained, autonomous works. They should act as standalone documents, often with a beginning, middle, and end. The thinking is that, even if you never read the actual paper, you’ll still understand the entire scope of the project just from the abstract. 

Keep that in mind when you write your abstract: it should be a microcosm of the entire piece, with all the key points, but none of the details. 

2 Write the abstract last

Because the abstract comes first, it’s tempting to write it first. However, writing the abstract at the end is more effective since you have a better understanding of what is actually in your paper. You’ll also discover new implications as you write, and perhaps even shift the structure a bit. In any event, you’re better prepared to write the abstract once the main paper is completed. 

3 Abstracts are not introductions

A common misconception is to write your abstract like an introduction — after all, it’s the first section of your paper. However, abstracts follow a different set of guidelines, so don’t make this mistake. 

Abstracts are summaries, designed to encapsulate the findings of your paper and assist with organization and searchability. A good abstract includes background information and context, not to mention results and conclusions. Abstracts are also self-contained, and can be read independently of the rest of the paper. 

Introductions, by contrast, serve to gradually bring the reader up to speed on the topic. Their goals are less clinical and more personable, with room to elaborate and build anticipation. Introductions are also an integral part of the paper, and feel incomplete if read independently. 

Give your formal writing the My Fair Lady treatment

Formal papers — the kind that requires abstracts — need formal language. But for most of us, that means changing the way we communicate or even think. You may want to consider the My Fair Lady treatment, which is to say, having a skilled mentor coach what you say. 

Grammarly Premium now offers a new Set Goals feature that helps you tailor your language to your audience or intention. All you have to do is set the goals of a particular piece of writing and Grammarly will customize your feedback accordingly. For example, you can select the knowledge level of your readers, the formality of the tone, and the domain or field you’re writing for (i.e., academic, creative, business, etc.). You can even set a tone to sound more analytical or respectful! 

Here’s a tip: Grammarly’s  Citation Generator  ensures your essays have flawless citations and no plagiarism. Try it for citing abstracts in Chicago , MLA , and APA styles.

abstract essay words

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

What this handout is about

This handout provides definitions and examples of the two main types of abstracts: descriptive and informative. It also provides guidelines for constructing an abstract and general tips for you to keep in mind when drafting. Finally, it includes a few examples of abstracts broken down into their component parts.

What is an abstract?

An abstract is a self-contained, short, and powerful statement that describes a larger work. Components vary according to discipline. An abstract of a social science or scientific work may contain the scope, purpose, results, and contents of the work. An abstract of a humanities work may contain the thesis, background, and conclusion of the larger work. An abstract is not a review, nor does it evaluate the work being abstracted. While it contains key words found in the larger work, the abstract is an original document rather than an excerpted passage.

Why write an abstract?

You may write an abstract for various reasons. The two most important are selection and indexing. Abstracts allow readers who may be interested in a longer work to quickly decide whether it is worth their time to read it. Also, many online databases use abstracts to index larger works. Therefore, abstracts should contain keywords and phrases that allow for easy searching.

Say you are beginning a research project on how Brazilian newspapers helped Brazil’s ultra-liberal president Luiz Ignácio da Silva wrest power from the traditional, conservative power base. A good first place to start your research is to search Dissertation Abstracts International for all dissertations that deal with the interaction between newspapers and politics. “Newspapers and politics” returned 569 hits. A more selective search of “newspapers and Brazil” returned 22 hits. That is still a fair number of dissertations. Titles can sometimes help winnow the field, but many titles are not very descriptive. For example, one dissertation is titled “Rhetoric and Riot in Rio de Janeiro.” It is unclear from the title what this dissertation has to do with newspapers in Brazil. One option would be to download or order the entire dissertation on the chance that it might speak specifically to the topic. A better option is to read the abstract. In this case, the abstract reveals the main focus of the dissertation:

This dissertation examines the role of newspaper editors in the political turmoil and strife that characterized late First Empire Rio de Janeiro (1827-1831). Newspaper editors and their journals helped change the political culture of late First Empire Rio de Janeiro by involving the people in the discussion of state. This change in political culture is apparent in Emperor Pedro I’s gradual loss of control over the mechanisms of power. As the newspapers became more numerous and powerful, the Emperor lost his legitimacy in the eyes of the people. To explore the role of the newspapers in the political events of the late First Empire, this dissertation analyzes all available newspapers published in Rio de Janeiro from 1827 to 1831. Newspapers and their editors were leading forces in the effort to remove power from the hands of the ruling elite and place it under the control of the people. In the process, newspapers helped change how politics operated in the constitutional monarchy of Brazil.

From this abstract you now know that although the dissertation has nothing to do with modern Brazilian politics, it does cover the role of newspapers in changing traditional mechanisms of power. After reading the abstract, you can make an informed judgment about whether the dissertation would be worthwhile to read.

Besides selection, the other main purpose of the abstract is for indexing. Most article databases in the online catalog of the library enable you to search abstracts. This allows for quick retrieval by users and limits the extraneous items recalled by a “full-text” search. However, for an abstract to be useful in an online retrieval system, it must incorporate the key terms that a potential researcher would use to search. For example, if you search Dissertation Abstracts International using the keywords “France” “revolution” and “politics,” the search engine would search through all the abstracts in the database that included those three words. Without an abstract, the search engine would be forced to search titles, which, as we have seen, may not be fruitful, or else search the full text. It’s likely that a lot more than 60 dissertations have been written with those three words somewhere in the body of the entire work. By incorporating keywords into the abstract, the author emphasizes the central topics of the work and gives prospective readers enough information to make an informed judgment about the applicability of the work.

When do people write abstracts?

  • when submitting articles to journals, especially online journals
  • when applying for research grants
  • when writing a book proposal
  • when completing the Ph.D. dissertation or M.A. thesis
  • when writing a proposal for a conference paper
  • when writing a proposal for a book chapter

Most often, the author of the entire work (or prospective work) writes the abstract. However, there are professional abstracting services that hire writers to draft abstracts of other people’s work. In a work with multiple authors, the first author usually writes the abstract. Undergraduates are sometimes asked to draft abstracts of books/articles for classmates who have not read the larger work.

Types of abstracts

There are two types of abstracts: descriptive and informative. They have different aims, so as a consequence they have different components and styles. There is also a third type called critical, but it is rarely used. If you want to find out more about writing a critique or a review of a work, see the UNC Writing Center handout on writing a literature review . If you are unsure which type of abstract you should write, ask your instructor (if the abstract is for a class) or read other abstracts in your field or in the journal where you are submitting your article.

Descriptive abstracts

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 describes the work being abstracted. Some people consider it an outline of the work, rather than a summary. Descriptive abstracts are usually very short—100 words or less.

Informative abstracts

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 writer presents and explains all the main arguments and the important results and evidence in the complete article/paper/book. An informative abstract includes the information that can be found in a descriptive abstract (purpose, methods, scope) but 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 rarely more than 10% of the length of the entire work. In the case of a longer work, it may be much less.

Here are examples of a descriptive and an informative abstract of this handout on abstracts . Descriptive abstract:

The two most common abstract types—descriptive and informative—are described and examples of each are provided.

Informative abstract:

Abstracts present the essential elements of a longer work in a short and powerful statement. The purpose of an abstract is to provide prospective readers the opportunity to judge the relevance of the longer work to their projects. Abstracts also include the key terms found in the longer work and the purpose and methods of the research. Authors abstract various longer works, including book proposals, dissertations, and online journal articles. There are two main types of abstracts: descriptive and informative. A descriptive abstract briefly describes the longer work, while an informative abstract presents all the main arguments and important results. This handout provides examples of various types of abstracts and instructions on how to construct one.

Which type should I use?

Your best bet in this case is to ask your instructor or refer to the instructions provided by the publisher. You can also make a guess based on the length allowed; i.e., 100-120 words = descriptive; 250+ words = informative.

How do I write an abstract?

The format of your abstract will depend on the work being abstracted. An abstract of a scientific research paper will contain elements not found in an abstract of a literature article, and vice versa. However, all abstracts share several mandatory components, and there are also some optional parts that you can decide to include or not. When preparing to draft your abstract, keep the following key process elements in mind:

  • Reason for writing: What is the importance of the research? Why would a reader be interested in the larger work?
  • Problem: What problem does this work attempt to solve? What is the scope of the project? What is the main argument/thesis/claim?
  • Methodology: An abstract of a scientific work may include specific models or approaches used in the larger study. Other abstracts may describe the types of evidence used in the research.
  • Results: Again, an abstract of a scientific work may include specific data that indicates the results of the project. Other abstracts may discuss the findings in a more general way.
  • Implications: What changes should be implemented as a result of the findings of the work? How does this work add to the body of knowledge on the topic?

(This list of elements is adapted with permission from Philip Koopman, “How to Write an Abstract.” )

All abstracts include:

  • A full citation of the source, preceding the abstract.
  • The most important information first.
  • The same type and style of language found in the original, including technical language.
  • Key words and phrases that quickly identify the content and focus of the work.
  • Clear, concise, and powerful language.

Abstracts may include:

  • The thesis of the work, usually in the first sentence.
  • Background information that places the work in the larger body of literature.
  • The same chronological structure as the original work.

How not to write an abstract:

  • Do not refer extensively to other works.
  • Do not add information not contained in the original work.
  • Do not define terms.

If you are abstracting your own writing

When abstracting your own work, it may be difficult to condense a piece of writing that you have agonized over for weeks (or months, or even years) into a 250-word statement. There are some tricks that you could use to make it easier, however.

