Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper
Definition and Purpose of Abstracts
An abstract is a short summary of your (published or unpublished) research paper, usually about a paragraph (c. 6-7 sentences, 150-250 words) long. A well-written abstract serves multiple purposes:
- an abstract lets readers get the gist or essence of your paper or article quickly, in order to decide whether to read the full paper;
- an abstract prepares readers to follow the detailed information, analyses, and arguments in your full paper;
- and, later, an abstract helps readers remember key points from your paper.
It’s also worth remembering that search engines and bibliographic databases use abstracts, as well as the title, to identify key terms for indexing your published paper. So what you include in your abstract and in your title are crucial for helping other researchers find your paper or article.
If you are writing an abstract for a course paper, your professor may give you specific guidelines for what to include and how to organize your abstract. Similarly, academic journals often have specific requirements for abstracts. So in addition to following the advice on this page, you should be sure to look for and follow any guidelines from the course or journal you’re writing for.
The Contents of an Abstract
Abstracts contain most of the following kinds of information in brief form. The body of your paper will, of course, develop and explain these ideas much more fully. As you will see in the samples below, the proportion of your abstract that you devote to each kind of information—and the sequence of that information—will vary, depending on the nature and genre of the paper that you are summarizing in your abstract. And in some cases, some of this information is implied, rather than stated explicitly. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association , which is widely used in the social sciences, gives specific guidelines for what to include in the abstract for different kinds of papers—for empirical studies, literature reviews or meta-analyses, theoretical papers, methodological papers, and case studies.
Here are the typical kinds of information found in most abstracts:
- the context or background information for your research; the general topic under study; the specific topic of your research
- the central questions or statement of the problem your research addresses
- what’s already known about this question, what previous research has done or shown
- the main reason(s) , the exigency, the rationale , the goals for your research—Why is it important to address these questions? Are you, for example, examining a new topic? Why is that topic worth examining? Are you filling a gap in previous research? Applying new methods to take a fresh look at existing ideas or data? Resolving a dispute within the literature in your field? . . .
- your research and/or analytical methods
- your main findings , results , or arguments
- the significance or implications of your findings or arguments.
Your abstract should be intelligible on its own, without a reader’s having to read your entire paper. And in an abstract, you usually do not cite references—most of your abstract will describe what you have studied in your research and what you have found and what you argue in your paper. In the body of your paper, you will cite the specific literature that informs your research.
When to Write Your Abstract
Although you might be tempted to write your abstract first because it will appear as the very first part of your paper, it’s a good idea to wait to write your abstract until after you’ve drafted your full paper, so that you know what you’re summarizing.
What follows are some sample abstracts in published papers or articles, all written by faculty at UW-Madison who come from a variety of disciplines. We have annotated these samples to help you see the work that these authors are doing within their abstracts.
Choosing Verb Tenses within Your Abstract
The social science sample (Sample 1) below uses the present tense to describe general facts and interpretations that have been and are currently true, including the prevailing explanation for the social phenomenon under study. That abstract also uses the present tense to describe the methods, the findings, the arguments, and the implications of the findings from their new research study. The authors use the past tense to describe previous research.
The humanities sample (Sample 2) below uses the past tense to describe completed events in the past (the texts created in the pulp fiction industry in the 1970s and 80s) and uses the present tense to describe what is happening in those texts, to explain the significance or meaning of those texts, and to describe the arguments presented in the article.
The science samples (Samples 3 and 4) below use the past tense to describe what previous research studies have done and the research the authors have conducted, the methods they have followed, and what they have found. In their rationale or justification for their research (what remains to be done), they use the present tense. They also use the present tense to introduce their study (in Sample 3, “Here we report . . .”) and to explain the significance of their study (In Sample 3, This reprogramming . . . “provides a scalable cell source for. . .”).
Sample Abstract 1
From the social sciences.
Reporting new findings about the reasons for increasing economic homogamy among spouses
Gonalons-Pons, Pilar, and Christine R. Schwartz. “Trends in Economic Homogamy: Changes in Assortative Mating or the Division of Labor in Marriage?” Demography , vol. 54, no. 3, 2017, pp. 985-1005.
Sample Abstract 2
From the humanities.
Analyzing underground pulp fiction publications in Tanzania, this article makes an argument about the cultural significance of those publications
Emily Callaci. “Street Textuality: Socialism, Masculinity, and Urban Belonging in Tanzania’s Pulp Fiction Publishing Industry, 1975-1985.” Comparative Studies in Society and History , vol. 59, no. 1, 2017, pp. 183-210.
Sample Abstract/Summary 3
From the sciences.
Reporting a new method for reprogramming adult mouse fibroblasts into induced cardiac progenitor cells
Lalit, Pratik A., Max R. Salick, Daryl O. Nelson, Jayne M. Squirrell, Christina M. Shafer, Neel G. Patel, Imaan Saeed, Eric G. Schmuck, Yogananda S. Markandeya, Rachel Wong, Martin R. Lea, Kevin W. Eliceiri, Timothy A. Hacker, Wendy C. Crone, Michael Kyba, Daniel J. Garry, Ron Stewart, James A. Thomson, Karen M. Downs, Gary E. Lyons, and Timothy J. Kamp. “Lineage Reprogramming of Fibroblasts into Proliferative Induced Cardiac Progenitor Cells by Defined Factors.” Cell Stem Cell , vol. 18, 2016, pp. 354-367.
Sample Abstract 4, a Structured Abstract
Reporting results about the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy in managing acute bacterial sinusitis, from a rigorously controlled study
Note: This journal requires authors to organize their abstract into four specific sections, with strict word limits. Because the headings for this structured abstract are self-explanatory, we have chosen not to add annotations to this sample abstract.
Wald, Ellen R., David Nash, and Jens Eickhoff. “Effectiveness of Amoxicillin/Clavulanate Potassium in the Treatment of Acute Bacterial Sinusitis in Children.” Pediatrics , vol. 124, no. 1, 2009, pp. 9-15.
