What is an abstract?

An abstract is a condensed version of a longer piece of writing that highlights the major points covered, concisely describes the content and scope of the writing, and reviews the writing’s contents in abbreviated form. Abstracts are typically 100 to 250 words and follow set patterns.

An abstract is a concise summary of a research paper or entire thesis. It is an original work, not an excerpted passage. An abstract must be fully self-contained and make sense by itself, without further reference to outside sources or to the actual paper. It highlights key content areas, your research purpose, the relevance or importance of your work, and the main outcomes.

Although it is placed at the beginning of your paper, immediately following the title page, the abstract should be the last thing that you write, once you are sure of the conclusions you will reach.

Types of abstracts

There are two major types of Abstracts, these include:

  1. Informative Abstracts
  2. Descriptive Abstracts.

Descriptive abstracts describe the work being abstracted. They are more like an outline of the work and are usually very short – 100 words or less.

Informative abstracts act as substitutes for the actual papers as all the key arguments and conclusions are presented; specifically, the context and importance of the research, reasons for methods, principal results and conclusions

What to include in an abstract

The format of your abstract will depend on the discipline in which you are working. However, all abstracts generally cover the following five sections:

  1. Reason for writing:

What is the importance of the research? Why would a reader be interested in the larger work?

  1. Problem:

What problem does this work attempt to solve? What is the scope of the project? What is the main argument, thesis or claim?

  1. 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.

  1. Results:

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.

  1. Implications:

How does this work add to the body of knowledge on the topic? Are there any practical or theoretical applications from your findings or implications for future research?

Things to be done before writing an Abstract

The following are the guidelines on the things to be done before writing an Abstract:

  1. Write your paper

Even though an abstract goes at the beginning of the work, it acts as a summary of your entire paper. Rather than introducing your topic, it will be an overview of everything you write about in your paper. Save writing your abstract for last, after you have already finished your paper.

  • A thesis and an abstract are entirely different things. The thesis of a paper introduces the main idea or question, while the abstract works to review the entirety of the paper, including the methods and results.
  • Even if you think that you know what your paper is going to be about, always save the abstract for last. You will be able to give a much more accurate summary if you do just that – summarize what you’ve already written.
  1. Review and understand any requirements for writing your abstract.

The paper you’re writing probably has specific guidelines and requirements, whether it’s for publication in a journal, submission in a class, or part of a work project. Before you start writing, refer to the rubric or guidelines you were presented with to identify important issues to keep in mind.

  • Is there a maximum or minimum length?
  • Are there style requirements?
  • Are you writing for an instructor or a publication?
  1. Determine the type of abstract you must write.

Although all abstracts accomplish essentially the same goal, there are two primary styles of abstract: descriptive and informative. You may have been assigned a specific style, but if you weren’t, you will have to determine which is right for you. Typically, informative abstracts are used for much longer and technical research while descriptive abstracts are best for shorter papers.

  • Descriptive abstracts explain the purpose, goal, and methods of your research but leave out the results section. These are typically only 100-200 words.
  • Informative abstracts are like a condensed version of your paper, giving an overview of everything in your research including the results. These are much longer than descriptive abstracts, and can be anywhere from a single paragraph to a whole page long.
  • The basic information included in both styles of abstract is the same, with the main difference being that the results are only included in an informative abstract, and an informative abstract is much longer than a descriptive one.
  • A critical abstract is not often used, but it may be required in some courses. A critical abstract accomplishes the same goals as the other types of abstract, but will also relate the study or work being discussed to the writer’s own research. It may critique the research design or methods

Effective approaches towards writing a detailed Abstract

  1. Identify your purpose.

You’re writing about a correlation between lack of lunches in schools and poor grades. So what? Why does this matter? The reader wants to know why your research is important, and what the purpose of it is. Start off your descriptive abstract by considering the following questions:

  • Why did you decide to do this study or project?
  • How did you conduct your research?
  • What did you find?
  • Why is this research and your findings important?
  • Why should someone read your entire essay?
  1. Explain the problem at hand.

Abstracts state the “problem” behind your work. Think of this as the specific issue that your research or project addresses. You can sometimes combine the problem with your motivation, but it is best to be clear and separate the two.

  • What problem is your research trying to better understand or solve?
  • What is the scope of your study – a general problem, or something specific?
  • What is your main claim or argument?
  1. Explain your methods.

Motivation – check. Problem – check. Methods? Now is the part where you give an overview of how you accomplished your study. If you did your own work, include a description of it here. If you reviewed the work of others, it can be briefly explained.

  • Discuss your own research including the variables and your approach.
  • Describe the evidence you have to support your claim
  • Give an overview of your most important sources.
  1. Describe your results (informative abstract only).

This is where you begin to differentiate your abstract between a descriptive and an informative abstract. In an informative abstract, you will be asked to provide the results of your study. What is it that you found?

  • What answer did you reach from your research or study?
  • Was your hypothesis or argument supported?
  • What are the general findings?
  1. Give your conclusion.

This should finish up your summary and give closure to your abstract. In it, address the meaning of your findings as well as the importance of your overall paper. This format of having a conclusion can be used in both descriptive and informative abstracts, but you will only address the following questions in an informative abstract.

  • What are the implications of your work?
  • Are your results general or very specific?