Reverse outlining:

This technique is commonly used when you are having trouble organizing your own writing. The process involves writing down the main idea of each paragraph on a separate piece of paper– see our short video . For the purposes of writing an abstract, try grouping the main ideas of each section of the paper into a single sentence. Practice grouping ideas using webbing or color coding .

For a scientific paper, you may have sections titled Purpose, Methods, Results, and Discussion. Each one of these sections will be longer than one paragraph, but each is grouped around a central idea. Use reverse outlining to discover the central idea in each section and then distill these ideas into one statement.

Cut and paste:

To create a first draft of an abstract of your own work, you can read through the entire paper and cut and paste sentences that capture key passages. This technique is useful for social science research with findings that cannot be encapsulated by neat numbers or concrete results. A well-written humanities draft will have a clear and direct thesis statement and informative topic sentences for paragraphs or sections. Isolate these sentences in a separate document and work on revising them into a unified paragraph.

If you are abstracting someone else’s writing

When abstracting something you have not written, you cannot summarize key ideas just by cutting and pasting. Instead, you must determine what a prospective reader would want to know about the work. There are a few techniques that will help you in this process:

Identify key terms:

Search through the entire document for key terms that identify the purpose, scope, and methods of the work. Pay close attention to the Introduction (or Purpose) and the Conclusion (or Discussion). These sections should contain all the main ideas and key terms in the paper. When writing the abstract, be sure to incorporate the key terms.

Highlight key phrases and sentences:

Instead of cutting and pasting the actual words, try highlighting sentences or phrases that appear to be central to the work. Then, in a separate document, rewrite the sentences and phrases in your own words.

Don’t look back:

After reading the entire work, put it aside and write a paragraph about the work without referring to it. In the first draft, you may not remember all the key terms or the results, but you will remember what the main point of the work was. Remember not to include any information you did not get from the work being abstracted.

Revise, revise, revise

No matter what type of abstract you are writing, or whether you are abstracting your own work or someone else’s, the most important step in writing an abstract is to revise early and often. When revising, delete all extraneous words and incorporate meaningful and powerful words. The idea is to be as clear and complete as possible in the shortest possible amount of space. The Word Count feature of Microsoft Word can help you keep track of how long your abstract is and help you hit your target length.

Example 1: Humanities abstract

Kenneth Tait Andrews, “‘Freedom is a constant struggle’: The dynamics and consequences of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, 1960-1984” Ph.D. State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1997 DAI-A 59/02, p. 620, Aug 1998

This dissertation examines the impacts of social movements through a multi-layered study of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement from its peak in the early 1960s through the early 1980s. By examining this historically important case, I clarify the process by which movements transform social structures and the constraints movements face when they try to do so. The time period studied includes the expansion of voting rights and gains in black political power, the desegregation of public schools and the emergence of white-flight academies, and the rise and fall of federal anti-poverty programs. I use two major research strategies: (1) a quantitative analysis of county-level data and (2) three case studies. Data have been collected from archives, interviews, newspapers, and published reports. This dissertation challenges the argument that movements are inconsequential. Some view federal agencies, courts, political parties, or economic elites as the agents driving institutional change, but typically these groups acted in response to the leverage brought to bear by the civil rights movement. The Mississippi movement attempted to forge independent structures for sustaining challenges to local inequities and injustices. By propelling change in an array of local institutions, movement infrastructures had an enduring legacy in Mississippi.

Now let’s break down this abstract into its component parts to see how the author has distilled his entire dissertation into a ~200 word abstract.

What the dissertation does This dissertation examines the impacts of social movements through a multi-layered study of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement from its peak in the early 1960s through the early 1980s. By examining this historically important case, I clarify the process by which movements transform social structures and the constraints movements face when they try to do so.

How the dissertation does it The time period studied in this dissertation includes the expansion of voting rights and gains in black political power, the desegregation of public schools and the emergence of white-flight academies, and the rise and fall of federal anti-poverty programs. I use two major research strategies: (1) a quantitative analysis of county-level data and (2) three case studies.

What materials are used Data have been collected from archives, interviews, newspapers, and published reports.

Conclusion This dissertation challenges the argument that movements are inconsequential. Some view federal agencies, courts, political parties, or economic elites as the agents driving institutional change, but typically these groups acted in response to movement demands and the leverage brought to bear by the civil rights movement. The Mississippi movement attempted to forge independent structures for sustaining challenges to local inequities and injustices. By propelling change in an array of local institutions, movement infrastructures had an enduring legacy in Mississippi.

Keywords social movements Civil Rights Movement Mississippi voting rights desegregation

Example 2: Science Abstract

Luis Lehner, “Gravitational radiation from black hole spacetimes” Ph.D. University of Pittsburgh, 1998 DAI-B 59/06, p. 2797, Dec 1998

The problem of detecting gravitational radiation is receiving considerable attention with the construction of new detectors in the United States, Europe, and Japan. The theoretical modeling of the wave forms that would be produced in particular systems will expedite the search for and analysis of detected signals. The characteristic formulation of GR is implemented to obtain an algorithm capable of evolving black holes in 3D asymptotically flat spacetimes. Using compactification techniques, future null infinity is included in the evolved region, which enables the unambiguous calculation of the radiation produced by some compact source. A module to calculate the waveforms is constructed and included in the evolution algorithm. This code is shown to be second-order convergent and to handle highly non-linear spacetimes. In particular, we have shown that the code can handle spacetimes whose radiation is equivalent to a galaxy converting its whole mass into gravitational radiation in one second. We further use the characteristic formulation to treat the region close to the singularity in black hole spacetimes. The code carefully excises a region surrounding the singularity and accurately evolves generic black hole spacetimes with apparently unlimited stability.

This science abstract covers much of the same ground as the humanities one, but it asks slightly different questions.

Why do this study The problem of detecting gravitational radiation is receiving considerable attention with the construction of new detectors in the United States, Europe, and Japan. The theoretical modeling of the wave forms that would be produced in particular systems will expedite the search and analysis of the detected signals.

What the study does The characteristic formulation of GR is implemented to obtain an algorithm capable of evolving black holes in 3D asymptotically flat spacetimes. Using compactification techniques, future null infinity is included in the evolved region, which enables the unambiguous calculation of the radiation produced by some compact source. A module to calculate the waveforms is constructed and included in the evolution algorithm.

Results This code is shown to be second-order convergent and to handle highly non-linear spacetimes. In particular, we have shown that the code can handle spacetimes whose radiation is equivalent to a galaxy converting its whole mass into gravitational radiation in one second. We further use the characteristic formulation to treat the region close to the singularity in black hole spacetimes. The code carefully excises a region surrounding the singularity and accurately evolves generic black hole spacetimes with apparently unlimited stability.

Keywords gravitational radiation (GR) spacetimes black holes

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Belcher, Wendy Laura. 2009. Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Press.

Koopman, Philip. 1997. “How to Write an Abstract.” Carnegie Mellon University. October 1997. http://users.ece.cmu.edu/~koopman/essays/abstract.html .

Lancaster, F.W. 2003. Indexing And Abstracting in Theory and Practice , 3rd ed. London: Facet Publishing.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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How to Write an Abstract

An abstract of a work, usually of an essay, is a concise summary of its main points. It is meant to concentrate the argument of a work, presenting it as clearly as possible.

The abstract often appears after the title and before the main body of an essay. If you are writing an abstract as part of an assignment, you should check with your instructor about where to place it.

Here are a few guidelines to follow when composing an abstract:

  • In general, avoid too much copying and pasting directly from your essay, especially from the first paragraph. An abstract is often presented directly before an essay, and it will often be the first thing readers consult after your title. You wouldn’t repeat your ideas verbatim in the body of your essay, so why would you do that in an abstract? Consider the abstract part of the work itself. 
  • Start off strong. An abstract should be a mini essay, so it should begin with a clear statement of your argument. This should be the first sentence or two.
  • Abstracts vary in length. But a good rule is to aim for five to seven sentences. The bulk of the abstract will review the evidence for your claim and summarize your findings.
  • Avoid complicated syntax. Long sentences and intricate phrasing have their place in essays, but the abstract should be concise. It is not the place for ambitious grammar.
  • The last sentence or two should point to any conclusions reached and the direction future research might take. Like the first sentence, the last should be provocative and direct. Leave your readers wanting to read your essay.

In what follows, the authors have written an effective abstract that adheres to the basic principles above:

Literary critics have long imagined that T. S. Eliot’s The Sacred Wood (1920) shaped the canon and methods of countless twentieth-century classrooms. This essay turns instead to the classroom that made The Sacred Wood : the Modern English Literature extension school tutorial that Eliot taught to working-class adults between 1916 and 1919. Contextualizing Eliot’s tutorial within the extension school movement shows how the ethos and practices of the Workers’ Educational Association shaped his teaching. Over the course of three years, Eliot and his students reimagined canonical literature as writing by working poets for working people—a model of literary history that fully informed his canon reformation in The Sacred Wood . This example demonstrates how attention to teaching changes the history of English literary study. It further reveals how all kinds of institutions, not just elite universities, have shaped the discipline’s methods and canons. (Buurma and Heffernan)

This abstract uses the first two sentences to establish the essay’s place in its field of study and to suggest how it intervenes in existing scholarship. The syntax is direct and simple. The third sentence begins to outline how the authors will support their argument. They aim to demonstrate the relevance of Eliot’s teaching to his ideas about literature, and so they move next to discuss some of the details of that teaching. Finally, the abstract concludes by telling us about the consequences of this argument. The conclusion both points to new directions for research and tells us why we should read the essay. 