“OBJECTIVE: The role of antibiotic therapy in managing acute bacterial sinusitis (ABS) in children is controversial. The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of high-dose amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate in the treatment of children diagnosed with ABS.
METHODS : This was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Children 1 to 10 years of age with a clinical presentation compatible with ABS were eligible for participation. Patients were stratified according to age (<6 or ≥6 years) and clinical severity and randomly assigned to receive either amoxicillin (90 mg/kg) with potassium clavulanate (6.4 mg/kg) or placebo. A symptom survey was performed on days 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 20, and 30. Patients were examined on day 14. Children’s conditions were rated as cured, improved, or failed according to scoring rules.
RESULTS: Two thousand one hundred thirty-five children with respiratory complaints were screened for enrollment; 139 (6.5%) had ABS. Fifty-eight patients were enrolled, and 56 were randomly assigned. The mean age was 6630 months. Fifty (89%) patients presented with persistent symptoms, and 6 (11%) presented with nonpersistent symptoms. In 24 (43%) children, the illness was classified as mild, whereas in the remaining 32 (57%) children it was severe. Of the 28 children who received the antibiotic, 14 (50%) were cured, 4 (14%) were improved, 4(14%) experienced treatment failure, and 6 (21%) withdrew. Of the 28children who received placebo, 4 (14%) were cured, 5 (18%) improved, and 19 (68%) experienced treatment failure. Children receiving the antibiotic were more likely to be cured (50% vs 14%) and less likely to have treatment failure (14% vs 68%) than children receiving the placebo.
CONCLUSIONS : ABS is a common complication of viral upper respiratory infections. Amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate results in significantly more cures and fewer failures than placebo, according to parental report of time to resolution.” (9)
Some Excellent Advice about Writing Abstracts for Basic Science Research Papers, by Professor Adriano Aguzzi from the Institute of Neuropathology at the University of Zurich:
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Writing a paper? Don't get lost.
What is the abstract of a paper?
- What is an abstract?
An abstract is a summary of the main contents of a paper.
An abstract provides an overview of a paper’s main arguments and conclusions. They provide the reader with a first glimpse at the paper’s contents. An abstract can influence the popularity of a paper: a well-written one will attract readers, while a poorly-written one may drive them away.
➡️ Abstracts are also used for conference submissions. If you’re preparing a presentation, take a look at our guide on how to make a scientific presentation .
- The function of an abstract
The purpose of an abstract is to provide a concise description of the basic points of the paper. Researchers, academics, and general readers focus on reading abstracts before reading the rest of the paper. This way, they know what to expect in the following pages.
By reading an abstract, people decide if the paper’s information is useful for their own research or not. Therefore, it is imperative to include the most relevant aspects of the paper in the abstract.
➡️ Our guide on how to write an abstract features tips and strategies for writing and formatting abstracts.
- Abstract style
Tip: Always wait until you’ve finished writing your paper before composing the abstract.
The exact format of an abstract depends on the citation style you implement. Whether it’s a known style (like APA, IEEE, etc.) or a journal's style, each format has its own guidelines, so make sure to know which style you are using before writing your abstract.
APA is one of the most commonly used styles to format an abstract. Therefore, we created a guide with exact instructions on how to write an abstract in APA style, and a template to download:
📕 APA abstract page: format and template
Additionally, you will find below an IEEE and ASA abstract guide by Purdue Online Writing Lab :
📗 IEEE General Format - Abstract
📘 ASA Manuscript Formatting - Abstract
- Frequently Asked Questions about abstracts
You should always write an abstract last. Once you finish writing the whole paper, you are ready to write the abstract. This way you can include all important aspects of the paper, such as your aim of research, methodology, and conclusion.
The length of a abstract depends on the formatting style of the paper. For example, APA style calls for 150 to 250 words. Generally, you need between 150-300 words.
No. An abstract has an independent section after the title page and before the index, and should not be included in the table of contents.
Take a look at APA abstract page: format and template for exact details on how to format an abstract in APA style.
You can access any paper through Google Scholar or any other search engine, pick a paper and read the abstract. Abstracts are always freely available to read.
- Related Articles
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Kilborn, Judith. 1998. “Writing Abstracts.” LEO: Literacy Education Online. Last updated October 20, 1998. https://leo.stcloudstate.edu/bizwrite/abstracts.html .
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.
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APA Abstract (2020) | Formatting, Length, and Keywords
Published on November 6, 2020 by Raimo Streefkerk . Revised on January 3, 2022.
An APA abstract is a comprehensive summary of your paper in which you briefly address the research problem , hypotheses , methods , results , and implications of your research. It’s placed on a separate page right after the title page and is usually no longer than 250 words.
Most professional papers that are submitted for publication require an abstract. Student papers typically don’t need an abstract, unless instructed otherwise.
Table of contents
How to format the abstract, how to write an apa abstract, which keywords to use, frequently asked questions, apa abstract example.
Follow these five steps to format your abstract in APA Style:
- Insert a running head (for a professional paper—not needed for a student paper) and page number.
- Set page margins to 1 inch (2.54 cm).
- Write “Abstract” (bold and centered) at the top of the page.
- Do not indent the first line.
- Double-space the text.
- Use a legible font like Times New Roman (12 pt.).
- Limit the length to 250 words.
- Indent the first line 0.5 inches.
- Write the label “Keywords:” (italicized).
- Write keywords in lowercase letters.
- Separate keywords with commas.
- Do not use a period after the keywords.
Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.
The abstract is a self-contained piece of text that informs the reader what your research is about. It’s best to write the abstract after you’re finished with the rest of your paper.
The questions below may help structure your abstract. Try answering them in one to three sentences each.
- What is the problem? Outline the objective, research questions , and/or hypotheses .
- What has been done? Explain your research methods .
- What did you discover? Summarize the key findings and conclusions .
- What do the findings mean? Summarize the discussion and recommendations .
Check out our guide on how to write an abstract for more guidance and an annotated example.
