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Chapter 1

What is an Abstract?

So, what is an abstract? It is a summary of the entire piece of work. It is used in the thesis, dissertation, research papers, and journal articles. There isn’t a published research paper in the behavioral and social sciences without an abstract.

Its purpose is to, at a glance, provide valuable information to readers. For an abstract to communicate the essence of the work it represents, it should include:

  • Research problem(s), purpose and importance of the study
  • The basic methodology blueprint
  • Relevant results, trends or findings
  • A concise summary of conclusions, interpretations, and implications
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The length of the abstract depends on the requirements of a journal where it’s going to be published. How long should an abstract be then? While the required length varies, it is usually between 150 - 300 words. Journals often have stringent guidelines about the length of the abstract.

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Chapter 2

When To Write an Abstract

People write abstracts in various instances. The writer is often the author of the entire work. In case the work is a result of multiple authors, which most students experience while at university, the abstract is the responsibility of the first author.

Below you can find instances in which people write abstracts:

  • When writing an MA thesis
  • When writing a Ph.D. dissertation
  • When writing a book proposal, and proposal for a book chapter
  • When submitting articles to online journals and journals in general
  • When writing a proposal for a conference paper
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Chapter 3

2 Reasons to Write an Abstract

Among many reasons to write an abstract, two emerge as the most important ones - selection and indexing.

Selection

Let’s say you are about to begin your research in social sciences to check whether there is a correlation between different parenting styles and the educational achievement in your country. And, say you start your research on Google Scholar. A simple “parenting style and educational achievement” returned 27,000 results. To narrow down your search, you can even go with a query such as this one “parenting styles and educational achievement in your country.”

Among the search results, you can see many cited papers with a title that has very little to do with your research topic, such as “Parenting style and youth outcomes in the UK”. But if you examine it, you can see in the paper’s abstract that youth outcome is, in fact, educational achievement. A simple piece of information in the abstract can help you save time and tell relevant studies from the less relevant ones.

In other words, an abstract will help you make an informed decision on whether to read the whole paper or not.

Indexing

Google Scholar is not the only indexing service out there. Many other online libraries allow people to search for abstracts. But they all work pretty much the same. When a user enters a query, the search algorithm cross-references all abstracts in the database to the entered keywords to deliver the most relevant results. Short abstracts that contain relevant keywords make indexing and searching easier.

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3 Things To Know Before You Start Writing Abstract

Once you finish writing your entire paper first, it will be much easier to do the abstract. Not only will you be able to make a more accurate summary, but you will also know the importance of your research, methodology, results, conclusions, and implications.

Learning to follow through specific abstract format requirements properly is a half-job done. The two most common ones are MLA abstract and APA abstract format.

How To Format an Abstract in APA

APA abstract formatting:

  • One paragraph of text not longer than 250 words
  • Title of the work at the top left (aligned left, all caps & page number on the right)
  • Write “Abstract” on the first line (center it)
  • Body of abstract text with no indentations
  • List of keywords relevant to the abstract content
How to Format an Abstract in MLA

MLA Abstract formatting:

  • One paragraph of text between 150-250 words long
  • A short introduction that explains the goal of the research
  • And a couple of sentences to explain results and conclusions

If you are not assigned a specific abstract style, you will have to determine which type of abstract you need.

  • Informational. The most commonly used type of abstract for university research papers is an informational abstract. The purpose of the informative abstract is to describe the work. It includes all the critical information - purpose, methods, scope, primary results, conclusions, and interpretations. It is usually anywhere between 100-300 words long.
  • Descriptive. A descriptive abstract, on the other hand, is significantly shorter than an informative abstract. It doesn’t contain any information about the results and conclusions of the work. Instead, it provides only purpose, methods, and scope, along with the most relevant keywords from the text. It is usually shorter than 100 words.
  • Critical. Although rarely used, students are required by many universities to master writing critical abstracts. While it also provides essential information about the work, critical abstract goes one step further to critique the research in terms of methodology and overall research design.
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Chapter 4

Writing an Abstract: 5 Main Sections

Here is what to include in an abstract.

  • Purpose

    So, you want to check whether there is a correlation between parenting styles and educational achievement. Why does it matter? Use the first few sentences to point out why it is crucial and the purpose of your research.

  • Problem

    Identify the problem your research can solve and give your best to elaborate your argument in one or two sentences.

  • Methodology

    In this section, you have to explain the design of your research and a brief overview of your methodology. This includes your research variables, what statistical methods you used (if any), and a summary of sources and evidence that support your claim.

  • Results

    This section informs the readers about your main findings. Include general findings and state whether your hypothesis was supported or not.

  • Conclusions

    At the end of the abstract, give meaning to your results and tell readers what makes your work important.

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Chapter 5

Abstract Example

Problem statement:

“Environmental non-profit organizations in the UK currently face a significant funding gap.”

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Background:

“Research has shown that donation intention is influenced by campaign messaging strategies, and that representations of individual victims are generally more effective than appeals based on abstract concepts like climate change.”

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Objective:

“This study aims to determine how environmental organizations can target fundraising campaigns to increase donations.”

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Research question:

“Building on existing work on targeted fundraising, it asks: To what extent does a potential donor's social distance from climate change victims in fundraising campaigns affect their intention to make a donation?”

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Definition:

“In this context, social distance is defined as the extent to which people feel they are in the same social group (in-group) or another social group (out-group) in relation to climate change victims.”

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Methodology:

“Based on a review of the literature on donation intention and theories of social distance, an online survey was distributed to potential donors based across the UK. Respondents were randomly divided into two conditions (large and small social distance) and asked to respond to one of two sets of fundraising material.”

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Results:

“Analysis of the responses demonstrated that large social distance was associated with stronger donation intentions than small social distance.”

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Conclusions:

“The results indicate that social distance does have an impact on donation intention. On this basis, it is recommended that environmental organizations use social distance as a key factor in designing and targeting their campaigns. Further research is needed to identify other factors that could strengthen the effectiveness of these campaigns.”

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FAQ

Frequently asked questions about writing an abstract

Before you can learn how to write an abstract for a research paper, you have to determine what is an abstract in a paper. An abstract is a concise summary of the entire work.

Whether you are writing an abstract for social sciences research paper or any other research paper for that matter, you need to follow up on the same structure. Extract major hypotheses, conclusion(s), methods, and results from your paper. Use this information to write a single paragraph, ensuring that the sequence goes as follows: Introduction (purpose), Methods (study design), Results(main findings), Conclusion(s)(your interpretations, conclusions, and implications).

It’s important to know the abstract vs. introduction differences.

An introduction has the purpose of draw readers in. In it, readers can learn about the background of the research paper’s subject matter. The introduction also outlines what the issues the research wants to address are, how they will be resolved, and why it is crucial. It doesn’t contain any information about methods, results, or conclusions.

An abstract, on the other hand, is a summary of the entire paper. It allows readers to understand the importance of the research paper, learn about hypotheses and methods, see the results, and read concise conclusions and interpretations. An abstract contains a few sentences from the introduction to state why the research was done in the first place.

The abstract has to be concise and easy to read. To achieve consistent readability, APA recommends using the active voice and past tense. The present tense can also be used when writing an abstract. Avoid using the future tense in abstracts.

  • Good: This study investigates the relationship between parenting styles and educational achievement.
  • Bad: This study will investigate the relationship between parenting styles and educational achievement.

Be careful when using present tense as APA recommends using it only when describing conclusions and implications. For a complete list of the recommended verb tenses to report information in APA Style papers, check APA’s official APA Publication Manual, Seventh Edition.