Buurma, Rachel Sagner, and Laura Heffernan. Abstract of “The Classroom in the Canon: T. S. Eliot’s Modern English Literature Extension Course for Working People and  The Sacred Wood. ”  PMLA , vol. 133, no. 2, Mar. 2018, p. 463.

Estate Best 18 July 2021 AT 05:07 AM

Please how will I write an abstract for my own poem collections?

Your e-mail address will not be published

Marc Simoes 01 April 2022 AT 04:04 PM

I am teaching students how to format and write an abstract, but I find no precise guidelines in the MLA Handbook. Should the first word of the abstract body text begin with the word "Abstract" followed by a period or colon and then the abstract content? Should the word "Abstract" be underlined? Over the years, I was taught both of these ways by different instructors, but I haven't found any definitive instructions, and now my students are asking me the correct format. Please help! Thank you!

Joseph Wallace 12 April 2022 AT 01:04 PM

Although publishers like the MLA will use their own house style guidelines for abstracts in published material, there is no one correct way for students to format their abstracts. Instructors should decide what works best for their classes and assignments.

Lorraine Belo 17 April 2022 AT 10:04 PM

Can you write a brief abstract about your MLA writing

Subrata Biswas 13 July 2023 AT 10:07 AM

Generally, the abstract is written in Italics. Is there any rule as such?

Joseph Wallace 31 July 2023 AT 10:07 AM

Thanks for your question. There is no rule saying that abstracts need to be written in italics. Some publications use italics for abstracts and some do not.

Dhan 07 January 2024 AT 12:01 PM

Should I write key words at the end of the abstract of Phd dissertation?

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Abstract Writing: A Step-by-Step Guide With Tips & Examples

Sumalatha G

Table of Contents

step-by-step-guide-to-abstract-writing

Introduction

Abstracts of research papers have always played an essential role in describing your research concisely and clearly to researchers and editors of journals, enticing them to continue reading. However, with the widespread availability of scientific databases, the need to write a convincing abstract is more crucial now than during the time of paper-bound manuscripts.

Abstracts serve to "sell" your research and can be compared with your "executive outline" of a resume or, rather, a formal summary of the critical aspects of your work. Also, it can be the "gist" of your study. Since most educational research is done online, it's a sign that you have a shorter time for impressing your readers, and have more competition from other abstracts that are available to be read.

The APCI (Academic Publishing and Conferences International) articulates 12 issues or points considered during the final approval process for conferences & journals and emphasises the importance of writing an abstract that checks all these boxes (12 points). Since it's the only opportunity you have to captivate your readers, you must invest time and effort in creating an abstract that accurately reflects the critical points of your research.

With that in mind, let’s head over to understand and discover the core concept and guidelines to create a substantial abstract. Also, learn how to organise the ideas or plots into an effective abstract that will be awe-inspiring to the readers you want to reach.

What is Abstract? Definition and Overview

The word "Abstract' is derived from Latin abstractus meaning "drawn off." This etymological meaning also applies to art movements as well as music, like abstract expressionism. In this context, it refers to the revealing of the artist's intention.

Based on this, you can determine the meaning of an abstract: A condensed research summary. It must be self-contained and independent of the body of the research. However, it should outline the subject, the strategies used to study the problem, and the methods implemented to attain the outcomes. The specific elements of the study differ based on the area of study; however, together, it must be a succinct summary of the entire research paper.

Abstracts are typically written at the end of the paper, even though it serves as a prologue. In general, the abstract must be in a position to:

  • Describe the paper.
  • Identify the problem or the issue at hand.
  • Explain to the reader the research process, the results you came up with, and what conclusion you've reached using these results.
  • Include keywords to guide your strategy and the content.

Furthermore, the abstract you submit should not reflect upon any of  the following elements:

  • Examine, analyse or defend the paper or your opinion.
  • What you want to study, achieve or discover.
  • Be redundant or irrelevant.

After reading an abstract, your audience should understand the reason - what the research was about in the first place, what the study has revealed and how it can be utilised or can be used to benefit others. You can understand the importance of abstract by knowing the fact that the abstract is the most frequently read portion of any research paper. In simpler terms, it should contain all the main points of the research paper.

purpose-of-abstract-writing

What is the Purpose of an Abstract?

Abstracts are typically an essential requirement for research papers; however, it's not an obligation to preserve traditional reasons without any purpose. Abstracts allow readers to scan the text to determine whether it is relevant to their research or studies. The abstract allows other researchers to decide if your research paper can provide them with some additional information. A good abstract paves the interest of the audience to pore through your entire paper to find the content or context they're searching for.

Abstract writing is essential for indexing, as well. The Digital Repository of academic papers makes use of abstracts to index the entire content of academic research papers. Like meta descriptions in the regular Google outcomes, abstracts must include keywords that help researchers locate what they seek.

Types of Abstract

Informative and Descriptive are two kinds of abstracts often used in scientific writing.

A descriptive abstract gives readers an outline of the author's main points in their study. The reader can determine if they want to stick to the research work, based on their interest in the topic. An abstract that is descriptive is similar to the contents table of books, however, the format of an abstract depicts complete sentences encapsulated in one paragraph. It is unfortunate that the abstract can't be used as a substitute for reading a piece of writing because it's just an overview, which omits readers from getting an entire view. Also, it cannot be a way to fill in the gaps the reader may have after reading this kind of abstract since it does not contain crucial information needed to evaluate the article.

To conclude, a descriptive abstract is:

  • A simple summary of the task, just summarises the work, but some researchers think it is much more of an outline
  • Typically, the length is approximately 100 words. It is too short when compared to an informative abstract.
  • A brief explanation but doesn't provide the reader with the complete information they need;
  • An overview that omits conclusions and results

An informative abstract is a comprehensive outline of the research. There are times when people rely on the abstract as an information source. And the reason is why it is crucial to provide entire data of particular research. A well-written, informative abstract could be a good substitute for the remainder of the paper on its own.

A well-written abstract typically follows a particular style. The author begins by providing the identifying information, backed by citations and other identifiers of the papers. Then, the major elements are summarised to make the reader aware of the study. It is followed by the methodology and all-important findings from the study. The conclusion then presents study results and ends the abstract with a comprehensive summary.

In a nutshell, an informative abstract:

  • Has a length that can vary, based on the subject, but is not longer than 300 words.
  • Contains all the content-like methods and intentions
  • Offers evidence and possible recommendations.

Informative Abstracts are more frequent than descriptive abstracts because of their extensive content and linkage to the topic specifically. You should select different types of abstracts to papers based on their length: informative abstracts for extended and more complex abstracts and descriptive ones for simpler and shorter research papers.

What are the Characteristics of a Good Abstract?

  • A good abstract clearly defines the goals and purposes of the study.
  • It should clearly describe the research methodology with a primary focus on data gathering, processing, and subsequent analysis.
  • A good abstract should provide specific research findings.
  • It presents the principal conclusions of the systematic study.
  • It should be concise, clear, and relevant to the field of study.
  • A well-designed abstract should be unifying and coherent.
  • It is easy to grasp and free of technical jargon.
  • It is written impartially and objectively.

the-various-sections-of-abstract-writing

What are the various sections of an ideal Abstract?

By now, you must have gained some concrete idea of the essential elements that your abstract needs to convey . Accordingly, the information is broken down into six key sections of the abstract, which include:

An Introduction or Background

Research methodology, objectives and goals, limitations.

Let's go over them in detail.

The introduction, also known as background, is the most concise part of your abstract. Ideally, it comprises a couple of sentences. Some researchers only write one sentence to introduce their abstract. The idea behind this is to guide readers through the key factors that led to your study.

It's understandable that this information might seem difficult to explain in a couple of sentences. For example, think about the following two questions like the background of your study:

  • What is currently available about the subject with respect to the paper being discussed?
  • What isn't understood about this issue? (This is the subject of your research)

While writing the abstract’s introduction, make sure that it is not lengthy. Because if it crosses the word limit, it may eat up the words meant to be used for providing other key information.

Research methodology is where you describe the theories and techniques you used in your research. It is recommended that you describe what you have done and the method you used to get your thorough investigation results. Certainly, it is the second-longest paragraph in the abstract.

In the research methodology section, it is essential to mention the kind of research you conducted; for instance, qualitative research or quantitative research (this will guide your research methodology too) . If you've conducted quantitative research, your abstract should contain information like the sample size, data collection method, sampling techniques, and duration of the study. Likewise, your abstract should reflect observational data, opinions, questionnaires (especially the non-numerical data) if you work on qualitative research.

The research objectives and goals speak about what you intend to accomplish with your research. The majority of research projects focus on the long-term effects of a project, and the goals focus on the immediate, short-term outcomes of the research. It is possible to summarise both in just multiple sentences.

In stating your objectives and goals, you give readers a picture of the scope of the study, its depth and the direction your research ultimately follows. Your readers can evaluate the results of your research against the goals and stated objectives to determine if you have achieved the goal of your research.

In the end, your readers are more attracted by the results you've obtained through your study. Therefore, you must take the time to explain each relevant result and explain how they impact your research. The results section exists as the longest in your abstract, and nothing should diminish its reach or quality.

One of the most important things you should adhere to is to spell out details and figures on the results of your research.

Instead of making a vague assertion such as, "We noticed that response rates varied greatly between respondents with high incomes and those with low incomes", Try these: "The response rate was higher for high-income respondents than those with lower incomes (59 30 percent vs. 30 percent in both cases; P<0.01)."