Guide: writing an abstract
At the end of the abstract, you may include a few keywords that will be used for indexing if your paper is published on a database. Listing your keywords will help other researchers find your work.
Choosing relevant keywords is essential. Try to identify keywords that address your topic, method, or population. APA recommends including three to five keywords.
An abstract is a concise summary of an academic text (such as a journal article or dissertation ). It serves two main purposes:
- To help potential readers determine the relevance of your paper for their own research.
- To communicate your key findings to those who don’t have time to read the whole paper.
Abstracts are often indexed along with keywords on academic databases, so they make your work more easily findable. Since the abstract is the first thing any reader sees, it’s important that it clearly and accurately summarizes the contents of your paper.
An APA abstract is around 150–250 words long. However, always check your target journal’s guidelines and don’t exceed the specified word count.
In an APA Style paper , the abstract is placed on a separate page after the title page (page 2).
Avoid citing sources in your abstract . There are two reasons for this:
- The abstract should focus on your original research, not on the work of others.
- The abstract should be self-contained and fully understandable without reference to other sources.
There are some circumstances where you might need to mention other sources in an abstract: for example, if your research responds directly to another study or focuses on the work of a single theorist. In general, though, don’t include citations unless absolutely necessary.
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Role of an Abstract in Research Paper With Examples
Why does one write an abstract? What is so intriguing about writing an abstract in research paper after writing a full length research paper? How do research paper abstracts or summaries help a researcher during research publishing? These are the most common and frequently pondered upon questions that early career researchers search answers for over the internet!
Table of Contents
What does Abstract mean in Research?
In Research, abstract is “a well-developed single paragraph which is approximately 250 words in length”. Furthermore, it is single-spaced single spaced. Abstract outlines all the parts of the paper briefly. Although the abstract is placed in the beginning of the research paper immediately after research title , the abstract is the last thing a researcher writes.
Why Is an Abstract Necessary in Research Paper?
Abstract is a concise academic text that –
- Helps the potential reader get the relevance of your research study for their own research
- Communicates your key findings for those who have time constraints in reading your paper
- And helps rank the article on search engines based on the keywords on academic databases.
Purpose of Writing an Abstract in Research
Abstracts are required for –
- Submission of articles to journals
- Application for research grants
- Completion and submission of thesis
- Submission of proposals for conference papers.
Aspects Included in an Abstract
The format of your abstract depends on the field of research, in which you are working. However, all abstracts broadly cover the following sections:
Reason for Writing
One can start with the importance of conducting their research study. Furthermore, you could start with a broader research question and address why would the reader be interested in that particular research question.
You could mention what problem the research study chooses to address. Moreover, you could elaborate about the scope of the project, the main argument, brief about thesis objective or what the study claims.
Furthermore, you could mention a line or two about what approach and specific models the research study uses in the scientific work. Some research studies may discuss the evidences in throughout the paper, so instead of writing about methodologies you could mention the types of evidence used in the research.
The scientific research aims to get the specific data that indicates the results of the project. Therefore, you could mention the results and discuss the findings in a broader and general way.
Finally, you could discuss how the research work contributes to the scientific society and adds knowledge on the topic. Also, you could specify if your findings or inferences could help future research and researchers.
Types of Abstracts
Based on the abstract content —, 1. descriptive.
This abstract in research paper is usually short (50-100 words). These abstracts have common sections, such as –
- Focus of research
- Overview of the study.
This type of research does not include detailed presentation of results and only mention results through a phrase without contributing numerical or statistical data . Descriptive abstracts guide readers on the nature of contents of the article.
This abstract gives the essence of what the report is about and it is usually about 200 words. These abstracts have common sections, such as –
- Aim or purpose
This abstract provides an accurate data on the contents of the work, especially on the results section.
Based on the writing format —
This type of abstract has a paragraph for each section: Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, and Conclusion. Also, structured abstracts are often required for informative abstracts.
A semi-structured abstract is written in only one paragraph, wherein each sentence corresponds to a section. Furthermore, all the sections mentioned in the structured abstract are present in the semi-structured abstract.
In a non-structured abstract there are no divisions between each section. The sentences are included in a single paragraph. This type of presentation is ideal for descriptive abstracts.
Examples of Abstracts
Abstract example 1: clinical research.
Neutralization of Omicron BA.1, BA.2, and BA.3 SARS-CoV-2 by 3 doses of BNT162b2 vaccine
Abstract: The newly emerged Omicron SARS-CoV-2 has several distinct sublineages including BA.1, BA.2, and BA.3. BA.1 accounts for the initial surge and is being replaced by BA.2, whereas BA.3 is at a low prevalence at this time. Here we report the neutralization of BNT162b2-vaccinated sera (collected 1 month after dose 3) against the three Omicron sublineages. To facilitate the neutralization testing, we have engineered the complete BA.1, BA.2, or BA.3 spike into an mNeonGreen USA-WA1/2020 SARS-CoV-2. All BNT162b2-vaccinated sera neutralize USA-WA1/2020, BA.1-, BA.2-, and BA.3-spike SARS-CoV-2s with titers of >20; the neutralization geometric mean titers (GMTs) against the four viruses are 1211, 336, 300, and 190, respectively. Thus, the BA.1-, BA.2-, and BA.3-spike SARS-CoV-2s are 3.6-, 4.0-, and 6.4-fold less efficiently neutralized than the USA-WA1/2020, respectively. Our data have implications in vaccine strategy and understanding the biology of Omicron sublineages.
