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How to Write an APA Abstract

Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

abstract writing psychology

Emily is a board-certified science editor who has worked with top digital publishing brands like Voices for Biodiversity, Study.com, GoodTherapy, Vox, and Verywell.

abstract writing psychology

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee 

APA format is the official style of the American Psychological Association. It is used in writing for psychology and other social sciences. These style guidelines specify different aspects of a document's presentation and layout, including how pages are structured, how references are organized, and how sources are cited. This format also stipulates the use of an abstract designed to briefly summarize the key details contained in a paper.

While it is sometimes overlooked or only an afterthought, an abstract is an important part of any academic or professional paper. This brief overview serves as a summary of what your paper contains, so it should succinctly and accurately represent what your paper is about and what the reader can expect to find. The abstract is a critical component of an APA-formatted paper.

By following a few simple guidelines, you can create an abstract that follows the format. Done well, an abstract generates interest in your work and helps readers learn if the paper will be of interest to them.

APA Format Abstract Basics

The abstract is the second page of a lab report or APA-format paper and should immediately follow the title page . Think of an abstract as a highly condensed summary of your entire paper.

The purpose of your abstract is to provide a brief yet thorough overview of your paper. It should function much like your title page—it should allow the person reading it to quickly determine what your paper is all about. Your abstract is the first thing that most people will read, and it is usually what informs their decision to read the rest of your paper.

The abstract is the single most important paragraph in your entire paper, according to the APA Publication Manual.

A good abstract lets the reader know that your paper is worth reading. According to the official guidelines of the American Psychological Association, an abstract should be brief, but packed with information. Each sentence must be written with maximum impact in mind. To keep your abstract short, focus on including just four or five of the essential points, concepts, or findings.

An abstract must also be objective and accurate. The abstract's purpose is to report rather than provide commentary. It should accurately reflect what your paper is about. Only include information that is also included in the body of your paper.

How to Write an Abstract in APA Format

First, write your whole paper. While the abstract will be at the beginning of your paper, it should be the last section that you write. Once you have completed the final draft of your psychology paper , use it as a guide for writing your abstract.

Experimental Report Abstracts

The format of your abstract also depends on the type of paper you are writing. For example, an abstract summarizing an experimental paper will differ from that of a meta-analysis or case study . For an experimental report, your abstract should:

Literature Review Abstracts

If your paper is a meta-analysis or literature review, your abstract should:

Lab Reports and Articles

Psychology papers such as lab reports and APA format articles also often require an abstract. In these cases as well, the abstract should include all of the major elements of your paper, including an introduction, hypothesis, methods, results, and discussion.

Remember, although the abstract should be placed at the beginning of your paper (right after the title page), you will write the abstract last after you have completed a final draft of your paper. In order to ensure that all of your APA formatting is correct, consider consulting a copy of the  Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association .

A Word From Verywell

The abstract may be very brief, but it is so important that the official APA style manual identifies it as the most important paragraph in your entire paper. Careful attention to detail can ensure that your abstract does a good job representing the contents of your paper. If possible, take your paper to your school's writing lab for assistance.

Nagda S. How to write a scientific abstract. J Indian Prosthodont Soc. 2013;13(3):382–383. doi:10.1007/s13191-013-0299-x

American Psychological Association. APA Style Journal Article Reporting Standards: Reporting Standards for Studies With an Experimental Manipulation .

American Psychological Association. APA Style Journal Article Reporting Standards: Quantitative Meta-Analysis Article Reporting Standards .

American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). American Psychological Association; 2019.

By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

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Writing in Psychology

The abstract of a research report summarizes the report, but it is not intended to be a substitute for reading the article. Instead, the main purpose of an abstract is to filter information. Librarians use abstracts to manage database search and retrieval; researchers use abstracts to make initial decisions about whether an article is relevant to their study. 