You're likely to encounter certain obstacles during your research. It could have been during data collection or even during conducting the sample . Whatever the issue, it's essential to inform your readers about them and their effects on the research.

Research limitations offer an opportunity to suggest further and deep research. If, for instance, you were forced to change for convenient sampling and snowball samples because of difficulties in reaching well-suited research participants, then you should mention this reason when you write your research abstract. In addition, a lack of prior studies on the subject could hinder your research.

Your conclusion should include the same number of sentences to wrap the abstract as the introduction. The majority of researchers offer an idea of the consequences of their research in this case.

Your conclusion should include three essential components:

  • A significant take-home message.
  • Corresponding important findings.
  • The Interpretation.

Even though the conclusion of your abstract needs to be brief, it can have an enormous influence on the way that readers view your research. Therefore, make use of this section to reinforce the central message from your research. Be sure that your statements reflect the actual results and the methods you used to conduct your research.

examples-of-good-abstract-writing

Good Abstract Examples

Abstract example #1.

Children’s consumption behavior in response to food product placements in movies.

The abstract:

"Almost all research into the effects of brand placements on children has focused on the brand's attitudes or behavior intentions. Based on the significant differences between attitudes and behavioral intentions on one hand and actual behavior on the other hand, this study examines the impact of placements by brands on children's eating habits. Children aged 6-14 years old were shown an excerpt from the popular film Alvin and the Chipmunks and were shown places for the item Cheese Balls. Three different versions were developed with no placements, one with moderately frequent placements and the third with the highest frequency of placement. The results revealed that exposure to high-frequency places had a profound effect on snack consumption, however, there was no impact on consumer attitudes towards brands or products. The effects were not dependent on the age of the children. These findings are of major importance to researchers studying consumer behavior as well as nutrition experts as well as policy regulators."

Abstract Example #2

Social comparisons on social media: The impact of Facebook on young women’s body image concerns and mood. The abstract:

"The research conducted in this study investigated the effects of Facebook use on women's moods and body image if the effects are different from an internet-based fashion journal and if the appearance comparison tendencies moderate one or more of these effects. Participants who were female ( N = 112) were randomly allocated to spend 10 minutes exploring their Facebook account or a magazine's website or an appearance neutral control website prior to completing state assessments of body dissatisfaction, mood, and differences in appearance (weight-related and facial hair, face, and skin). Participants also completed a test of the tendency to compare appearances. The participants who used Facebook were reported to be more depressed than those who stayed on the control site. In addition, women who have the tendency to compare appearances reported more facial, hair and skin-related issues following Facebook exposure than when they were exposed to the control site. Due to its popularity it is imperative to conduct more research to understand the effect that Facebook affects the way people view themselves."

Abstract Example #3

The Relationship Between Cell Phone Use and Academic Performance in a Sample of U.S. College Students

"The cellphone is always present on campuses of colleges and is often utilised in situations in which learning takes place. The study examined the connection between the use of cell phones and the actual grades point average (GPA) after adjusting for predictors that are known to be a factor. In the end 536 students in the undergraduate program from 82 self-reported majors of an enormous, public institution were studied. Hierarchical analysis ( R 2 = .449) showed that use of mobile phones is significantly ( p < .001) and negative (b equal to -.164) connected to the actual college GPA, after taking into account factors such as demographics, self-efficacy in self-regulated learning, self-efficacy to improve academic performance, and the actual high school GPA that were all important predictors ( p < .05). Therefore, after adjusting for other known predictors increasing cell phone usage was associated with lower academic performance. While more research is required to determine the mechanisms behind these results, they suggest the need to educate teachers and students to the possible academic risks that are associated with high-frequency mobile phone usage."

quick-tips-on-writing-a-good-abstract

Quick tips on writing a good abstract

There exists a common dilemma among early age researchers whether to write the abstract at first or last? However, it's recommended to compose your abstract when you've completed the research since you'll have all the information to give to your readers. You can, however, write a draft at the beginning of your research and add in any gaps later.

If you find abstract writing a herculean task, here are the few tips to help you with it:

1. Always develop a framework to support your abstract

Before writing, ensure you create a clear outline for your abstract. Divide it into sections and draw the primary and supporting elements in each one. You can include keywords and a few sentences that convey the essence of your message.

2. Review Other Abstracts

Abstracts are among the most frequently used research documents, and thousands of them were written in the past. Therefore, prior to writing yours, take a look at some examples from other abstracts. There are plenty of examples of abstracts for dissertations in the dissertation and thesis databases.

3. Avoid Jargon To the Maximum

When you write your abstract, focus on simplicity over formality. You should  write in simple language, and avoid excessive filler words or ambiguous sentences. Keep in mind that your abstract must be readable to those who aren't acquainted with your subject.

4. Focus on Your Research

It's a given fact that the abstract you write should be about your research and the findings you've made. It is not the right time to mention secondary and primary data sources unless it's absolutely required.

Conclusion: How to Structure an Interesting Abstract?

Abstracts are a short outline of your essay. However, it's among the most important, if not the most important. The process of writing an abstract is not straightforward. A few early-age researchers tend to begin by writing it, thinking they are doing it to "tease" the next step (the document itself). However, it is better to treat it as a spoiler.

The simple, concise style of the abstract lends itself to a well-written and well-investigated study. If your research paper doesn't provide definitive results, or the goal of your research is questioned, so will the abstract. Thus, only write your abstract after witnessing your findings and put your findings in the context of a larger scenario.

The process of writing an abstract can be daunting, but with these guidelines, you will succeed. The most efficient method of writing an excellent abstract is to centre the primary points of your abstract, including the research question and goals methods, as well as key results.

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Writing an abstract - a six point checklist (with samples)

Posted in: abstract , dissertations

abstract essay words

The abstract is a vital part of any research paper. It is the shop front for your work, and the first stop for your reader. It should provide a clear and succinct summary of your study, and encourage your readers to read more. An effective abstract, therefore should answer the following questions:

  • Why did you do this study or project?
  • What did you do and how?
  • What did you find?
  • What do your findings mean?

So here's our run down of the key elements of a well-written abstract.

  • Size - A succinct and well written abstract should be between approximately 100- 250 words.
  • Background - An effective abstract usually includes some scene-setting information which might include what is already known about the subject, related to the paper in question (a few short sentences).
  • Purpose  - The abstract should also set out the purpose of your research, in other words, what is not known about the subject and hence what the study intended to examine (or what the paper seeks to present).
  • Methods - The methods section should contain enough information to enable the reader to understand what was done, and how. It should include brief details of the research design, sample size, duration of study, and so on.
  • Results - The results section is the most important part of the abstract. This is because readers who skim an abstract do so to learn about the findings of the study. The results section should therefore contain as much detail about the findings as the journal word count permits.
  • Conclusion - This section should contain the most important take-home message of the study, expressed in a few precisely worded sentences. Usually, the finding highlighted here relates to the primary outcomes of the study. However, other important or unexpected findings should also be mentioned. It is also customary, but not essential, to express an opinion about the theoretical or practical implications of the findings, or the importance of their findings for the field. Thus, the conclusions may contain three elements:
  • The primary take-home message
  • Any additional findings of importance
  • Implications for future studies 

abstract 1

Example Abstract 2: Engineering Development and validation of a three-dimensional finite element model of the pelvic bone.

bone

Abstract from: Dalstra, M., Huiskes, R. and Van Erning, L., 1995. Development and validation of a three-dimensional finite element model of the pelvic bone. Journal of biomechanical engineering, 117(3), pp.272-278.

And finally...  A word on abstract types and styles

Abstract types can differ according to subject discipline. You need to determine therefore which type of abstract you should include with your paper. Here are two of the most common types with examples.

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.

Descriptive Abstract A descriptive abstract indicates the type of information found in the work. It makes no judgements 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 summarised. Some researchers consider it an outline of the work, rather than a summary. Descriptive abstracts are usually very short, 100 words or less.

(Adapted from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136027/ )

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How to Write an Abstract Step-by-Step: a Guide + Examples

Writing an abstract is one of the skills you need to master to succeed in your studies. An abstract is a summary of an academic text . It contains information about the aims and the outcomes of the research. The primary purpose of an abstract is to help readers understand what a particular paper is about. It serves as a sort of introduction to the paper. The usual length is about 150-300 words.

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Types of abstract essays include descriptive, critical, highlight, and informative abstract.

This article by Custom Writing experts will help you write a perfect abstract. Not only we have an example of informative abstract but also the examples of other types too. Keep reading and good luck with your assignment!

  • 🚦 Getting Started

Informative Abstract

Descriptive abstract.

  • 👣 Step-by-Step Guide
  • 🔗 References

🚦 How to Write an Abstract: Getting Started

There are several things to consider before you start writing an abstract.

  • It would be best if you had your paper ready. This one should be a no-brainer, but it’s still worth mentioning. If you try to write your abstract first, chances are you’ll have to edit it a lot afterward.
  • Make sure you’re aware of all the requirements : writing style, length, and the whole purpose of an abstract. All of these factors will influence the contents of your abstract. Again, it’s better to do everything right from the beginning than to edit your work later.
  • Think of the audience . Remember the definition of an abstract? It helps readers understand what your work is about. You need to be aware of who’s going to read it. Are they going to be scientists who’ll use your abstract to decide whether your work is relevant? Or do you need to make your abstract easy to understand for anyone? Answering these kinds of questions will help you determine how your abstract will look.
  • Decide on the type of abstract . This decision is an essential one. Therefore, we’ll talk about it in the next part of our guide.