Type of Abstract: Informative and non-structured
Abstract Example 2: Material Science and Chemistry
Breaking the nanoparticle’s dispersible limit via rotatable surface ligands
Abstract: Achieving versatile dispersion of nanoparticles in a broad range of solvents (e.g., water, oil, and biofluids) without repeatedly recourse to chemical modifications are desirable in optoelectronic devices, self-assembly, sensing, and biomedical fields. However, such a target is limited by the strategies used to decorate nanoparticle’s surface properties, leading to a narrow range of solvents for existing nanoparticles. Here we report a concept to break the nanoparticle’s dispersible limit via electrochemically anchoring surface ligands capable of sensing the surrounding liquid medium and rotating to adapt to it, immediately forming stable dispersions in a wide range of solvents (polar and nonpolar, biofluids, etc.). Moreover, the smart nanoparticles can be continuously electrodeposited in the electrolyte, overcoming the electrode surface-confined low throughput limitation of conventional electrodeposition methods. The anomalous dispersive property of the smart Ag nanoparticles enables them to resist bacteria secreted species-induced aggregation and the structural similarity of the surface ligands to that of the bacterial membrane assists them to enter the bacteria, leading to high antibacterial activity. The simple but massive fabrication process and the enhanced dispersion properties offer great application opportunities to the smart nanoparticles in diverse fields.
Type of Abstract: Descriptive and non-structured
Abstract Example 3: Clinical Toxicology
Evaluation of dexmedetomidine therapy for sedation in patients with toxicological events at an academic medical center
Introduction: Although clinical use of dexmedetomidine (DEX), an alpha2-adrenergic receptor agonist, has increased, its role in patients admitted to intensive care units secondary to toxicological sequelae has not been well established.
Objectives: The primary objective of this study was to describe clinical and adverse effects observed in poisoned patients receiving DEX for sedation.
Methods: This was an observational case series with retrospective chart review of poisoned patients who received DEX for sedation at an academic medical center. The primary endpoint was incidence of adverse effects of DEX therapy including bradycardia, hypotension, seizures, and arrhythmias. For comparison, vital signs were collected hourly for the 5 h preceding the DEX therapy and every hour during DEX therapy until the therapy ended. Additional endpoints included therapy duration; time within target Richmond Agitation Sedation Score (RASS); and concomitant sedation, analgesia, and vasopressor requirements.
Results: Twenty-two patients were included. Median initial and median DEX infusion rates were similar to the commonly used rates for sedation. Median heart rate was lower during the therapy (82 vs. 93 beats/minute, p < 0.05). Median systolic blood pressure before and during therapy was similar (111 vs. 109 mmHg, p = 0.745). Five patients experienced an adverse effect per study definitions during therapy. No additional adverse effects were noted. Median time within target RASS and duration of therapy was 6.5 and 44.5 h, respectively. Seventeen patients (77%) had concomitant use of other sedation and/or analgesia with four (23%) of these patients requiring additional agents after DEX initiation. Seven patients (32%) had concomitant vasopressor support with four (57%) of these patients requiring vasopressor support after DEX initiation.
Conclusion: Common adverse effects of DEX were noted in this study. The requirement for vasopressor support during therapy warrants further investigation into the safety of DEX in poisoned patients. Larger, comparative studies need to be performed before the use of DEX can be routinely recommended in poisoned patients.
Keywords: Adverse effects; Alpha2-adrenergic receptor agonist; Overdose; Safety.
Type of Abstract: Informative and structured .
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Definition of abstract
(Entry 1 of 3)
Definition of abstract (Entry 2 of 3)
Definition of abstract (Entry 3 of 3)
Did you know?
The Crisscrossing Histories of Abstract and Extract
Abstract is most frequently used as an adjective (“abstract ideas”) and a noun (“an abstract of the article”), but its somewhat less common use as a verb in English helps to clarify its Latin roots. The verb abstract is used to mean “summarize,” as in “abstracting an academic paper.” This meaning is a figurative derivative of the verb’s meanings “to remove” or “to separate.”
We trace the origins of abstract to the combination of the Latin roots ab- , a prefix meaning “from” or “away,” with the verb trahere , meaning “to pull” or “to draw.” The result was the Latin verb abstrahere , which meant “to remove forcibly” or “to drag away.” Its past participle abstractus had the meanings “removed,” “secluded,” “incorporeal,” and, ultimately, “summarized,” meanings which came to English from Medieval Latin.
Interestingly, the word passed from Latin into French with competing spellings as both abstract (closer to the Latin) and abstrait (which reflected the French form of abstrahere , abstraire ), the spelling retained in modern French.
The idea of “removing” or “pulling away” connects abstract to extract , which stems from Latin through the combination of trahere with the prefix ex- , meaning “out of” or “away from.” Extract forms a kind of mirror image of abstract : more common as a verb, but also used as a noun and adjective. The adjective, meaning “derived or descended,” is now obsolete, as is a sense of the noun that overlapped with abstract , “summary.” The words intersected and have separated in modern English, but it’s easy to see that abstract applies to something that has been summarized, and summarized means “extracted from a larger work.”
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'abstract.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
Middle English, "withdrawn, removed, abstruse, extracted from a longer work, (of nouns in grammar) not concrete," borrowed from Medieval Latin abstractus "removed, secluded, incorporeal, universal, extracted from a larger work, summarized," going back to Latin, past participle of abstrahere "to remove forcibly, turn aside, divert," from abs- (variant of ab- ab- before c- and t- ) + trahere "to drag, draw, take along" — more at draw entry 1
Middle English, derivative of abstract abstract entry 1 (or borrowed directly from Medieval Latin abstractus )
Middle English abstracten "to draw away, remove," derivative of abstract abstract entry 1 (or borrowed directly from Latin abstractus )
14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2
15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 4
Phrases Containing abstract
- abstract expressionism
- in the abstract
- abstract of title
- abstract algebra
Articles Related to abstract
Examples of 'Abstract' in a Sentence
Dictionary entries near abstract, cite this entry.
“Abstract.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abstract. Accessed 29 Aug. 2023.
Kids definition of abstract.
Kids Definition of abstract (Entry 2 of 3)
Kids Definition of abstract (Entry 3 of 3)
from Latin abstractus "abstract," from earlier abstrahere "to draw away," from abs-, ab- "from, away" and trahere "to draw" — related to attract , trace entry 1 , trace entry 3
Medical definition of abstract.
(Entry 1 of 2)
Medical Definition of abstract (Entry 2 of 2)
Legal definition of abstract, more from merriam-webster on abstract.