Abstracts are very brief, but also are accurate and informative. Like the spec sheet on a new piece of technology, the reader expects the abstract to provide enough information for intelligent decision-making. To this end, journals now allow (or even demand) longer abstracts -- though a few still adhere to the 120 words or less rule. Some journals specify the abstract follow a modified "IMRD" format, with subheadings similar to "objective" -- "method" --  "results" -- "conclusion".Some even go so far to have a second abstract-like text that provides a genuine overview of article. 

For our class, you'll write the more-or-less standard paragraph abstract. There is no word limit, but the length of the abstract should indicate the length of the paper, so most of yours will brief. In addition the the abstract, you'll also write 3-5 keywords that could be used to search for your paper. Journals often request author-supplied keywords in addition to providing database specific terms.

The abstract contains five basic parts :

    * A statement describing the topic and the questions the research attempts to answer

          o present tense (past tense also when dealing with historical ideas)

    * A brief description of the methods

          o past tense

    * A brief statement of the major result/s

          o present tense

    * A precise indication of the conclusions of the report

          o present/future/modal

    * A short list of 3-5 keywords that permit more accurate retrieval by readers

Abstracts come in two flavors : unstructured and structured. Both contain the same information in the same order, but the structured one adds subheadings to organize the reading experience. Parts included in the abstract are (in this order!): Topic, RQ, Method, Results, Contribution. Journals will mandate which form as well as maximum number of words. Journals focusing on clinically-relevant work often prefer longer, more detailed abstracts -- usually structured -- with the explicit justification that busy health care professionals need to make informed decisions quickly and effectively, assigning the goal of decision-making tool to abstracts. This makes the impact of the abstract greater than a mere filtering device and increases the ethical responsibility of the writer to provide sufficient and accurate information. (In particular, do not overstate results and interpretation.) Most psychology journals still favor the unstructured abstract, and that is what you will write for your research report.

abstract writing psychology

Note : Key words are first provided by the author, and subsequently, by the journal, publisher, or host database according to their categorizations (usually found in the publication information or left side bar in academic search engines). Some journals provide 2 lists of key words with an article: author-provided and journal/database-generated.

Writing Titles

It would be great if all titles could be fun, but the fact is, few titles can be both fun and informative. Instead, the best titles solve the reader's problem of deciding whether to read the abstract/article by including the most important information up front. What is the most important information? For the most part, it is the OUTCOME of the research -- that is, the most important result. The most successful titles from the reader's point of view make explicit assertions about the outcome -- acceptable titles often signal only the topic and leave the reader wondering what happened and whether it is worth reading further. 

The three titles below are ranked from least to most successful. The first is merely topical -- this was particularly disappointing given the very interesting outcome of the study! The second is better and makes a concise assertion (is a whole sentence) about the outcome, but doesn't specify the type of ischemic injury (which a group of expert readers would have preferred). The advantage to concision here is that it makes the article more likely to come up in multiple searches, a useful strategy when a reader could be looking for "estrodiol", "neuroprotective agents" or "ischemic injury". The third has all the components a reader most wants -- it asserts an outcome in a whole sentence and includes some specific information about type of injury. The advantage to a longer title is that more key words are available to the searcher, so this article is likely to come up in many different searches: CO, Nrf2 pathway, neuroprotection, focal cerebral ischemia, cerebral ischemia. The disadvantage to this strategy is the increased chance of the article coming up when the reader is not looking for that particular kind of information. Still, there is a good balance between quantity and quality of information provided.

 (1) Junior physician’s use of Web 2.0 for information seeking and medical education: A qualitative study  

(2) Estradiol protects against ischemic injury

(3) Carbon monoxide-activated Nrf2 pathway leads to protection against permanent focal cerebral ischemia

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abstract writing psychology

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APA Abstract (2020) | Formatting, Length, and Keywords

Published on November 6, 2020 by Raimo Streefkerk . Revised on January 3, 2022.

An APA abstract is a comprehensive summary of your paper in which you briefly address the research problem , hypotheses , methods , results , and implications of your research. It’s placed on a separate page right after the title page and is usually no longer than 250 words.

