How to write an abstract

What is an abstract?

An abstract is a one to two-paragraph summary of your research project. An abstract lets people quickly grasp your research project’s purpose and major ideas.  Abstracts are often required if you submit to present at a conference or for journal publications.

What should the abstract include?

This is a condensed version of your whole project. A reader should understand the nature of your research question.

All abstracts should convey the following information:

  • The purpose of the project identifying the area of study to which it belongs.
  • The research problem that motivates the project.
  • The methods used to address this research problem, documents or evidence analyzed.
  • The conclusions reached or, if the research is in progress, what the preliminary results of the investigation suggest, or what the research methods demonstrate.
  • The significance of the research project. Why are the results useful? What is new to our understanding as the result of your inquiry?

Whatever research you are doing, your abstract should provide the reader with answers to the following questions: What are you asking? Why is it important? How will you study it? What will you use to demonstrate your conclusions? What are those conclusions? What do they mean?

Style considerations

  • Complete — it covers the major parts of the project.
  • Concise — it contains no excess wordiness or unnecessary information.
  • Clear — it is readable, well organized, and not too jargon-laden.
  • Cohesive — it flows smoothly between the parts.

The importance of understandable language

It is critical that you make the language of your abstracts accessible to a non-specialist. Simplify your language.

  • Eliminate jargon. If using a technical term is unavoidable, add a non-technical synonym to help a non-specialist infer the term’s meaning.
  • Omit needless words

Eliminate “narration,” expressions such as “It is my opinion that,” “I have concluded,” “the main point supporting my view,” or “certainly there is little doubt as to…” Focus attention on what the reader needs to know.