Nglish: Translation of abstract for Spanish Speakers
Britannica English: Translation of abstract for Arabic Speakers
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How to write a good abstract for a scientific paper or conference presentation
Department of Psychopharmacology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore, Karnataka, India
Abstracts of scientific papers are sometimes poorly written, often lack important information, and occasionally convey a biased picture. This paper provides detailed suggestions, with examples, for writing the background, methods, results, and conclusions sections of a good abstract. The primary target of this paper is the young researcher; however, authors with all levels of experience may find useful ideas in the paper.
This paper is the third in a series on manuscript writing skills, published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry . Earlier articles offered suggestions on how to write a good case report,[ 1 ] and how to read, write, or review a paper on randomized controlled trials.[ 2 , 3 ] The present paper examines how authors may write a good abstract when preparing their manuscript for a scientific journal or conference presentation. Although the primary target of this paper is the young researcher, it is likely that authors with all levels of experience will find at least a few ideas that may be useful in their future efforts.
The abstract of a paper is the only part of the paper that is published in conference proceedings. The abstract is the only part of the paper that a potential referee sees when he is invited by an editor to review a manuscript. The abstract is the only part of the paper that readers see when they search through electronic databases such as PubMed. Finally, most readers will acknowledge, with a chuckle, that when they leaf through the hard copy of a journal, they look at only the titles of the contained papers. If a title interests them, they glance through the abstract of that paper. Only a dedicated reader will peruse the contents of the paper, and then, most often only the introduction and discussion sections. Only a reader with a very specific interest in the subject of the paper, and a need to understand it thoroughly, will read the entire paper.
Thus, for the vast majority of readers, the paper does not exist beyond its abstract. For the referees, and the few readers who wish to read beyond the abstract, the abstract sets the tone for the rest of the paper. It is therefore the duty of the author to ensure that the abstract is properly representative of the entire paper. For this, the abstract must have some general qualities. These are listed in Table 1 .
General qualities of a good abstract
SECTIONS OF AN ABSTRACT
Although some journals still publish abstracts that are written as free-flowing paragraphs, most journals require abstracts to conform to a formal structure within a word count of, usually, 200–250 words. The usual sections defined in a structured abstract are the Background, Methods, Results, and Conclusions; other headings with similar meanings may be used (eg, Introduction in place of Background or Findings in place of Results). Some journals include additional sections, such as Objectives (between Background and Methods) and Limitations (at the end of the abstract). In the rest of this paper, issues related to the contents of each section will be examined in turn.
This section should be the shortest part of the abstract and should very briefly outline the following information:
- What is already known about the subject, related to the paper in question
- What is not known about the subject and hence what the study intended to examine (or what the paper seeks to present)
In most cases, the background can be framed in just 2–3 sentences, with each sentence describing a different aspect of the information referred to above; sometimes, even a single sentence may suffice. The purpose of the background, as the word itself indicates, is to provide the reader with a background to the study, and hence to smoothly lead into a description of the methods employed in the investigation.
Some authors publish papers the abstracts of which contain a lengthy background section. There are some situations, perhaps, where this may be justified. In most cases, however, a longer background section means that less space remains for the presentation of the results. This is unfortunate because the reader is interested in the paper because of its findings, and not because of its background.
A wide variety of acceptably composed backgrounds is provided in Table 2 ; most of these have been adapted from actual papers.[ 4 – 9 ] Readers may wish to compare the content in Table 2 with the original abstracts to see how the adaptations possibly improve on the originals. Note that, in the interest of brevity, unnecessary content is avoided. For instance, in Example 1 there is no need to state “The antidepressant efficacy of desvenlafaxine (DV), a dual-acting antidepressant drug , has been established…” (the unnecessary content is italicized).
Examples of the background section of an abstract
The methods section is usually the second-longest section in the abstract. It should contain enough information to enable the reader to understand what was done, and how. Table 3 lists important questions to which the methods section should provide brief answers.
Questions regarding which information should ideally be available in the methods section of an abstract
Carelessly written methods sections lack information about important issues such as sample size, numbers of patients in different groups, doses of medications, and duration of the study. Readers have only to flip through the pages of a randomly selected journal to realize how common such carelessness is.
Table 4 presents examples of the contents of accept-ably written methods sections, modified from actual publications.[ 10 , 11 ] Readers are invited to take special note of the first sentence of each example in Table 4 ; each is packed with detail, illustrating how to convey the maximum quantity of information with maximum economy of word count.
Examples of the methods section of an abstract
The results section is the most important part of the abstract and nothing should compromise its range and quality. This is because readers who peruse an abstract do so to learn about the findings of the study. The results section should therefore be the longest part of the abstract and should contain as much detail about the findings as the journal word count permits. For example, it is bad writing to state “Response rates differed significantly between diabetic and nondiabetic patients.” A better sentence is “The response rate was higher in nondiabetic than in diabetic patients (49% vs 30%, respectively; P <0.01).”
Important information that the results should present is indicated in Table 5 . Examples of acceptably written abstracts are presented in Table 6 ; one of these has been modified from an actual publication.[ 11 ] Note that the first example is rather narrative in style, whereas the second example is packed with data.
Information that the results section of the abstract should ideally present
Examples of the results section of an abstract
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 outcome measure; however, other important or unexpected findings should also be mentioned. It is also customary, but not essential, for the authors 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
- The additional findings of importance
- The perspective
Despite its necessary brevity, this section has the most impact on the average reader because readers generally trust authors and take their assertions at face value. For this reason, the conclusions should also be scrupulously honest; and authors should not claim more than their data demonstrate. Hypothetical examples of the conclusions section of an abstract are presented in Table 7 .
Examples of the conclusions section of an abstract
Citation of references anywhere within an abstract is almost invariably inappropriate. Other examples of unnecessary content in an abstract are listed in Table 8 .