Most professional papers that are submitted for publication require an abstract. Student papers typically don’t need an abstract, unless instructed otherwise.

Table of contents

How to format the abstract, how to write an apa abstract, which keywords to use, frequently asked questions, apa abstract example.

APA abstract (7th edition)

Formatting instructions

Follow these five steps to format your abstract in APA Style:

The abstract is a self-contained piece of text that informs the reader what your research is about. It’s best to write the abstract after you’re finished with the rest of your paper.

The questions below may help structure your abstract. Try answering them in one to three sentences each.

Check out our guide on how to write an abstract for more guidance and an annotated example.

Guide: writing an abstract

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abstract writing psychology

At the end of the abstract, you may include a few keywords that will be used for indexing if your paper is published on a database. Listing your keywords will help other researchers find your work.

Choosing relevant keywords is essential. Try to identify keywords that address your topic, method, or population. APA recommends including three to five keywords.

An abstract is a concise summary of an academic text (such as a journal article or dissertation ). It serves two main purposes:

Abstracts are often indexed along with keywords on academic databases, so they make your work more easily findable. Since the abstract is the first thing any reader sees, it’s important that it clearly and accurately summarizes the contents of your paper.

An APA abstract is around 150–250 words long. However, always check your target journal’s guidelines and don’t exceed the specified word count.

In an APA Style paper , the abstract is placed on a separate page after the title page (page 2).

Avoid citing sources in your abstract . There are two reasons for this:

There are some circumstances where you might need to mention other sources in an abstract: for example, if your research responds directly to another study or focuses on the work of a single theorist. In general, though, don’t include citations unless absolutely necessary.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Streefkerk, R. (2022, January 03). APA Abstract (2020) | Formatting, Length, and Keywords. Scribbr. Retrieved March 13, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/apa-style/apa-abstract/

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Step-by-Step Instructions for Writing an Abstract in APA Format

By andy xavier.

APA format, which stands for the American Psychological Association format, is a writing format that was developed for researchers and students in psychology as well as other fields in the social sciences . The APA format specifies the guidelines for different aspects of academic writing, including the paper’s presentation, layout, structure, citation, and references.

Therefore, if you are writing a paper in APA format, you may need to include an abstract in APA format as part of your paper. Although the abstract page is optional, it is useful for readers to get a sneak peek into your paper and what it is about. The abstract also serves as a way for prospective readers to judge if your paper is worth reading.

APA format states that the abstract should be written in such a way that it summarizes the key details in the paper while keeping brevity in mind. An abstract is usually a summary of your paper’s overall focus that provides readers with the main point of your paper. The abstract is generally on the second page of an APA paper. (Get an editing service to perfect your writing !)

Basics of Abstract in APA Format

In APA format, the abstract page should follow immediately after the title page . According to the APA format, your abstract should function like your title page, that is, allowing your readers to know what the paper is all about. Therefore, an abstract written in APA format should be:

An abstract in APA format should be between 150-250 words. It should describe the research problem, methods, findings, and conclusion of your research. When writing a paper for publication, it would include a list of keywords.

The formatting of the abstract page is similar to that of the rest of the paper in APA format. That is, it must:

When including the keyword sections in the abstract, the first line is to be indented with the word “keywords” italicized.

abstract in APA format

Steps to Take When Writing an Abstract in APA Format


You may also want to read Step-by-Step Instructions for Writing an Abstract in Chicago Format!

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An APA abstract is a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of an article. An APA abstract summarizes, usually in one paragraph of between 150–250 words, the major aspects of a research paper or dissertation in a prescribed sequence that includes:

The abstract should stand alone, and be “self-contained”, and make sense to the reader in isolation from the main article.

The purpose of the abstract is to give the reader a quick overview of the essential information before reading the entire article.

Place the abstract on a separate page, after the title page but before the introduction section .