📑 Abstract Structure & Types

There are two main types of abstracts: informative and descriptive. The former is also known as a complete abstract, while the latter contains less information. See more detailed information below.

The Two Main Abstract Types Are Informative and Descriptive.

This type of abstract writing is also known as a complete abstract . And it’s pretty self-explanatory. An informative abstract is a summary of a paper. It describes its purpose, methodology, background, results, and conclusion. It also includes information about the paper’s structure, its key thoughts, and the major topics discussed. How long should an informative abstract be? It usually sticks to around 250+ words. The completeness of the information provided in it makes it possible to use the informative abstract as an independent document. A format similar to informative abstracts is used to write short scientific reports. Apart from examples below, you can use a summary writing tool to generate your own and check out the structure using more materials.

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Informative Abstract Example

The Internet of Things Provides Emerging Business Opportunities

Purpose: The Internet of Things (IoT) is a new phenomenon, so there is a lack of public and scientific understanding of what IoT is and what commercial opportunities it can offer for large companies and sole entrepreneurs. The article aims to stimulate creativity, thinking, and entrepreneurship in terms of IoT.

Methods: This article consists of three parts. In the first part, IoT is described as a wide socio-technical phenomenon. Second, this article suggests two approaches for establishing new business models using IoT: a disruptive and a sustainable approach. Third, the article concludes with a reflection on the time to which the future of IoT can be possibly predicted.

Scope: The article discusses different elements that comprise IoT in the physical, technological, and socioeconomic environments. Results: This discussion shows the limitations of the new business models approach that was examined in this article and suggests guidelines on the more efficient ways of using this approach.

Conclusions: The attempt to predict the future can prepare companies for various threats and opportunities. The envisioned outcomes and scenarios can help the entrepreneurs make the correct decisions for their businesses’ success.

This type of abstract is also called an indicative abstract, or a limited abstract. Again, the name says it all. This abstract type paints a general description of the paper without going into very in-depth details. In the case of an informative abstract, you can develop an opinion about the paper based on the abstract alone. With a descriptive abstract, though, you’ll still have to read the main work because the abstract will only provide a general idea without all the vital pieces of content. It’s more like a table of contents but written in the form of a paragraph. And it’s usually about 100-200 words long.

Descriptive Abstract Example

Exploring the Boundaries of the Social Sciences

Purpose: The concept of research boundaries has been critical in history, anthropology, sociology, social psychology, political science, and sociology. This article intends to explore this problem and analyze the relational processes hindered by the boundaries.

Methods: It addresses relatable processes in various research institutions and social locations. It also investigates the directions for further development, with a focus on the dependence between symbolic and social boundaries, their cultural mechanisms, hybridity and difference, and group classifications.

Scope: The article analyzes several works on social identity; class, ethnic, and gender inequality; professions and science; and national identities, communities, and territorial boundaries.

👣 Writing an Abstract Step by Step

You’ll need to write an abstract for almost any academic text: a thesis, a research paper, an article, etc. No matter what document you are working on, the abstract should be the last part you’ll write. Let’s learn what main components that any abstract contains and how to write them step by step.

Identify Your Aims

Tell your readers why your work matters and why it is important. Don’t go into details here. Concentrate on the crucial points. Note that this part should be written in the present or past simple tense, not the future, as your research is already done. The questions below can help you formulate your aims.

  • Why did I decide to study this particular topic?
  • What theoretical or practical problem does my research respond to?
  • What is the social context of my work?
  • Why are my key findings important?

Explain Your Methods

The next part of your abstract is to contain a short and straightforward description of your research. Explain what you did in one or two sentences. Do that using the past simple tense.

  • Describe your research process. Mention the approach you decided to go with and all the data that was at your disposal.
  • Give a short overview of the most important sources used for your paper.
  • Mention the evidence that supports your claims, so the readers know there’s a foundation to what you’re saying.

Share Your Results

This is where the main difference between the two types of abstracts comes into play.

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You see, it’s only informative abstracts that contain this information. So, if you’ve decided to go with the descriptive type, you may skip this step.

If stating the problem can be considered a question, then this part is the answer to that question. Describe all your general findings as well as the goal that you reached through your research. Support your words with arguments and hypotheses.

Write a Conclusion

Not only will this part be a logical finish to your abstract, but it will also make a smooth transition to its closure.

Explain what your findings mean and why they make your paper important. To simplify the task, use an article summary generator and just edit the resulting piece.

While this part is necessary both for informative and descriptive abstracts, it’s only the former that needs to answer the following questions:

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  • What implications does my work have?
  • Are my findings specific or general?

✏️ Abstract FAQ

An abstract is a compressed view of the essential elements of a manuscript without added interpretation. It should consist of an introduction or background, purpose, methodology, results, and discussion, or another conclusion. An effective abstract is not a selection of manuscript sentences, but a reworded gist.

A presentation abstract shall provide an overview of the research as briefly as possible. It shall comprise context, objective, methodology, and findings. The total word count shall not exceed 250 words. You will present the research orally and visually at the conference, so the purpose is to raise the listeners’ curiosity rather than provide them with a summary of your work.

It should be an easy-to-read 250-word passage following the template:

  • The topic and purpose of your research or invention.
  • The problem you resolved or the hypothesis you examined.
  • The scientific methods you used to implement point 2.
  • The achieved results.
  • Conclusions on the relevance and importance of your project.

Identify the problem you address and give the reasons that motivated you to conduct the investigation. Mention the gaps that require further research. Describe your methodology. Provide the main results and findings without further explanation. The total number of words in an abstract shall be given in the lab requirements.

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Home / Guides / Citation Guides / MLA Format / How to write abstracts in MLA

How to write abstracts in MLA

Abstracts are usually between 100-250 words or around 5-7 sentences depending on the type. They can include short descriptions of your motivations, objective, methods, findings, discussion, and conclusion of the paper. You can also include why you wrote the paper and why readers should be interested.

APA abstracts have different formatting from MLA abstracts, so do not to use their rules interchangeably.

Why do you need an abstract?

Abstracts allow for a quick summary of your paper for other researchers. Busy researchers don’t have time to read everything, so they rely on the abstract to help them decide whether or not they will read the paper.

Although MLA style doesn’t require an abstract, the MLA style abstract is the most commonly used style in the humanities. If you are writing a paper for a class in literature, religion, philosophy, or other similar subjects, you should use MLA style. Check with your professor to see if an abstract is required for your paper.

Different types of abstracts

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

  • Descriptive abstracts are approximately 100 words and give a brief overview of the paper. They do not include a full analysis and may not include the results and/or conclusions.
  • Informative abstracts are longer and are approximately 150-250 words. They are a condensed version of your writing that contains information from every part of the paper.

How to write an abstract in MLA style

To write a high-quality abstract in MLA style, you will need an explanation of what research was done and what the outcomes were. Write in a clear, simple, and direct style. The abstract gives readers the information they need to decide whether to read the complete paper or not.

Here are some guidelines for writing a great abstract in MLA style:

  • Finish the paper first. While it may be tempting to get a head start on your abstract, you should complete your paper before writing the abstract.
  • Review your paper for key points and take notes. One way to take notes is to write one sentence for each paragraph. You should not copy directly from your text since your abstract should have different words and phrases. You do not need to include every detail, and in fact, you should avoid doing so. If you have an outline of your paper, use that as a guide to writing your abstract.
  • Give a detailed account of the research methods used in the study and how the results were obtained.
  • Provide an account of your findings and what you found as a result of your research.
  • If your findings have larger implications, include them in the abstract.
  • Condense those main points by summarizing the “who, what, where, and when” of your paper.
  • If you don’t have an outline, organize information in the same order as in the paper.
  • Write a rough draft of your abstract. Begin your abstract with a clear statement about your thesis and why your readers should care about what you’ve written. Then turn your notes into sentences.
  • Avoid using long complicated sentences in your abstract along with ambiguous and unnecessary words and phrases. Remember that your abstract needs to be simple and easy to read.
  • Do not include citations or footnotes in your abstract.
  • Add transitions to show clear connections between ideas and create a smooth flow to your writing.
  • Revise your abstract until it is 5-7 sentences or 250 words or less. Limit the length to one or two paragraphs.
  • Proofread your abstract several times to make sure it is free of errors. People will stop reading if they see mistakes, and it will damage your credibility.

Format for an MLA abstract

  • Use one-inch margins.
  • Double-space the abstract.
  • Place the abstract after the title and before the main body of the paper.
  • Use one space after punctuation marks.
  • Indent the first line of the paragraphs ½ inch from the left margin.
  • Use 12-point font such as Times New Roman or Arial.
  • Spell out acronyms.
  • Include italics instead of quotation marks if you reference a long work in the abstract.

MLA abstract examples

Descriptive abstracts.

  • Example 1 on Cannon’s “From Literacy to Literature: Elementary Learning and the Middle English Poet.”
  • Example 2 on Sealy-Morris’s “The Rhetoric of the Paneled Page: Comics and Composition Pedagogy.”

Informational abstracts

  • Example 1 on O’Neill’s “The Personal Public Sphere of Whitman’s 1840s Journalism.”

Works cited

Cannon, Christopher. “From Literacy to Literature: Elementary Learning and the Middle English Poet.”  PMLA , vol. 129, no. 3, 2014, pp. 349–364.  JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24769474.

MLA Handbook . 9th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2021.