Examples of unnecessary content in a abstract
It goes without saying that whatever is present in the abstract must also be present in the text. Likewise, whatever errors should not be made in the text should not appear in the abstract (eg, mistaking association for causality).
As already mentioned, the abstract is the only part of the paper that the vast majority of readers see. Therefore, it is critically important for authors to ensure that their enthusiasm or bias does not deceive the reader; unjustified speculations could be even more harmful. Misleading readers could harm the cause of science and have an adverse impact on patient care.[ 12 ] A recent study,[ 13 ] for example, concluded that venlafaxine use during the second trimester of pregnancy may increase the risk of neonates born small for gestational age. However, nowhere in the abstract did the authors mention that these conclusions were based on just 5 cases and 12 controls out of the total sample of 126 cases and 806 controls. There were several other serious limitations that rendered the authors’ conclusions tentative, at best; yet, nowhere in the abstract were these other limitations expressed.
As a parting note: Most journals provide clear instructions to authors on the formatting and contents of different parts of the manuscript. These instructions often include details on what the sections of an abstract should contain. Authors should tailor their abstracts to the specific requirements of the journal to which they plan to submit their manuscript. It could also be an excellent idea to model the abstract of the paper, sentence for sentence, on the abstract of an important paper on a similar subject and with similar methodology, published in the same journal for which the manuscript is slated.
Source of Support: Nil
Conflict of Interest: None declared.
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APA Abstract – Definition, Methods & Examples
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In the field of academic writing, the abstract is a vital part of ensuring that your possibly-groundbreaking research is able to reach the right audience once it has been published. As one might expect, the American Psychological Association has some pretty strict APA style guidelines that can make the process of writing an abstract feel a little intimidating or overwhelming. This article has the aim to help you make sure your own APA abstract is as good as it can be.
- 1 APA Abstract – In a Nutshell
- 2 Definition: APA abstract
- 3 Formatting an APA abstract
- 4 Writing your first APA abstract
APA Abstract – In a Nutshell
- Whilst the concept itself paired with the APA’s exacting approach to formatting and style can make the process seem a little unwelcoming, the APA abstract really is nothing to fear.
- Over the course of this article, the APA abstract will be broken down, both in terms of how it should be structured and what the content should be .
By making the abstract the last thing you write, and by following the methodical question-based approach to composition outlined here, you can have every confidence that your insightful research will be paired with a quality APA abstract to match.
Definition: APA abstract
In the most reductive sense, the abstract is a high-level summary of your research paper that is prepended to the main body content.
A well-written APA abstract will offer prospective readers a quick, precise overview of complex scientific research , allowing them to decide quickly whether committing to reading the whole paper is likely to benefit them.
Academic journals use indexing software to search the abstracts of published articles for potentially relevant research to include in future volumes.
Thus, a properly-structured APA abstract is an integral part of ensuring that your insights are able to disseminate to the proper audience.
Formatting an APA abstract
As with other parts of their style guide, the APA abstract is subject to some fairly rigorous guidelines around page and text formatting.
The bullet points below run through the five most important considerations:
Writing your first APA abstract
Now that you’ve got a handle on the formatting requirements, you’re well on your way to being able to write your first APA abstract.
However, you could be forgiven for still feeling a little lost as far as springboarding into, you know, actually writing it. With this in mind, you may find the below questions to be a useful starting point when it comes to building out the content:
What did you discover?
This is, fundamentally, why people are considering reading your paper in the first place: they want to know what you found.
Give them a brief summary of your key findings and conclusions to entice them to read in more detail.
Why did you do this research?
It’s important to explicitly position your research against the contemporary landscape.
Give a little insight into your motivations , including key research questions, and with reference to any gaps in the extant literature that you identified.
What are the implications of your research?
Okay, great: you found out some interesting things. But what do they mean for the big picture?
Your APA abstract should include some reference to how your work may impact future research .
How did you do it?
Prospective readers – many of whom will be scientists themselves – will absolutely want to know about the methods that brought you to your conclusion.
It doesn’t need to be too detailed, but a little clarity around your approach to the research can go a long way here.
Is it mandatory to include an APA abstract?
In a functional sense, yes : it absolutely is.
Between the synoptic information, it offers and the aforementioned synergy with journal indexing services, neglecting to include an APA abstract significantly reduces – if not entirely restricts – your potential readership.
How long does the APA abstract need to be?
Per the APA’s own style guide, your APA abstract should be no longer than 250 words .
Where does the abstract need to go?
The APA abstract should be on page 2 of your paper, the first page immediately following your title page and immediately preceding any contents pages or opening statements you may also be including.
Does the abstract need to be written in fluent, continuous prose?
In short: no . Although the body text (the summary of your research) should be written in this way , you will also need to append a brief keyword list to further aid your paper’s discoverability.
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Home / Guides / Citation Guides / APA Format / How to write an APA abstract
How to write an APA abstract
An APA abstract is a short summary designed to help a reader decide if they are going to read the entire paper. An effective abstract will communicate your hypothesis, method, and results while also creating credibility for yourself as the author. An abstract will also make it easier for new readers to find your work.
In this guide, you will learn how to format an APA abstract. It begins with an overview of the key aspects included with an abstract and ends with a set of real APA abstract examples that you can look at.
The information in this guide comes straight from the source: The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7 th edition. Most of the relevant information comes from Section 2.9.
Here’s a run-through of everything this page includes:
What is an APA abstract page?
How to format an apa abstract, paragraph format vs. structured format, adding a keywords section after your apa abstract, about apa formatting and the apa style guide.
While the abstract page plays an important role in getting the reader interested, it is not a sales pitch. It’s about reporting, not commenting. That means that it should accurately reflect each key aspect of your paper. In other words, it is a concise, comprehensive summary of your paper.
This is where you describe the problem you were exploring, the methods you used to explore it, and the results or conclusions of your exploration. In some cases, you might also be required to state the significance of your conclusions.
Here are some of the key aspects of an APA abstract that might be requested by the publication:
- Basic problem : Why did this work need to be done?