Note : This page reflects the latest version of the APA Publication Manual (i.e., APA 7), which was released in October 2019.

In This Article

APA Formatting Style for Abstracts

An APA abstract must be formatted as follows:

Include the running head aligned to the left at the top of the page (professional papers only) and page number. Note, student papers do not require a running head. On the first line, center the heading “Abstract” and bold (do not underlined or italicize). Do not indent the single abstract paragraph (which begins one line below the section title). Double-space the text. Use Times New Roman font in 12 pt. Set one-inch (or 2.54 cm) margins. If you include a “keywords” section at the end of the abstract, indent the first line and italicize the word “Keywords” while leaving the keywords themselves without any formatting.

APA Format Abstract Example

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APA Style Abstract Example

When to Write an Abstract

Although the abstract will appear as the very first part of your paper, it’s good practice to write your abstract after you’ve drafted your full paper, so that you know what you’re summarizing.

Structure of the Abstract

[NOTE: DO NOT separate the components of the abstract – it should be written as a single paragraph. This section is separated to illustrate the abstract’s structure.]

1) The Rationale

One or two sentences describing the overall purpose of the study and the research problem(s) you investigated. You are basically justifying why this study was conducted.

2) The Method

Information regarding the participants (number, and population). One or two sentences outlining the method, explaining what was done and how. The method is described in the present tense.

3) The Results

One or two sentences indicating the main findings or trends found as a result of your analysis. The results are described in the present or past tense.

4) The Conclusion / Implications

A brief summary of your conclusions and implications of the results, described in the present tense. Explain to the reader what the results mean and why the study is important.

Implications of these findings are discussed relative to assisting couples during this difficult time in their lives.

The above examples of abstracts are from the following papers:

Aiken, L. H., Clarke, S. P., Sloane, D. M., Sochalski, J. A., Busse, R., Clarke, H., … & Shamian, J. (2001). Nurses’ reports on hospital care in five countries . Health affairs, 20(3) , 43-53.

Boeding, S. E., Pukay-Martin, N. D., Baucom, D. H., Porter, L. S., Kirby, J. S., Gremore, T. M., & Keefe, F. J. (2014). Couples and breast cancer: Women’s mood and partners’ marital satisfaction predicting support perception . Journal of Family Psychology, 28(5) , 675.

Oldfield, J., Humphrey, N., & Hebron, J. (2017). Risk factors in the development of behavior difficulties among students with special educational needs and disabilities: A multilevel analysis . British journal of educational psychology, 87(2) , 146-169.

The Abstract SHOULD NOT contain:

Further Information

APA 7th Edition Abstract and Keywords Guide

Example APA Abstract

How to Write a Good Abstract for a Scientific Paper or Conference Presentation

How to Write a Lab Report

Writing an APA paper

Abstract Information and Samples

Examining the Links between Social Warmth and Physical Warmth  Brittany Horth* and Naomi Eisenberger, Ph.D.  University of California, Los Angeles 

Phrases such as “warm the heart” suggest that there may be an inherent relation between social emotions and temperature perception. Thus, positive and negative social experiences (feeling loved, rejected) may cause us to feel warm or cold, respectively. In this study, undergraduates were randomly assigned to write about a time in which they felt a great deal of love, a time in which they felt rejected, or their route to school (control condition). Then participants answered seemingly unrelated questions about their estimate of the room temperature and preferences for hot and cold drinks and foods. We hypothesized that, compared to participants in the control condition, participants who wrote about love would feel warmer—as indexed by higher room temperature estimates and stronger desires for cold drink and food, and participants who wrote about rejection would feel colder—as indexed by lower room temperature estimates and stronger desires for warm drink and food. These analyses extend previous work (Zhong & Leonardelli, 2008), showing that feeling rejected increases cold sensitivity. 

