Resumes & Cover Letters

What Is an Abstract and How To Write One

May 12, 2021

A well-written abstract helps readers determine whether your research or study is what they are looking for and if they want to read to continue reading. It's also beneficial for indexing online databases. In this article, we define what an abstract is, explore the different types of abstract, learn how to write one and review an example to help you write your own.

What is an abstract?

An abstract is a brief summary that describes the focus of a study or research paper. It may include the scope, results, purpose and contents of the work or it may contain the background, thesis and conclusion. An abstract is not an excerpt from the larger work, but rather an originally written content. It usually contains keywords that you can find throughout the paper. An abstract allows your reader to quickly decide if your study is what they are looking for or of interest to them. Online databases use a study's abstract for indexing purposes.

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Types of abstracts

Researchers typically use the following types of abstract:

Descriptive

A descriptive abstract specifies the type of information found in the study in a short summary of usually 100 words or less. It makes no judgments about the research, nor does it provide conclusions or results of the study. It incorporates keywords found in the text and may include the scope, methods and purpose of the study. Essentially, a descriptive abstract describes the study being abstracted. Some people consider it an outline of the study, rather than a summary.

Informative

Most researchers use informative abstract. Although an informative abstract doesn't evaluate or critique a study, it does more than describe it. Good informative abstracts act as a surrogate for the study itself. That is, the researcher presents and discusses all the main arguments and the notable evidence and results in the complete book, paper or article.

An informative abstract includes the information that you can find in a descriptive abstract, including the study's scope, methods and purpose. However, it also includes the conclusions and results of the research and the researcher's recommendations. The length of an informative abstract varies depending on the discipline, but it usually 10% or less of the length of the entire study.

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How to write an abstract

Here are the steps you should take when writing an abstract:

1. Write your paper first

While an abstract goes at the beginning of the study or research, it acts as a synopsis of your entire paper. It's an overview of everything you write in your paper. You can write your abstract after you have completed your paper.

2. Review the requirements for writing your abstract

The study you are writing probably has specific requirements and guidelines, whether it's for publication in a journal, part of a work project, or submission in a class. Before you start writing, refer to the guidelines or rubric that were presented to you to determine important issues to keep in mind. You can ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there a minimum or maximum length?
  • Are there any style requirements?
  • Are you writing for a publication or an instructor?

3. Consider your audience and publication

An abstract helps readers find your work. For instance, in a scientific journal, an abstract allows readers to quickly decide whether the study discussed is relevant to their own interests. An abstract also helps your readers to quickly get at your main argument. Keep your readers' needs as you craft your abstract. You can ask yourself the following questions as you write your abstract:

  • Will other disciplines read this abstract?
  • Should my abstract be accessible to a lay reader or someone from another field?

4. Determine the type of abstract

Determine the type of abstract you want to write: informative or descriptive. You can skip this step if you have been assigned a type of abstract. If not, you can determine which suits your study or paper best. In general, an informative abstract tends to be more appropriate for longer, technical study while a general abstract is ideal for a shorter paper.

5. Explain the problem

Abstracts state the "problem" behind your study. Think of this as the specific issue that your project or research addresses. While you can combine the problem with your motivation, it's best to be clear and separate the two. Here are some guide questions to help you explain the problem:

  • What problem is your study trying to solve or better understand?
  • What is the scope of your research? Something specific or a general problem?
  • What's your main argument or claim

6. Explain your methods

Next, you'll explain the methods you took to accomplish your study, including the research you conducted, variables you included and your approach. Include any evidence you had to support your assertion.

7. Describe your results

This is where you start to differentiate your abstract between an informative and descriptive abstract. In an informative abstract, you may need to provide the results of your study. Here are some guide questions to help you describe your results:

  • What is it that you found?
  • What answer did you reach from your study or research?
  • Was your argument or hypothesis supported?
  • What are the general findings?

8. Give a conclusion

Finalise your summary by addressing the meaning of your findings and the importance of the paper. While you will use a conclusion in both types of abstracts, only in the informative abstract will you discuss the implications of your study.

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What is IMRaD structure?

IMRaD structure is a way of structuring a scientific article. Unlike abstracts that are written for articles in social sciences, the IMRaD format doesn't include a theory chapter. IMRaD stands for:

  • Introduction: In the introduction, you show that you are knowledgeable about the field of study and the existing research that already exists within the field. Your introduction should include a summary of the existing research, your thesis statement, a theory (if relevant) and an introduction to the current situation.
  • Method: This chapter should show how you applied valid and reliable methods to reach your results. Here you will explain your research, professional intervention and what you did or did not do.
  • Results: You should devote much of your paper to the results and data you uncovered.
  • Discussion: This chapter is where you discuss the results of the study or project, making comparisons with other studies, discussing whether more research is needed or making recommendations that could be applied in practice.

What to avoid when writing an abstract

When you are writing your abstract, you should avoid:

  • Extensively referring to other works within your abstract
  • Defining any terms
  • Adding information that isn't contained in the larger work

Abstract examples

Here are some examples of an abstract that you can use as you draft your own:

Example no. 1: Descriptive abstract

The peppermint plant, also known as Mentha balsamea Wild, is a hybrid mint, a cross between watermint and spearmint. One of the popular uses for peppermint—aside from its use as a dietary supplement or health application—is its potential to repel insects.

This study focuses on the development of insect repellent using peppermint oil. 25 grams of fresh peppermint was collected, crushed and placed in a glass jar. The jar was then filled with olive oil and the oil was allowed to steep in a warm location for two days. After two days, the oil was strained using a folded cheesecloth. The extracted oil was gathered and diluted 70% in three separate containers to be transferred into spray bottles.

Testing involved spraying the sample into a glass jar with Anopheles juidthae (common mosquitoes) and compared with the effect of a commercial insect repellant. This study challenges the belief that synthetic insect repellents are more effective than all-natural, essential oil options.

Example no. 2: Informative abstract

Metalinguistic awareness contributes to effect writing at college or university. Writing is a meaning-making process where creative, social, cognitive and linguistic factors are at play. College students must develop and master the skills of academic writing not only for earning their degree but also for their future endeavours. It's also important for professors to know who our students are, how they think and how we can best help them.

This research examines undergraduate Australian and international engineering students as writers of academic texts in a multicultural setting at the University of Australia. Interviews and questionnaires were used to gather data about the level of metalinguistic awareness of the students, their motivation for writing, assumptions about writing, expectations for writing and attitudes toward writing.

The preliminary results of the study reveal that students from different cultures initially have different perceptions about the academic genres and handle writing with different writing and learning styles. However, those with a more developed metalanguage are more motivated and confident. We conclude that the motivation level of the students for academic writing positively correlates with their perceptions about themselves as writers. Following a thorough multi-dimensional analysis of preliminary study results, we will present some recommendations for writing instruction.

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