O’Neill, Bonnie Carr. “The Personal Public Sphere of Whitman’s 1840s Journalism.”  PMLA , vol. 126, no. 4, 2011, pp. 983–998.   JSTOR , www.jstor.org/stable/41414171.

Sealey-Morris, Gabriel. “The Rhetoric of the Paneled Page: Comics and Composition Pedagogy.”  Composition Studies , vol. 43, no. 1, 2015, pp. 31–50.   JSTOR , www.jstor.org/stable/43501877.

Wallace, Joseph. “How to Write an Abstract.”  MLA Style Center , Modern Language Association of America, 5 Dec. 2018, style.mla.org/how-to-write-an-abstract/.

Published October 25, 2020. Updated July 18, 2021.

By Catherine Sigler. Catherine has a Ph.D. in English Education and has taught college-level writing for 15 years.

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Shorten your abstract or summary

Published on November 2, 2016 by Lou Benders . Revised on July 18, 2023.

You can shorten your abstract by not using cumbersome or excessively long sentences. Avoiding the following five things is an easy way to make your text more concise .

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Table of contents

1. avoid passive sentences, 2. avoid the noun style, 3. avoid long sentences, 4. avoid repetition, 5. avoid detailed descriptions, 6. only include the main elements, other interesting articles.

Passive sentences are often unnecessarily long. You can easily make them both shorter and clearer by transforming them into active sentences.

To make a passive sentence active, reword it so that the person or thing doing the action comes before the verb . Also make sure than an active verb (without an auxiliary) is used.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Using the “noun style” often makes a sentence unnecessarily long or difficult to understand. It’s therefore advisable to utilize the “verb style” instead.

Many students write unnecessarily long sentences that include superfluous words and elaborate constructions. Try to write shorter, stronger sentences instead.

It’s likely that you are repeating yourself more than you think. Reading your abstract aloud might help you to discover repetition that you had not caught before.

Replacing nouns with pronouns and combining two sentences into one are often easy ways to shorten your text by reducing repetition.

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An abstract is not expected to provide detailed definitions or background information on your dissertation topic . Keeping this in mind may help you to keep your summary short.

Learn more about what to include in your abstract with our how-to guide and interactive example.

How to write an abstract

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Abstract Words: The Ultimate List to Unlock Your Abstract Thinking

By: Author ESLBUZZ

Posted on Last updated: September 14, 2023

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Abstract words are an essential part of the English language and are often used in various contexts. They are words that refer to concepts, ideas, or feelings that cannot be touched or seen. Abstract words can be challenging for English language learners to understand and use correctly. In this article, we will explore the meaning of abstract words, their importance in the English language, and how to use them effectively in writing and speaking.

Abstract Words

Abstract Words: The Ultimate List to Unlock Your Abstract Thinking

Understanding Abstract Words

Abstract words are words that describe concepts, ideas, or feelings that cannot be seen or touched. They are often used to describe intangible things such as emotions, ideas, or qualities. Examples of abstract words include love, hate, courage, and honesty. These words are important because they help us communicate complex ideas and emotions.

To help you better understand abstract words, here are some examples with their meanings:

Here are some example sentences using abstract words:

  • She showed great courage during the difficult times.
  • His honesty and integrity are beyond reproach.
  • Love is a powerful emotion that can bring people together.
  • Freedom is a fundamental human right that should be protected.
  • Justice must be served for those who have been wronged.

Abstract vs. Concrete Words

Concrete words.

Concrete words are easier to define because they refer to tangible objects, people, and places. Here are some examples of concrete words:

The primary difference between abstract and concrete words is that abstract words refer to intangible concepts, while concrete words refer to tangible objects. Using a combination of both abstract and concrete words in your writing can help you convey complex ideas and make them more understandable for your readers.

When using abstract words, it’s important to provide clear and concise definitions to help your readers understand the concepts you’re discussing. When using concrete words, it’s important to provide specific details to help your readers visualize the objects or places you’re describing.

The Importance of Abstract Words

Communication.

Abstract words are an integral part of effective communication. They allow us to express complex ideas and emotions that cannot be conveyed through concrete words alone. For example, words like “love,” “honor,” and “justice” are abstract words that carry a significant amount of meaning and emotion. Without these words, our ability to communicate our thoughts and feelings would be severely limited.

Intelligence

Research has shown that individuals with a strong understanding of abstract words tend to have higher levels of intelligence. This is because abstract words require a deeper level of thinking and understanding than concrete words. When we learn abstract words, we are forced to think critically about the concepts they represent, which can help to enhance our overall cognitive abilities.

Abstract words are also essential for academic success. They are commonly used in academic writing and are often found in textbooks and scholarly articles. By developing your understanding of abstract words, you can improve your ability to comprehend and analyze complex academic texts.

Finally, understanding abstract words can help to increase your awareness and empathy for others. Abstract words like “compassion,” “empathy,” and “tolerance” are essential for building strong relationships and creating a more compassionate and understanding society.

Abstract Words in Different Aspects of Life

Abstract words play a significant role in society. They help us describe and understand the complex social structures and relationships that exist between individuals and communities. Some examples of abstract words that are commonly used in society include:

In the context of home, abstract words are used to express feelings and emotions related to family, comfort, and safety. Some examples of abstract words that are commonly used in the context of home include:

Abstract words are also used to describe the experiences and emotions of childhood. They help us understand the world around us and make sense of our experiences. Some examples of abstract words that are commonly used in the context of childhood include:

Abstract words are essential in describing the complex emotions and experiences that come with friendship. They help us express our feelings towards our friends and understand the dynamics of our relationships. Some examples of abstract words that are commonly used in the context of friendship include:

Abstract words are often used to describe the physical and emotional experiences of pain. They help us understand and communicate the intensity and nature of our pain. Some examples of abstract words that are commonly used in the context of pain include:

Abstract words are also used to describe the emotions and experiences of joy. They help us express our happiness and understand the things that bring us joy. Some examples of abstract words that are commonly used in the context of joy include:

Abstract words are often used to describe the state of peace and tranquility. They help us understand and communicate the absence of conflict and tension. Some examples of abstract words that are commonly used in the context of peace include:

Abstract words are also used to describe the concept of power and authority. They help us understand and communicate the dynamics of power and control. Some examples of abstract words that are commonly used in the context of power include:

Using Abstract Words Effectively

Choosing the right abstract words.

Choosing the right abstract words is crucial in effectively conveying your message. Here are some tips to help you choose the right abstract words:

  • Consider your audience: Choose abstract words that your audience can relate to and understand.
  • Use concrete examples: Use concrete examples to illustrate abstract concepts and ideas.
  • Avoid ambiguity: Avoid using abstract words that are ambiguous or have multiple meanings.

Advantages of Using Abstract Words

Using abstract words can have several advantages in your writing. Here are some advantages of using abstract words:

  • Adds depth and complexity: Abstract words can add depth and complexity to your writing, making your message more profound and thought-provoking.
  • Evokes emotions: Abstract words can evoke emotions in your readers, making your writing more engaging and memorable.
  • Allows for creativity: Abstract words allow for creativity in your writing, giving you the freedom to express yourself in unique and imaginative ways.

Challenges in Understanding Abstract Words

One of the main challenges learners face when trying to understand abstract words is confusion. Abstract words can have multiple meanings and can be used in various contexts, which can lead to confusion. For example, the word “love” can mean a strong feeling of affection, a great interest or pleasure in something, or a person or thing that one loves. Therefore, it is essential to understand the context in which the word is being used to understand its meaning correctly.

Another challenge learners face when trying to understand abstract words is difficulty. Abstract words are often complex and can be challenging to define or explain. For example, the word “happiness” is an abstract word that represents a feeling or emotion that is difficult to describe. Therefore, learners may struggle to understand and use abstract words correctly in sentences.

Understanding abstract words can be a significant challenge for learners, but it is essential to develop a strong vocabulary to communicate effectively in a new language. Here are some strategies that can help learners overcome the challenges of understanding abstract words:

  • Use context clues: Pay attention to the words and phrases that surround an abstract word to help determine its meaning.
  • Look up definitions: Use a dictionary or online resources to find definitions and examples of abstract words.
  • Practice using abstract words in sentences: Practice using abstract words in sentences to help reinforce their meaning and usage.

Teaching Abstract Words

As educators, we know that teaching abstract words can be a challenge. Unlike concrete words, abstract words are intangible and difficult to visualize, making them harder for students to understand and remember. However, there are many activities and games that can help students learn abstract words in a fun and engaging way. In this section, we’ll explore some of the best ways to teach abstract words to your students.

Activities for Teaching Abstract Words

One effective way to teach abstract words is through activities that encourage students to use the words in context. Here are some examples of activities you can use in the classroom:

  • Word Association: Have students brainstorm a list of words that are associated with the abstract word you’re teaching. For example, if you’re teaching the word “love,” students could come up with words like “affection,” “compassion,” and “devotion.”
  • Sentence Completion: Provide students with a sentence that includes the abstract word you’re teaching, but with a blank space where the word should go. Have students fill in the blank with the correct word.
  • Visualizing Abstract Words: Encourage students to create visual representations of abstract words. For example, students could draw a picture of “happiness” or “sadness” to help them understand the meaning of these abstract words.

Games for Teaching Abstract Words

Games are another great way to teach abstract words. Here are some examples of games you can use in the classroom:

  • Charades: Have students act out the meaning of an abstract word without speaking. Other students must guess the word based on the actions.
  • Bingo: Create bingo cards with abstract words and their definitions. Call out the definitions, and students must match them to the correct word on their bingo card.
  • Word Scavenger Hunt: Hide cards around the classroom with abstract words written on them. Students must find the cards and write a sentence using the word correctly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some common academic vocabulary words?

