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Writing an Abstract
What is an abstract.
An abstract is a 150- to 250-word paragraph that provides readers with a quick overview of your essay or report and its organization. It should express your thesis (or central idea) and your key points; it should also suggest any implications or applications of the research you discuss in the paper.
According to Carole Slade, an abstract is “a concise summary of the entire paper.”
The function of an abstract is to describe, not to evaluate or defend, the paper.
The abstract should begin with a brief but precise statement of the problem or issue, followed by a description of the research method and design, the major findings, and the conclusions reached.
The abstract should contain the most important key words referring to method and content: these facilitate access to the abstract by computer search and enable a reader to decide whether to read the entire dissertation.
Note: Your abstract should read like an overview of your paper, not a proposal for what you intended to study or accomplish. Avoid beginning your sentences with phrases like, “This essay will examine...” or “In this research paper I will attempt to prove...”
(The examples above are taken from Form and Style (10th ed.), by Carole Slade; The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers (5th ed.); and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.).)
Note: The following are specifications for an abstract in APA style, used in the social sciences, such as psychology or anthropology. If you are in another discipline, check with your professor about the format for the abstract.
Writing an Abstract for an IMRaD Paper
Many papers in the social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering sciences follow IMRaD structure: their main sections are entitled Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. People use the abstract to decide whether to read the rest of the paper, so the abstract for such a paper is important.
Because the abstract provides the highlights of the paper, you should draft your abstract after you have written a full draft of the paper. Doing so, you can summarize what you’ve already written in the paper as you compose the abstract.
Typically, an abstract for an IMRaD paper or presentation is one or two paragraphs long (120 – 500 words). Abstracts usually spend
25% of their space on the purpose and importance of the research (Introduction)
25% of their space on what you did (Methods)
35% of their space on what you found (Results)
15% of their space on the implications of the research
Try to avoid these common problems in IMRaD abstracts:
1. The abstract provides a statement of what the paper will ask or explore rather than what it found:
X This report examines the causes of oversleeping. (What did it find out about these causes?) √ Individuals oversleep because they go to bed too late, forget to set their alarms, and keep their rooms dark.
2. The abstract provides general categories rather than specific details in the findings:
X The study draws conclusions about which variables are most important in choosing a movie theater. (What, specifically, are these variables?)
√ The study concludes that the most important variables in choosing a movie theater are comfortable seats and high-quality popcorn.
How to Write an Abstract for Your Thesis or Dissertation What is an Abstract? The abstract is an important component of your thesis. Presented at the beginning of the thesis, it is likely the first substantive description of your work read by an external examiner. You should view it as an opportunity to set accurate expectations. The abstract is a summary of the whole thesis. It presents all the major elements of your work in a highly condensed form. An abstract often functions, together with the thesis title, as a stand-alone text. Abstracts appear, absent the full text of the thesis, in bibliographic indexes such as PsycInfo. They may also be presented in announcements of the thesis examination. Most readers who encounter your abstract in a bibliographic database or receive an email announcing your research presentation will never retrieve the full text or attend the presentation. An abstract is not merely an introduction in the sense of a preface, preamble, or advance organizer that prepares the reader for the thesis. In addition to that function, it must be capable of substituting for the whole thesis when there is insufficient time and space for the full text. Size and Structure Currently, the maximum sizes for abstracts submitted to Canada's National Archive are 150 words (Masters thesis) and 350 words (Doctoral dissertation). To preserve visual coherence, you may wish to limit the abstract for your doctoral dissertation to one double-spaced page, about 280 words. The structure of the abstract should mirror the structure of the whole thesis, and should represent all its major elements. For example, if your thesis has five chapters (introduction, literature review, methodology, results, conclusion), there should be one or more sentences assigned to summarize each chapter. Clearly Specify Your Research Questions As in the thesis itself, your research questions are critical in ensuring that the abstract is coherent and logically structured. They form the skeleton to which other elements adhere. They should be presented near the beginning of the abstract. There is only room for one to three questions. If there are more than three major research questions in your thesis, you should consider restructuring them by reducing some to subsidiary status. Don't Forget the Results The most common error in abstracts is failure to present results. The primary function of your thesis (and by extension your abstract) is not to tell readers what you did, it is to tell them what you discovered. Other information, such as the account of your research methods, is needed mainly to back the claims you make about your results. Approximately the last half of the abstract should be dedicated to summarizing and interpreting your results. Updated 2008.09.11 © John C. Nesbit
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- How to Write an Abstract | Steps & Examples
How to Write an Abstract | Steps & Examples
Published on February 28, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on November 11, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan.
