How Do I Write an Abstract?

He's a professor, and he wants your abstract written correctly...or else (image courtesy Son of Groucho - CC-BY)

So … your professor/teacher/boss/jedi master  has made it known that she wants you to write an abstract with your research paper.

Fine. Dandy. Just how does one go about writing an abstract, you wonder?

Don’t worry. If you’ve got the research paper (or lab report) done already, an abstract’s not too tough.

Most abstracts are simply summaries of the key points made in the report—major facts, findings and conclusions. For some reports, an abstract may be more of a statement of purpose. This is especially true for reports that

are reviewing and summarizing available information on a topic (a literature review) rather than analyzing information.

Most abstracts are fairly free-form, but for some types of reports—and for some journals, if you are submitting a paper—a specific format is required. The only way to know for sure is to check with your professor or the journal as to their requirements.

Beyond that, an abstract should be well-written (don’t forget…it’s the first impression your reader will have of your work), concise and informative. Keep the following in mind as you write it.

  • What’s the overall topic or context?
  • What’s the significance/importance of the topic?
  • State your hypothesis, if appropriate.
  • What method of analysis are you using?
  • What are your conclusions?
  • Are there important implications from your findings?

Not every question is relevant to every paper, but this is a good list to at least spur your thinking.

But don’t go overboard. An abstract should be short and sweet, generally no longer than a page or 1/10th the length of your paper, whichever is shorter.

May the abstract force be with you.

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