- Clearly-stated hypotheses: What was your hypothesis?
- Methods of investigation: How did you do your research? How did you design your experiment or argument? For scientific papers, include basic sample information.
- Results: What was the result of your study?
- Implications: What is the significance of your findings?
Remember, the specific sections or labels in your abstract might vary based on who you are submitting to.
Qualities of a good abstract
In addition to the formatting requirements, the Publication Manual also provides some guidance on what other qualities make for a good abstract.
Here are the qualities of a good abstract as defined by APA. You can find more information on how to formulate a great abstract in chapter 3.
- Accurate: The most important thing is that your abstract accurately reflects the contents and purpose of your paper. The general rule of thumb for accuracy is, if it doesn’t appear in your paper, it should not appear in the abstract.
- Non-evaluative: The APA instructs us to “Report rather than evaluate” (p.73). It is inappropriate to add any opinions or comments to the abstract.
- Coherent and readable: Your abstract needs to be as clear as possible. Use concise, deliberate language. It helps to use verbs instead of nouns when possible (e.g., “investigated” rather than “an investigation of”).
- Concise: Make sure every sentence is as informative as possible. There should be no “extra” words in an abstract; it’s all about getting the point across as efficiently as possible. Because abstracts are often used for academic search engines, it is good practice to use specific terms that you think people would use to find your paper.
In large part, the abstract page is formatted just like any APA paper. That means that it should be 12pt font and double-spaced the whole way through.
A properly formatted abstract will also be:
- No more than 250 words in length.
- Placed on its own page, immediately following the APA title page .
- Labeled with a bold, center-justified “Abstract” at the top
It is important to note that some publications will have their own instructions on how to format the abstract. In addition, some publications require a statement of significance in addition to the abstract.
If you are submitting your paper to a journal, be sure to check the publication’s author instructions.
The abstract page of an APA paper can be presented in two ways. As the author, you have the option of presenting your abstract in either paragraph format or structured format .
Paragraph format is more common with student papers. This is a single paragraph with no indentation on the first line. The objective, method, results, and conclusions are presented one after another in a simple, narrative manner.
Structured format is similar in formatting with one key difference. This format calls for the insertion of specific labels to identify the different parts of the abstract. In other words, “Objective,” “Method,” “Results,” and “Conclusions” are presented as labels before their corresponding sentences in the abstract.
It’s important to remember that some publications have different labeling requirements. If you’re submitting your paper to a journal, be sure to check the formatting standards.
APA abstract example: Paragraph format
Let’s move on to a specific example of a properly formatted APA abstract written in paragraph format.
The following abstract is from the paper “Movement, wildness, and animal aesthetics” by Tom Greaves. Note how the first line is not indented like a normal paragraph.
The key role that animals play in our aesthetic appreciation of the natural world has only gradually been highlighted in discussions in environmental aesthetics. In this article I make use of the phenomenological notion of ‘perceptual sense’ as developed by Merleau-Ponty to argue that open-ended expressive-responsive movement is the primary aesthetic ground for our appreciation of animals. It is through their movement that the array of qualities we admire in animals are manifest qua animal qualities. Against functionalist and formalist accounts, I defend and develop an account of expressive-responsive movement as the primary perceptual sense of animals. I go on to suggest that the primacy of movement in the aesthetic appreciation of animals is also the primary sense of animal ‘wildness’, and that a key part of the rewilding paradigm should be the development of such appreciation.
In the paragraph above, Greaves uses his first sentence to explain the basic problem, and the next two sentences to describe the method. The fourth sentence presents the results, and the fifth sentence wraps things up with a conclusion.
It’s only five sentences, and it tells the reader everything they need to know about the contents of the paper.
APA abstract example: Structured format
Next up is an example of a properly formatted APA abstract written in structured format. This example uses the same abstract as above, with the addition of identifying labels.
Structured abstracts are only necessary when specifically requested by the class, institution, or journal you are submitting to. For all APA journals, these labels are bold, italicized, and capitalized.
Objective. The key role that animals play in our aesthetic appreciation of the natural world has only gradually been highlighted in discussions in environmental aesthetics. Method. In this article I make use of the phenomenological notion of ‘perceptual sense’ as developed by Merleau-Ponty to argue that open-ended expressive-responsive movement is the primary aesthetic ground for our appreciation of animals. It is through their movement that the array of qualities we admire in animals are manifest qua animal qualities. Results. Against functionalist and formalist accounts, I defend and develop an account of expressive-responsive movement as the primary perceptual sense of animals. Conclusions. I go on to suggest that the primacy of movement in the aesthetic appreciation of animals is also the primary sense of animal ‘wildness’, and that a key part of the rewilding paradigm should be the development of such appreciation.
A paper’s keywords section is intended to help people find your work. These are the acronyms, phrases, or words that describe the most important elements of your paper. Any papers submitted to an APA journal should include three to five keywords.
The keywords section is generally only required for professional papers. However, some professors and universities specifically request that it be included in student papers.
Formatting the keywords section
The keywords are presented on the same page as the abstract, one line below the end of the abstract paragraph. It begins with the label “Keywords:”, and it is italicized and indented 0.5in from the margin.
Next comes a list of the keywords separated by commas. The keywords should be lowercase, unless the keyword is a proper noun. There is no punctuation at the end of a keyword list.
APA abstract with keywords example
Take another look at the abstract example that was provided above. Here is what a set of keywords might look like for that paper, pulling between 3-5 specific terms from the abstract itself.
The keywords are placed one line below the abstract without any additional spaces.
Keywords: animals, animal aesthetics, wildness, rewilding
The information in this guide came from the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7 th ed.). Chapter 2 of this book lays out the basic formatting elements for APA 7, including how to write an APA abstract.
You can also consult chapter 3.3 for more in-depth recommendations on how to formulate your abstract based on what type of paper you are writing.
Published October 27, 2020.
