In many ways, an abstract is like a trailer of a movie or the synopsis of your favorite book. Its job is to whet the reader’s appetite by sharing important information about your work. After reading a well-written abstract, one should have enough interest to explore the full research thesis.
So how do you write an interesting abstract that captures the core of your study? First, you need to understand your research objectives and match them with the key results of your study. In this article, we will share some tips for writing an effective abstract, plus samples you can learn from.
In simple terms, an abstract is a concise write-up that gives an overview of your systematic investigation. According to Grammarly, it is a self-contained summary of a larger work, and it serves as a preview of the bigger document.
It usually appears at the beginning of your thesis or research paper and helps the reader to have an overview of your work without going into great detail. This means that when someone reads your abstract, it should give them a clear idea of the purpose of your systematic investigation, your problem statement, key results, and any gaps requiring further investigation.
So how long should your abstract be to capture all of these details? The reality is you don’t need a lot of words to capture key pieces of information in your abstract. Typically, 6–7 sentences made up of 150–250 words should be just right.
Every abstract has two major purposes. First, it communicates the relevance of your systematic investigation to readers. After reading your abstract, people can determine how relevant your study is to their primary or secondary research purpose.
The second purpose of an abstract is to communicate your key findings to those who don’t have time to read the whole paper. Research papers typically run into tens of pages so it takes time to read and digest them. To help readers grasp the core ideas in a systematic investigation, it pays to have a well-written abstract that outlines important information concerning your study.
In all, your abstract should accurately outline the most important information in your research. Many times, it determines whether people would go ahead to read your dissertation. Abstracts are often indexed along with keywords on academic databases, so they make your thesis easily findable.
Learn About: How to Write a Problem Statement for your Research
You already know the key pieces of information that your abstract should communicate. These details are broken into six important sections of the abstract which are:
Let’s discuss them in detail.
The introduction or background is the shortest part of your abstract and usually consists of 2–3 sentences. In fact, some researchers write a single sentence as the introduction of their abstract. The whole idea here is to take the reader through the important events leading to your research.
Understandably, this information may appear difficult to convey in a few sentences. To help out, consider answering these two questions in the background to your study:
As much as possible, ensure that your abstract’s introduction doesn’t eat into the word count for the other key information.
This is the section where you spell out any theories and methods adopted for your study. Ideally, you should cover what has been done and how you went about it to achieve the results of your systematic investigation. It is usually the second-longest section in the abstract.
In the research methodology section, you should also state the type of research you embarked on; that is, qualitative research or quantitative research—this will inform your research methods too. If you’ve conducted quantitative research, your abstract should contain information like the sample size, data collection methods, sampling technique, and duration of your experiment.
In the end, readers are most interested in the results you’ve achieved with your study. This means you should take time to outline every relevant outcome and show how they affect your research population. Typically, the results section should be the longest one in your abstract and nothing should compromise its range and quality.
An important thing you should do here is spelled out facts and figures about research outcomes. Instead of a vague statement like, “we noticed that response rates differed greatly between high-income and low-income respondents”, try this: “The response rate was higher in high-income respondents than in their low-income counterparts (59% vs 30%, respectively; P<0.01).”
Like the introduction, your conclusion should contain a few sentences that wrap up your abstract. Most researchers express a theoretical opinion about the implications of their study, here.
Your conclusion should contain three important elements:
Although the conclusion of your abstract should be short, it has a great impact on how readers perceive your study. So, take advantage of this section to reiterate the core message in your systematic investigation. Also, make sure any statements here reflect the true outcomes and methods of your research.
Chances are you must have faced certain challenges in the course of your research—it could be at the data collection phase or during sampling. Whatever these challenges are, it pays to let your readers know about them, and the impact they had on your study.
For example, if you had to switch to convenience sampling or snowball sampling due to difficulties in contacting well-suited research participants, you should include this in your abstract. Also, a lack of previous studies in the research area could pose a limitation on your study. Research limitations provide an opportunity to make suggestions for further research.
Research aims and objectives speak to what you want to achieve with your study. Typically, research aims focus on a project’s long-term outcomes while the objectives focus on the immediate, short-term outcome of the investigation. You may summarize both using a single paragraph comprising a few sentences.
Stating your aims and objectives will give readers a clear idea of the scope, depth, and direction that your research will ultimately take. Readers would measure your research outcomes against stated aims and objectives to know if you achieved the purpose of your study.
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Now that you know the different sections plus information that your abstract should contain, let’s look at how to write an abstract for your research paper.
A common question that comes up is, should I write my abstract first or last? It’s best to write your abstract after you’ve finished working on the research because you have full information to present to your readers. However, you can always create a draft at the beginning of your systematic investigation and fill in the gaps later.
Does writing an abstract seem like a herculean task? Here are a few tips to help out.
Before you start writing, take time to develop a detailed outline for your abstract. Break it into sections and sketch the main and supporting points for each section. You can list keywords plus 1–2 sentences that capture your core messaging.
Abstracts are one of the most common research documents, and thousands of them have been written in time past. So, before writing yours, try to study a couple of samples from others. You can find lots of dissertation abstract examples in thesis and dissertation databases.
While writing your abstract, emphasize clarity over style. This means you should communicate in simple terms and avoid unnecessary filler words and ambiguous sentences. Remember, your abstract should be understandable to readers who are not familiar with your topic.
It goes without saying that your abstract should be solely focused on your research and what you’ve discovered. It’s not the time to cite primary and secondary data sources unless this is absolutely necessary.
This doesn’t mean you should ignore the scholarly background of your work. You might include a sentence or two summarizing the scholarly background to show the relevance of your work to a broader debate, but there’s no need to mention specific publications.
Going further, here are some abstract writing guidelines from the University of Bergen:
According to the University of Adelaide, there are two major types of abstracts written for research purposes. First, we have informative abstracts and descriptive abstracts.
An informative abstract is the more common type of abstract written for academic research. It highlights the most important aspects of your systematic investigation without going into unnecessary or irrelevant details that the reader might not find useful.
The length varies according to discipline, but an informative abstract is rarely more than 10% of the length of the entire work. In the case of longer work, it may be much less.
In any informative abstract, you’d touch on information like the purpose, method, scope, results, and conclusion of your study. By now, you’re thinking, “this is the type of abstract we’ve been discussing all along”, and you wouldn’t be far from the truth.
A descriptive abstract reads like a synopsis and focuses on enticing the reader with interesting information. They don’t care as much for data and details, and instead read more like overviews that don’t give too much away.
You’d find descriptive abstracts in artistic criticism pieces and entertainment research as opposed to scientific investigations. This type of abstract makes no judgments about the work, nor does it provide results or conclusions of the research. They are usually written in 100 words or less.
1. How Long Should an Abstract Be?
A typical abstract should be about six sentences long or less than 150 words. Most universities have specific word count requirements that fall within 150–300 words.
2. How Do You Start an Abstract Sentence?
There are several ways to start your abstract. Consider the following methods:
3. Should you cite in an abstract?
While you can refer to information from specific research papers, there’s no need to cite sources in your abstract. Your abstract should focus on your original research, not on the work of others.
4. What should not be included in an abstract?
An abstract shouldn’t have numeric references, bibliographies, sections, or even footnotes.
5. Which tense is used in writing an abstract?
An abstract should be written in the third-person present tense. Use the simple past tense when describing your methodology and specific findings from your study.
Writing an abstract might appear challenging but with these steps, you should get it right. The easiest approach to writing a good abstract is centering it on key information including your research problem and objectives, methodology, and key results.
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