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How to Write an Abstract

Abstracts are the first thing people read when they come across your manuscript on online databases. It’s also a deciding factor in peer reviews. Do not overlook its importance.

You’ve finished your entire paper. All those hours put into your research have finally paid off. Research writing can be tough. But hold on; you’re not quite finished yet. You forgot to write your abstract! The abstract can sometimes be overlooked, but that does not mean it’s unimportant. In fact, some researchers argue that the abstract is the most important part of your manuscript. It’s the first thing people read when they come across your manuscript on online databases. Depending on how well written it is, it could also be the first and last thing your audience reads. It’s also what publications and journals use to determine whether they want to publish your research. Continue reading to learn how to write an abstract and how AJE can help you with your writing.

What is an abstract?

An abstract is a concise summary of the major findings in your research paper. It is usually found at the beginning of your research paper. A good abstract should be able to give the average lay reader a strong sense of the main findings within your full-text paper. Abstracts are typically one paragraph depending on how you decide to structure it. Your target publication could have specific guidelines that determine the structure of your abstract. However, all abstracts have the commonality of being brief summaries of your longer research.

Types of abstracts

Informative abstracts

A good informative abstract acts as a thorough summary for your full paper. It should be a structured abstract. It includes sections for the introduction, methods, results, discussion and conclusion. Each section should only be a couple sentences each. The total number of words should typically be around 250, but they can be longer, too. Informative abstracts are typically meant for psychology, science, and engineering papers.

Components of an informative abstract

Introduction

The introduction should only be one or two sentences. This is where you state your thesis and why your research is important. The introduction should state:

  • Your paper’s purpose
  • The problems your research solves
  • Context
  • Historical references

Methods

Start writing your methods sections by explaining what you did in the experiment. Begin by setting the scene. The methods section should only be a couple sentences long.

Who/what was involved in the study?

  • State who or what was used in the experiment. Include the population studied; mention any plants, animals, or humans and how many were involved.

When did the experiment take place?

  • State the time frame or duration of the experiment.

Where did the experiment take place?

  • Give the geographical location of the experiment.

Tips for writing the methods section

  • Write your research methods section as you are doing your experimentation. Some details of your experiment could be left out if you wait too long between the experiment and writing an abstract.
  • If you’re having trouble structuring your methods, look at what others have done. Look at an abstract from a study in your target publication.

Results

The results section should describe your most important findings with the data to back it up. Write this section in the past tense.

Conclusions

Your conclusions section should only be two to three sentences. In this short amount of space, you should include your interpretation of the experiment to answer the main question of your research. It should answer this question: How do these results have an effect on my area of study or the wider population?

Descriptive abstracts

A descriptive abstract is also called a limited abstract for a good reason. It’s much shorter than an informative abstract - about half the size. It’s a very brief summary. It should include background information, the study’s purpose, the focus of the paper, and an optional overview of the contents. A descriptive abstract is generally used for psychology, social sciences, and humanities papers.

Tip for writing a descriptive abstract

If you’re having trouble writing a descriptive abstract, take your main headings from your table of contents and write them into a paragraph format.

Critical abstracts

A critical abstract is less common than the other abstracts, but it’s still worth knowing. It still includes your general findings, but it also has a section devoted to the completeness, validity, and readability of your paper. In a critical abstract, your work is compared with other studies on your subject matter.

Incorporate keywords found in your research paper

It is wise to list the key phrases and words in your research paper for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) purposes. Your key terms section helps search engines like Google and Bing direct readers and other researchers to your work. The key words section comes at the bottom of your abstract. It can be formatted as follows: Keywords: example 1, example 2, example 3

How to format the abstract

Some researchers make their abstract a single paragraph that looks like one giant block of text. If you wish to make it easier on your readers, you can break your abstract into sections depending on your target journal’s specifications. It should immediately follow the title page. There should be no page number on the abstract page.

When should you write your abstract?

Since the abstract is the first thing your audience reads, it would make sense to write an abstract first, right? Not exactly. Trying to summarize your research before you’ve written your research paper can be incredibly challenging. Instead, the abstract should be the last thing you write. Your research should still be fresh in your mind and you should have no problem summarizing the important findings. There are plenty of other tips for writing your abstract as well.

Final Thoughts

Abstract writing can be difficult. Luckily, AJE’s editing staff can edit your abstract. If your target journal requests a graphic abstract, our Figure Formatting team can make you one for you.

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