APA Formatting Guide
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- Reference Page
- Sample Paper
- APA 7 Updates
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- View all APA Examples
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How to Write an Abstract for a Scientific Paper
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If you're preparing a research paper or grant proposal, you'll need to know how to write an abstract. Here's a look at what an abstract is and how to write one.
An abstract is a concise summary of an experiment or research project. It should be brief -- typically under 200 words. The purpose of the abstract is to summarize the research paper by stating the purpose of the research, the experimental method, the findings, and the conclusions.
- How to Write an Abstract
The format you'll use for the abstract depends on its purpose. If you're writing for a specific publication or a class assignment, you'll probably need to follow specific guidelines. If there isn't a required format, you'll need to choose from one of two possible types of abstracts.
An informational abstract is a type of abstract used to communicate an experiment or lab report .
- An informational abstract is like a mini-paper. Its length ranges from a paragraph to 1 to 2 pages, depending on the scope of the report. Aim for less than 10% the length of the full report.
- Summarize all aspects of the report, including purpose, method, results, conclusions, and recommendations. There are no graphs, charts, tables, or images in an abstract. Similarly, an abstract does not include a bibliography or references.
- Highlight important discoveries or anomalies. It's okay if the experiment did not go as planned and necessary to state the outcome in the abstract.
Here is a good format to follow, in order, when writing an informational abstract. Each section is a sentence or two long:
- Motivation or Purpose: State why the subject is important or why anyone should care about the experiment and its results.
- Problem: State the hypothesis of the experiment or describe the problem you are trying to solve.
- Method: How did you test the hypothesis or try to solve the problem?
- Results: What was the outcome of the study? Did you support or reject a hypothesis? Did you solve a problem? How close were the results to what you expected? State-specific numbers.
- Conclusions: What is the significance of your findings? Do the results lead to an increase in knowledge, a solution that may be applied to other problems, etc.?
Need examples? The abstracts at PubMed.gov (National Institutes of Health database) are informational abstracts. A random example is this abstract on the effect of coffee consumption on Acute Coronary Syndrome .
A descriptive abstract is an extremely brief description of the contents of a report. Its purpose is to tell the reader what to expect from the full paper.
- A descriptive abstract is very short, typically less than 100 words.
- Tells the reader what the report contains, but doesn't go into detail.
- It briefly summarizes the purpose and experimental method, but not the results or conclusions. Basically, say why and how the study was made, but don't go into findings.
Tips for Writing a Good Abstract
- Write the paper before writing the abstract. You might be tempted to start with the abstract since it comes between the title page and the paper, but it's much easier to summarize a paper or report after it has been completed.
- Write in the third person. Replace phrases like "I found" or "we examined" with phrases like "it was determined" or "this paper provides" or "the investigators found".
- Write the abstract and then pare it down to meet the word limit. In some cases, a long abstract will result in automatic rejection for publication or a grade!
- Think of keywords and phrases a person looking for your work might use or enter into a search engine. Include those words in your abstract. Even if the paper won't be published, this is a good habit to develop.
- All information in the abstract must be covered in the body of the paper. Don't put a fact in the abstract that isn't described in the report.
- Proof-read the abstract for typos, spelling mistakes, and punctuation errors.
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WHAT IS AN ABSTRACT?
James R. Ebert
Department of Earth Sciences
State University of New York, College at Oneonta
Oneonta, New York 13820-4015
E-mail: [email protected]
An abstract is a brief summary of the most important points in a scientific paper. Abstracts enable professionals to stay current with the huge volume of scientific literature. Students have misconceptions about the nature of abstracts that may be described as the “table of contents” or “introduction” syndromes. There are several ways to tell if you’ve written an abstract or not.
It has been observed that the quantity of our scientific knowledge increases at an exponential rate. How is it possible for scientists, students or anyone to keep up with this increase? If a sedimentologist, for example, were to read every paper published in a single year in the Journal of Sedimentary Research, Sedimentology, Sedimentary Geology, Geology, the GSA Bulletin, the AAPG Bulletin, etc. she or he would have no time to conduct any research! Abstracts are crucial components in the battle to keep abreast of one’s field.
Nature and function of an abstract
If you examine any paper in a professional journal, such as the GSA Bulletin, and you will see that each paper begins with an abstract. So, what is an abstract?
An abstract is a brief synopsis or summary of the most important points that the author makes in the paper. It is a highly condensed version of the paper itself. After reading the abstract, the reader knows the main points that the authors have to make. The reader can then evaluate the significance of the paper and then decide whether or not she or he wishes to read the full paper. If one elects to read the full paper, further detail is given about each of the significant topics, but no new topics of importance are introduced. If one decides not to read the paper, that decision is based on a knowledge of the paper’s content.
Although the abstract appears first in a paper, it is generally the last part written. Only after the paper has been completed can the authors decide what should be in the abstract and what parts are supporting detail.
Common misconceptions about abstracts
Student misconceptions abound on the nature of abstracts. Perhaps the two most common misconceptions are that the abstract is a table of contents or an introduction . An abstract is neither of these. Just because it appears first in a paper does not mean that it is an integral part of the paper. Abstracts should be able to stand alone.
The “table of contents” syndrome is marked by statements such as these: “This paper will examine..., “following this I will describe... “, ” the last section of the paper will address...”, etc.. If what you have written includes such statements, chances are you have not written an abstract.
The “introduction” misconception is also common. If you have statements such as these, you have probably written an introduction and not an abstract: “One of the most important events in geologic history...”, The XYZ Formation is found in central Podunk County and is a fascinating unit.”, “However, before we examine these characteristics, we must look closer at the origins...”, etc..
How can you tell if what you have written is an abstract or not? Ask yourself the following questions: Does my abstract summarize all the most important points in my paper? If someone reads my abstract will they get all the main points that I want to make in the paper? Does my abstract stand alone or does it lead to other parts of the paper? If the latter is true, chances are good that you have not written an abstract.
An abstract is a critical part of a scientific paper. It summarizes the most significant points in the paper. By doing so, it enables the reader to evaluate the nature and significance of the work and therefore decide whether or not to read the whole paper.