Academic vocabulary words are those that are commonly used in academic writing and communication. Some examples of academic vocabulary words include analyze, evaluate, summarize, hypothesis, methodology, and empirical. These words are often used in research papers, essays, and other academic writing assignments.

What is the 1,000 academic word list and where can I find it?

The 1,000 academic word list is a list of the most commonly used academic words in English. It is a useful resource for students who want to improve their academic vocabulary. The list can be found online and is often used by English language learners and teachers.

What are some resources for improving my academic writing vocabulary?

There are many resources available for students who want to improve their academic writing vocabulary. Some of these resources include academic vocabulary books, online vocabulary quizzes and exercises, and academic writing workshops. It is also helpful to read academic articles and papers to become familiar with the vocabulary used in academic writing.

How can I incorporate more abstract words into my writing?

Incorporating more abstract words into your writing can be challenging, but it is important for conveying complex ideas and concepts. One way to do this is to use analogies or metaphors to help explain abstract concepts. It is also helpful to use concrete examples to illustrate abstract concepts.

What are some examples of abstract words used in academic writing?

Some examples of abstract words used in academic writing include paradigm, discourse, ontology, epistemology, and methodology. These words are often used in academic disciplines such as philosophy, sociology, and psychology.

What are some techniques for memorizing and using abstract vocabulary words effectively?

One technique for memorizing abstract vocabulary words is to use flashcards or other memory aids. It is also helpful to use the words in context by writing sentences or paragraphs that incorporate the words. Another technique is to break down the words into their component parts to better understand their meanings. Finally, it is important to practice using the words in conversation and writing to become more comfortable with them.

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In this section, we covered some frequently asked questions about academic vocabulary words and how to improve your academic writing vocabulary. By incorporating these tips and techniques, you can become more confident and knowledgeable in your use of abstract vocabulary words.

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The amount of time you’ll save by relying on a machine to do the work for you is huge. Not to mention the result will be entirely error-free. No logical, grammatical, or other mistakes will spoil your piece.

Sounds interesting? Then, keep reading to learn more about abstracts and our generator.

An abstract is a brief summary of a work. Usually, it's a single paragraph containing 150 to 250 words. It describes all the key points and elements of an article, essay, or work of any other format.

Keep in mind that an abstract merely describes a text. It shouldn’t be an evaluation or an attempt to defend the paper. Instead, it’s just an overview.

Structure of an Abstract

An abstract is not a simple summary. It has a specific structure and should contain the following elements:

Remember that an abstract is separate from the rest of the paper. For the reader to get the complete picture of your research, your abstract must include everything listed above.

✍️ How to Write an Abstract

It can be tempting to go and write an abstract right away. But make sure to finish the planning of your work first. You want to write your abstract about your piece's contents, not build the contents around your abstract.

To make the writing process easier, divide it into 5 manageable steps:

  • Check the requirements. First off, you need to know how much you are allowed to write. An average abstract is about 150-250 words long, but there is often a strict limit. Make sure to stay within it!
  • Establish the goal and the problems of the research. The reader needs to know what your paper will be about right from the get-go. That’s why you need to formulate your thesis and showcase it first.
  • Establish the methods. Tell the reader how you did your research. Don’t go in too deep: simply describe the methods without unnecessary details.
  • Describe the results. Write a couple of sentences about the outcome of your investigation.
  • Write a conclusion. Address the issue you established in the second step. You might also want to mention your work’s limitations regarding your research samples or methods. Try to give the reader a clear understanding of your goal and how you achieved it.

Want to make the process even easier? Use our abstract tool! Online generators like ours will help you craft an excellent paragraph in a matter of seconds.

Abstract Writing Tips

Finally, we want to help you make your abstract truly amazing. Check out our best tips below:

  • It's best to get to the point immediately and without adding any filler or unnecessary details.
  • The less specific your abstract is, the better.
  • Check out some examples before you start writing. Sometimes the best way to learn something is to watch how everyone else does it.
  • Avoid long sentences or bizarre vocabulary to make an abstract paragraph as concise as possible.
  • It’s a great idea to single out some keywords from your outline and put them into your abstract.
  • Don't forget about formatting. Any serious academic work has its requirements. Make sure you check them before writing your piece.

Following these simple tips will make you a master of abstract writing.

✨ Free Abstract Sample

As an example, check out this abstract of the article “Bioeffcacy of Mentha piperita essential oil against dengue fever mosquito” by Sarita Kumar:

The Mentha balsamea, or peppermint plant, is a result of cross-breeding between spearmint and water mint. These plants are most commonly used in the area of repelling insects. The following research revolves around peppermint oil insect repellent and its development. As a part of an experiment, we obtained 25 grams of fresh peppermint and, after grinding it, put it in a glass jar with olive oil. The jar was then left for two days in a warm temperate. Next, the oil was strained with a cheesecloth, gathered, and diluted at 70%. It then got separated into three different spray bottles. The test was to put the spray sample into a jar with mosquitoes and equate the result to the same test with a commercial repellant. Thus, we challenged the stereotype of synthetic repellents being more efficient than their analogs made from natural materials.

That will be the end of our guide on abstract writing. Thank you for reading, and make sure to try out our abstract writer tool to get the best results!

❓ Abstract Generator FAQ

❓ how do you write an abstract for a research paper.

You may use an abstract tool and make the writing process entirely automatic. If you can’t use it, write an abstract yourself by describing the following:

  • The main problem.
  • Background information.
  • The end goal.
  • Description of methods you used.
  • The results of the research.

❓ What are the 5 parts of an abstract?

Parts of an abstract depend on the contents and limitations of your research. The 5 main elements are:

  • The introduction
  • Research significance
  • Method description

❓ What makes a good abstract in a research paper?

A good abstract is one that:

  • Meets all the requirements.
  • Establishes the problem and main issues of the research.
  • Describes the methods you used during the analysis.
  • Showcases results of the study.
  • Provides a clear conclusion.

❓ How long should my abstract be?

An average abstract is about 150-250 words long. You may often get strict limits that can go above or beyond these numbers. Your supervisor should provide the exact requirements for abstract length. So, make sure to double-check them.

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It takes the important key phrases from the content and combines them to create an accurate abstract with advanced AI.

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Physical Review Letters

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Essay: Exploring the Physics of Basic Medical Research

Vahid Sandoghdar

Phys. Rev. Lett. 132 , 090001 – Published 26 February 2024

  • No Citing Articles
  • Introduction.—
  • Some trends at the interface between…
  • Physics and medicine.—
  • ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The 20th century witnessed the emergence of many paradigm-shifting technologies from the physics community, which have revolutionized medical diagnostics and patient care. However, fundamental medical research has been mostly guided by methods from areas such as cell biology, biochemistry, and genetics, with fairly small contributions from physicists. In this Essay, I outline some key phenomena in the human body that are based on physical principles and yet govern our health over a vast range of length and time scales. I advocate that research in life sciences can greatly benefit from the methodology, know-how, and mindset of the physics community and that the pursuit of basic research in medicine is compatible with the mission of physics.

Part of a series of Essays that concisely present author visions for the future of their field .

Figure

  • Received 3 January 2024

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.132.090001

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Published by the American Physical Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the published article’s title, journal citation, and DOI. Open access publication funded by the Max Planck Society.

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  • Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light, Staudtstr. 2, 91058 Erlangen, Germany; Max-Planck-Zentrum für Physik und Medizin, Kußmaulallee 2, 91054 Erlangen, Germany; and Department of Physics, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg, 91058 Erlangen, Germany

Article Text

Vol. 132, Iss. 9 — 1 March 2024

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(a) Nanotubes made of proteins such as actin and tubulin serve as a skeleton for shaping the cell and play essential roles in dynamical processes such as cell locomotion and division. Motor proteins acting as nanomachines interact with various nanotubes to mediate force exertion or to transport cargo. Other nanofilamentous structures such as collagen or fibronectin form the extracellular matrix. (b) Cells use various morphological and mechanical mechanisms for the uptake of proteins, vesicles, and viruses. (c) Chip-based platforms exploit microfluidics and micro- and nanomechanical actuation for an efficient realization of biochemical reactions. These lab-on-chip solutions can mimic physiological tissue, e.g., epithelial and endothelial lung tissues under controlled conditions of air and fluid flow.

Length and time scales in nature. (a) On a logarithmic scale, the size of the human body is about midway between subatomic particles and the Milky Way. (b) Let us argue that 1 second is about the smallest timescale that we comfortably feel and that makes a difference in our daily lives. At an estimated age of the order of 10 billion years, the development of the Universe has been 10 1 7 times slower, whereas electronic processes that underlie (bio)chemical reactions can reach subfemtosecond scales, e.g., 10 − 1 6 . From another interesting perspective, we may compare the timescales of the development of pathological diseases (years, 10 7     s ) with the timescale for the encounter of two proteins during diffusion ( 10 − 8     s ). Here, I have assumed a diffusion constant of 1 0 0     μ m 2 / s and a surface area of the order of 1 0     nm 2 for a protein. Such a rough estimate also yields a temporal span of 15 orders of magnitude.

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The Crisis in Teaching Constitutional Law

A hand pulls a thick book of from a line of similar books on a shelf. The book is labeled “Balc” and “United States Supreme Court Reports. Lawyers Edition.”

By Jesse Wegman

Mr. Wegman is a member of the editorial board.

