Career Development

How to Write an Abstract Step by Step (With Examples)

February 22, 2021

Writing a powerful abstract is important for helping readers determine whether your study is what they're looking for and if they want to continue reading. It also is beneficial 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 as you draft your own.

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What is an abstract?

An abstract is a short and powerful summary that describes the focus of a research paper. It may contain the purpose, results, scope and contents of the work or it could contain the thesis, background and conclusion. It is originally written content—not an excerpt from the larger work—and usually contains keywords that are found throughout the paper, itself.

The abstract is useful because it allows people who are considering reading the article to quickly decide if it is of interest to them or what they're looking for. The abstract can also be used by online databases for indexing purposes.

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Types of abstracts

There are, in general, two types of abstracts that are most commonly used:

Descriptive

A descriptive abstract shares the type of information within the article in a short summary of usually 100 words or less. It incorporates keywords from the article but doesn't provide the conclusions of the research.

Informative

An informative abstract provides everything included in a descriptive abstract as well as the results and conclusions of the research. The author includes and explains the main arguments as well as the results and evidence that were found. The length for an informative abstract can vary, although it is generally not more than 10% of the entire piece.

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How to write an abstract

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

  1. Write your paper.
  2. Review the requirements.
  3. Consider your audience and publication.
  4. Determine the type of abstract.
  5. Explain the problem.
  6. Explain your methods.
  7. Describe your results.
  8. Give a conclusion.

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. Determine the type of abstract

Identify the type of abstract you intend to write: descriptive or informative. You may have been assigned a specific type of abstract. If not, you can determine which you prefer. In general, informative abstracts tend to be more appropriate for longer, technical research while general abstracts are ideal for shorter papers.

5. 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.

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 will only be included in an informative abstract. When you include this, you'll share the general findings and answers you reached as a result of your study.

8. 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.

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

Much of your paper should be devoted 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

Example of an abstract

Here is an example of a descriptive abstract that you can use 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 allows 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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