How To Write an Abstract in 7 Steps (With an Example)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated November 2, 2022 | Published April 14, 2020

Updated November 2, 2022

Published April 14, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An effective and well-written abstract helps readers understand the scope of your paper and whether the information is relevant to their studies. An abstract is also useful for indexing in online databases. 

In this article, we discuss what an abstract is, the different types of abstracts and how to write one. We also share an example of an abstract to help you draft your own.

Key takeaways:

  • An abstract is a concise summary of a longer work, such as a dissertation or research paper, and allows readers to decide whether to read the full paper.

  • Abstracts should be written after the full paper is written, and are usually about 150-250 words and one to two paragraphs long.

  • An abstract should include a statement of the problem you are trying to solve and the purpose of your research, the methods used to find the solution, the results and the implications of your findings.

What is an abstract?

An abstract is a short and powerful summary that describes the focus of a research paper. It is originally written content—not an excerpt from the larger work—and usually contains keywords that are found throughout the full paper itself. 

Abstracts generally contain four main elements: 

  • Purpose: Clearly define the purpose and importance of your research. This includes a statement of the problem or issue.

  • Methodology: State the research methods used to answer your question.

  • Results: Summarize the main research results. 

  • Conclusion: What are the implications of your research? 

Abstracts are useful because they allow people who are considering reading an article to quickly decide if it is what they're looking for or piques their interest. Online databases also may use abstracts for indexing purposes.

Related: How To Write a Thesis

When to write an abstract

Although the abstract appears as the first part of your paper, it should be written after you have completed your full paper. It should be able to stand on its own as a summary of your full paper, and someone who hasn’t read your paper or related sources should be able to understand it 

The abstract should be on its own page, and generally goes after the title page and acknowledgments, but before the table of contents.

Related: How To Write a Research Paper: A Beginner’s Guide

How to write an abstract

Here are the basic steps to follow when writing an abstract:

1. Write your paper

Since the abstract is a summary of a research paper, the first step is to write your paper. Even if you know what you will be including in your paper, it's always best to save your abstract for the end so you can accurately summarize the findings you describe in the paper.

2. Review the requirements

If you're writing for publication in a journal or as part of a work project, there may be specific requirements regarding length or style. Review any requirements before you start writing the abstract.

3. Consider your audience and publication

Abstracts are designed to help readers quickly determine if they want to continue reading your work, so it's important to understand who will be reading the abstract as you write it. For example, should it be written in language appropriate for someone in academics or the medical industry or does it need to be understood by a lay reader?

4. Explain the problem

This refers to the specific problem that your research addresses or tries to solve. Identify your main claim or argument and the scope of your study, whether it's something specific or a general problem.

5. 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.

Related: How To Write a Methodology (With Tips and FAQs)

6. Describe your results

Share the general findings and answers you reached as a result of your study. If you can’t succinctly summarize all of your results, you can simply highlight the most important findings.

7. Give a conclusion

Finalize 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 work.

Related: How To Write a Conclusion for a Research Paper

What is IMRaD structure?

IMRaD structure is a common format for scientific articles. 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

The largest portion of your IMRaD paper should be devoted to the results and data you uncovered. These statements should be written matter-of-factly and clearly.

Discussion

This chapter is where you discuss the results of the study or project, make comparisons with other studies, discuss whether more research is needed or make recommendations that could be applied in practice.

Related: How To Write a Research Paper Outline (With Examples and Tips)

Tips for writing an abstract

Here are some tips to help you write your abstract:

  • Stick to the word limit. Abstracts are usually 100-250 words long.

  • Follow the specific formatting requirements for your abstract.

  • Provide a statement of what the paper found rather than what it will ask or explore.

  • For each chapter or section, list keywords and write one to two setences that summarize each section. Use this as a framework to put your abstract together.

  • Include keywords from your full paper in your abstract.

  • Read other abstracts and use them as a framework for structure and style.

  • Reference specific details of your findings.

What to avoid when writing an abstract

When you are writing your abstract, you should avoid:

  • Extensively referring to other works

  • Defining any terms

  • Adding information that isn't contained in the larger work

  • Adding unnecessary filler words and obscure jargon

Related: Guide to APA Format

Example abstract

Here is an example abstract you can reference as you draft your own:

Andrea Messing, "Insect Repellent Potential of Peppermint Essential Oil."

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.

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