If you attended law school at any time over the past half-century, your course in constitutional law likely followed a well-worn path.

First you learned the basics: the Supreme Court’s power to say what the Constitution means. Then you read and discussed cases that set precedents for different parts of the Constitution — the commerce clause, presidential powers, due process, equal protection and so on. Finally you studied how the court balances individual liberties against the government’s need to act in the public interest.

It was all based on an underlying premise that has long bound together everyone involved in the project of training the next generation of lawyers: The Supreme Court is a legitimate institution of governance, and the nine justices, whatever their political backgrounds, care about getting the law right. They are more interested in upholding fundamental democratic principles and, perhaps most important, preserving the court’s integrity than in imposing a partisan agenda.

The premise no longer holds today. Many in the legal world still believed in the old virtues even after Bush v. Gore , the 5-to-4 ruling that effectively decided the 2000 presidential election on what appeared to many Americans to be partisan grounds. But now, the court’s hard-right supermajority, installed in recent years through a combination of hypocrisy and sheer partisan muscle , has eviscerated any consensus.

Under the pretense of practicing so-called originalism, which claims to interpret the Constitution in line with how it was understood at the nation’s founding, these justices have moved quickly to upend decades of established precedent — from political spending to gun laws to voting rights to labor unions to abortion rights to affirmative action to the separation of church and state . Whatever rationale or methodology the justices apply in a given case, the result virtually always aligns with the policy priorities of the modern Republican Party.

And that has made it impossible for many professors to teach in the familiar way.

“Teaching constitutional law today is an enterprise in teaching students what law isn’t,” Leah Litman , a professor at the University of Michigan law school, told me.

Rebecca Brown , at the University of Southern California, has been teaching constitutional law for 35 years. “While I was working on my syllabus for this course, I literally burst into tears,” she told me. “I couldn’t figure out how any of this makes sense. Why do we respect it? Why do we do any of it? I’m feeling very depleted by having to teach it.”

At least she’s still trying. Larry Kramer , a widely respected legal scholar and historian who was my constitutional law professor at N.Y.U. 20 years ago, called it quits in 2008, on the heels of the Supreme Court’s divisive decision in District of Columbia v. Heller , which struck down decades of precedent to declare for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms. Many observers felt that the majority opinion, by Justice Antonin Scalia, intentionally warped history to reach a preordained result.

Professor Kramer was the dean of Stanford Law School at the time, and after the Heller ruling, he told me recently, “I couldn’t stand up in front of the class and pretend the students should take the court seriously in terms of legal analysis.” First-year law students, he felt, “should be taught by someone who still believed in what the court did.”

A profoundly different kind of court

Constitutional law education is in a crisis, Justin Driver , a professor at Yale who has taught the subject for 15 years, told me.

“One of the primary challenges when one is teaching constitutional law is to impress upon the students that it is not simply politics by other means,” he said. “And the degree of difficulty of that proposition has never been higher.”

The court has always operated in a space between law and politics, said Michael Klarman , a Harvard professor and constitutional historian in his 37th year of teaching. But the justices’ votes used to be less predictable; they have never been so starkly divided along partisan lines as they are now.

“What’s changed is that today’s Republican-appointed justices are much more conservative than any justices in the last hundred years,” Professor Klarman said, “and they represent the views of a Republican Party that is much more extreme than anything we’ve been accustomed to in the last hundred years.”

Even more troubling than the court’s radical rulings, from a teacher’s perspective, is the rapid and often unprincipled manner in which the justices reach them.

“What feels different at this moment is the ambition and the velocity, how fast and aggressively it’s happening,” said Barry Friedman, a longtime N.Y.U. law professor and co-author of a book on judicial decision making .

Take one of the most glaring recent examples, the court’s June 2022 decision striking down a century-old New York law requiring gun owners to obtain a permit to carry a gun in public.

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen was decided 6 to 3, with all the Republican-appointed justices joining the majority opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas. It was the court’s most transformative gun rights case since Heller, and like that earlier case, it featured the right-wing justices’ playing amateur historians, cherry-picking and distorting evidence from decades or centuries ago to justify their existing opinions — a practice real historians refer to derisively as law-office history .

But Bruen went even further than Heller, which at least recognized that the right to bear arms was not unlimited and that most existing gun laws were perfectly constitutional. In Bruen, Justice Thomas wrote that the Second Amendment confers an “unqualified” right and therefore that laws restricting guns are presumptively unconstitutional unless they can be shown to be “part of the historical tradition that delimits the outer bounds” of that right. In other words, it doesn’t matter how much evidence a 21st-century legislature might marshal to justify its efforts to curb gun violence; all that matters is whether a similar law existed hundreds of years ago.

“It sounds almost crazy when you put it that way, doesn’t it?” said Lee Epstein , a professor at the University of Southern California and principal investigator for the Supreme Court Database , a long-running project to catalog and analyze every vote by every justice. “It’s made-up history. No sense of judicial humility. No sense of letting governments work out their problems.”

The Bruen decision invalidated dozens of state and federal laws , upended longstanding legal regimes and befuddled lower court judges who have tried to apply it in the absence of a staff of trained historians. It also left many law professors (not to mention historians) speechless.

“Flat-out bonkers,” said Sandy Levinson , a professor at the University of Texas law school and the author of multiple books on the Constitution. “I try to imagine, what if this were a seminar paper? Who knows what grade you’d give it? It’s so strange as an exercise in what we might call legal reasoning. But it’s not a seminar paper; it’s a majority opinion of the United States Supreme Court. So what am I supposed to do with that?”

Professor Brown said the court had been surprisingly consistent over the centuries in how it balanced liberties with restrictions. “Bruen radically upended that entire framework,” she said. “So how do you teach students the relationship of a free person to their government?”

Most professors I spoke to for this article are politically liberal, as are most constitutional law professors in the country, particularly at the most prominent law schools. Still, the concerns I heard weren’t restricted to left-leaning legal scholars. Michael McConnell , a conservative former federal appeals court judge who teaches at Stanford, was fine with the ultimate result in the New York gun case, but he rejected the legal reasoning the court used to get there. “Bruen is not right under its own principles,” he told me. “It purports to be applying originalist and historicist interpretation, and it gets it wrong.”

In short, Bruen makes sense only when considered as a partisan political ruling: The modern right has long supported the elimination of gun restrictions, and the court agreed to decide the case only after it secured its current right-wing supermajority.

Professor Friedman said, “When you combine overruling with no appreciable change or explanation other than that the membership of the court has changed, what you have is naked power.”

A new generation’s lower expectations

If the politicization of the Supreme Court is jarring to professors, it’s less so to the students starting law school now, most of whom hadn’t been born when Bush v. Gore was handed down. They were still in college or even high school when Senate Republicans held a Supreme Court seat hostage for more than a year to ensure it would be filled by a conservative justice rather than a moderate liberal.

In contrast, most of today’s top constitutional scholars came of age in the heyday of the Supreme Court’s popularity.

“The people who taught us were all Warren court people,” said Pam Karlan , a constitutional and voting-rights expert at Stanford law school, referring to Chief Justice Earl Warren, who through the 1950s and 1960s led a court of both Democratic and Republican appointees in expanding civil rights, equalizing political representation and liberalizing the criminal justice system. “They’d clerked on that court. They valorized it. There was this notion that judges were these heroes who would save us all. Our students do not have that view.”

In other words, the Roberts court — and the hardball politics that went into shaping and sustaining it — is the only court that law students in 2024 have ever known. They entered law school with the cynicism that it took someone like Larry Kramer decades to acquire.

Still, today’s students are tomorrow’s lawyers, and the task of educating them must go on, which leads to some awkward but necessary conversations that did not use to be part of the standard constitutional law curriculum.

Professor McConnell recalled a recent exchange in one of his classes. “I said something to the effect of, ‘It’s important to assume that the people you disagree with are speaking in good faith.’ And a student raises his hand, and he asks: ‘Why? Why should we assume that people on the other side are acting in good faith?’ This was not a crazy person; this was a perfectly sober-minded, rational student. And I think the question was sincere. And I think that’s kind of shocking. I do think that some of the underlying assumptions of how a civil society operates can no longer be assumed.”

Others I spoke to agreed with this assessment. “We’re witnessing a transformation in the New Deal consensus,” said Mark Graber , a leading constitutional scholar and Regents professor at the University of Maryland. “Our students are increasingly rejecting it, progressives and conservatives. They are less judicial supremacists. They are more willing to question courts.” He added: “We have to figure out what the new world is going to look like. I don’t know.”

What role the Supreme Court will play in that new world is yet to be determined. Laurence Tribe , the longtime Harvard law professor and perhaps the country’s pre-eminent constitutional scholar, is not optimistic. The current court is “off on a jag of its own,” he said. “Unless and until it changes, the court will be seen as an increasingly bizarre institution that hasn’t caught up with the nature of law itself.”

And yet the professors I spoke to were not ready to give up on the court, for themselves as much as for their students.

“You’re not just ministering to them, you’re also trying to restore your own faith,” Melissa Murray, who teaches constitutional law at N.Y.U., told me. “This is a place for institutionalists. Deep down, they want to believe. Otherwise we wouldn’t be doing this.”

Jesse Wegman is a member of the editorial board , where he has written about the Supreme Court and national legal affairs since 2013. He is the author of “Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College.”

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  25. Opinion

    Mr. Wegman is a member of the editorial board. If you attended law school at any time over the past half-century, your course in constitutional law likely followed a well-worn path. First you ...