An abstract is a short summary of a longer work (such as a thesis , dissertation or research paper ). The abstract concisely reports the aims and outcomes of your research, so that readers know exactly what your paper is about.
Although the structure may vary slightly depending on your discipline, your abstract should describe the purpose of your work, the methods you’ve used, and the conclusions you’ve drawn.
One common way to structure your abstract is to use the IMRaD structure. This stands for:
Abstracts are usually around 100–300 words, but there’s often a strict word limit, so make sure to check the relevant requirements.
In a dissertation or thesis , include the abstract on a separate page, after the title page and acknowledgements but before the table of contents .
Table of contents
Abstract example, when to write an abstract, step 1: introduction, step 2: methods, step 3: results, step 4: discussion, tips for writing an abstract, frequently asked questions about abstracts.
Hover over the different parts of the abstract to see how it is constructed.
This paper examines the role of silent movies as a mode of shared experience in the US during the early twentieth century. At this time, high immigration rates resulted in a significant percentage of non-English-speaking citizens. These immigrants faced numerous economic and social obstacles, including exclusion from public entertainment and modes of discourse (newspapers, theater, radio).
Incorporating evidence from reviews, personal correspondence, and diaries, this study demonstrates that silent films were an affordable and inclusive source of entertainment. It argues for the accessible economic and representational nature of early cinema. These concerns are particularly evident in the low price of admission and in the democratic nature of the actors’ exaggerated gestures, which allowed the plots and action to be easily grasped by a diverse audience despite language barriers.
Keywords: silent movies, immigration, public discourse, entertainment, early cinema, language barriers.
You will almost always have to include an abstract when:
- Completing a thesis or dissertation
- Submitting a research paper to an academic journal
- Writing a book or research proposal
- Applying for research grants
It’s easiest to write your abstract last, right before the proofreading stage, because it’s a summary of the work you’ve already done. Your abstract should:
- Be a self-contained text, not an excerpt from your paper
- Be fully understandable on its own
- Reflect the structure of your larger work
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Start by clearly defining the purpose of your research. What practical or theoretical problem does the research respond to, or what research question did you aim to answer?
You can include some brief context on the social or academic relevance of your dissertation topic , but don’t go into detailed background information. If your abstract uses specialized terms that would be unfamiliar to the average academic reader or that have various different meanings, give a concise definition.
After identifying the problem, state the objective of your research. Use verbs like “investigate,” “test,” “analyze,” or “evaluate” to describe exactly what you set out to do.
This part of the abstract can be written in the present or past simple tense but should never refer to the future, as the research is already complete.
- This study will investigate the relationship between coffee consumption and productivity.
- This study investigates the relationship between coffee consumption and productivity.
Next, indicate the research methods that you used to answer your question. This part should be a straightforward description of what you did in one or two sentences. It is usually written in the past simple tense, as it refers to completed actions.
- Structured interviews will be conducted with 25 participants.
- Structured interviews were conducted with 25 participants.
Don’t evaluate validity or obstacles here — the goal is not to give an account of the methodology’s strengths and weaknesses, but to give the reader a quick insight into the overall approach and procedures you used.
Next, summarize the main research results . This part of the abstract can be in the present or past simple tense.
- Our analysis has shown a strong correlation between coffee consumption and productivity.