Dehumanizing Women: The Role of Ambivalent Sexism  Angie Dunn*, Joe Toscano*, Rewbecca Harris and Sarah Gervais, Ph.D.  University of Nebraska at Lincoln 

Dehumanization has been linked with a myriad of negative outcomes including justification for acts of genocide and rape. Understanding the cognitive process and potential individual factors that may relate to dehumanization then, is an important psychological question. Previous research by Viki and Abrams (2003) suggests that individuals with more sexist attitudes have a higher likelihood to view targets as having more in common with animals than with other humans. Extending this research, the present study examines the relationship between scores on the hostile and benevolent subscales of the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI; Glick & Fiske, 1996), and an individual’s implicit reaction to dehumanizing words. We hypothesize that those with higher sexism scores will respond faster to dehumanizing words in a lexical decision task than those with lower sexism scores. Use of a lexical decision test replicates previous explicit research while also allowing access to the expected automatic nature of dehumanizing cognitive processes. 

The Effect of Job Stress On Clinical Health Outcomes  Brett H. Neely, Jr.*; Bridget Reynolds, Ph.D; Rena Repetti, Ph.D; Ted Robles, Ph.D   University of California, Los Angeles  

Approximately 15-25% of the U.S. working population is classified as high-risk for job stress. This type of stress is known to exert a psychological toll on workers (Repetti & Wang, 2009). However less is known about the impact of job stress on physical health and how current findings translate to clinically relevant outcomes in everyday life, such as susceptibility to the common cold. In an ongoing daily diary study, 68 adults (37 females) completed measures of job stress and upper respiratory infection (URI) symptoms every day for eight weeks. Preliminary analyses show that males who had busier days at work on average also endorsed a greater number of total URI symptoms. Additionally, males who reported lower perceived job security and less supervisor support were sick with upper respiratory infections on more days across the study than were those with greater job security and supervisor support. Among females, endorsing more busy days (whether at home or at work) was associated with greater endorsement of URI symptoms. The findings expand our understanding of links between job stress and immune functioning by elucidating effects on a clinically-relevant health outcome. 


American Psychological Association (APA) Citation Style: How to Write an Abstract in APA 6th Edition Format

How to Write an Abstract in APA Format Videos

Abstract Basics

How to write an abstract, abstract information.

Most research articles include an abstract , which the APA Manual defines as “a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of the article” (p.25). Because some of our AP Biology classes require students to prepare abstracts, this Guide will include details about abstract writing from section 2.04 of the APA Manual.

Abstracts (2.04):

Accurate.  Ensure that the abstract correctly reflects the purpose and content of the article. Comparing an abstract with an outline of the article's headings is a useful way to verify its accuracy.

Concise.  Be brief and make each sentence maximally informative, especially the lead sentence. Begin with the most important information but do not waste space by repeating the title. Include in the abstract only the four or five most important concepts, findings, or implications. Use specific words in your abstract that you think your audience will use in their electronic searches.

Nonevaluative.  Report rather than evaluate; do not add to or comment on what is in the body of the article.

Coherent and readable.  Write in clear and concise language. Use verbs rather than their noun equivalents and the active rather than the passive voice. Use the present tense to describe conclusions drawn or results with continuing applicability; use the past tense to describe specific variables manipulated or outcomes measured.

Most scientific journals require the author(s) to submit an abstract prior to publication. Word limits for abstracts vary by journal, but abstract length averages 150-250 words. Abstracts are typed as one double-spaced paragraph without indentation. A well-prepared abstract enables readers to identify the basic content of a document quickly and accurately, to determine its relevance to their interests, and thus to decide whether they need to read the document in its entirety. Abstracts are identified on p.26 of the APA Manual as the “most important single paragraph of the article” because they are usually indexed verbatim in computer-manipulated databases. Thus, the article can be retrieved by other researchers, as well as by students.

Source:  http://www2.westminster.net/libraries/APA.html#abstracts              Created by:  Vicki Norman

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The abstract is the first section in a psychological report or journal. It includes a summary of the aims, hypothesis, method, results and conclusions, and thus provides an overview of the entire report.

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