- Our analysis shows a strong correlation between coffee consumption and productivity.
- Our analysis showed a strong correlation between coffee consumption and productivity.
Depending on how long and complex your research is, you may not be able to include all results here. Try to highlight only the most important findings that will allow the reader to understand your conclusions.
Finally, you should discuss the main conclusions of your research : what is your answer to the problem or question? The reader should finish with a clear understanding of the central point that your research has proved or argued. Conclusions are usually written in the present simple tense.
- We concluded that coffee consumption increases productivity.
- We conclude that coffee consumption increases productivity.
If there are important limitations to your research (for example, related to your sample size or methods), you should mention them briefly in the abstract. This allows the reader to accurately assess the credibility and generalizability of your research.
If your aim was to solve a practical problem, your discussion might include recommendations for implementation. If relevant, you can briefly make suggestions for further research.
If your paper will be published, you might have to add a list of keywords at the end of the abstract. These keywords should reference the most important elements of the research to help potential readers find your paper during their own literature searches.
Be aware that some publication manuals, such as APA Style , have specific formatting requirements for these keywords.
It can be a real challenge to condense your whole work into just a couple of hundred words, but the abstract will be the first (and sometimes only) part that people read, so it’s important to get it right. These strategies can help you get started.
Read other abstracts
The best way to learn the conventions of writing an abstract in your discipline is to read other people’s. You probably already read lots of journal article abstracts while conducting your literature review —try using them as a framework for structure and style.
You can also find lots of dissertation abstract examples in thesis and dissertation databases .
Not all abstracts will contain precisely the same elements. For longer works, you can write your abstract through a process of reverse outlining.
For each chapter or section, list keywords and draft one to two sentences that summarize the central point or argument. This will give you a framework of your abstract’s structure. Next, revise the sentences to make connections and show how the argument develops.
Write clearly and concisely
A good abstract is short but impactful, so make sure every word counts. Each sentence should clearly communicate one main point.
To keep your abstract or summary short and clear:
- Avoid passive sentences: Passive constructions are often unnecessarily long. You can easily make them shorter and clearer by using the active voice.
- Avoid long sentences: Substitute longer expressions for concise expressions or single words (e.g., “In order to” for “To”).
- Avoid obscure jargon: The abstract should be understandable to readers who are not familiar with your topic.
- Avoid repetition and filler words: Replace nouns with pronouns when possible and eliminate unnecessary words.
- Avoid detailed descriptions: An abstract is not expected to provide detailed definitions, background information, or discussions of other scholars’ work. Instead, include this information in the body of your thesis or paper.
If you’re struggling to edit down to the required length, you can get help from expert editors with Scribbr’s professional proofreading services .
Check your formatting
If you are writing a thesis or dissertation or submitting to a journal, there are often specific formatting requirements for the abstract—make sure to check the guidelines and format your work correctly. For APA research papers you can follow the APA abstract format .
The word count is within the required length, or a maximum of one page.
The abstract appears after the title page and acknowledgements and before the table of contents .
I have clearly stated my research problem and objectives.
I have briefly described my methodology .
I have summarized the most important results .
I have stated my main conclusions .
I have mentioned any important limitations and recommendations.
The abstract can be understood by someone without prior knowledge of the topic.
You've written a great abstract! Use the other checklists to continue improving your thesis or dissertation.
An abstract is a concise summary of an academic text (such as a journal article or dissertation ). It serves two main purposes:
- To help potential readers determine the relevance of your paper for their own research.
- To communicate your key findings to those who don’t have time to read the whole paper.
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 abstract for a thesis or dissertation is usually around 200–300 words. There’s often a strict word limit, so make sure to check your university’s requirements.
The abstract is the very last thing you write. You should only write it after your research is complete, so that you can accurately summarize the entirety of your thesis , dissertation or research paper .
Avoid citing sources in your abstract . There are two reasons for this:
- The abstract should focus on your original research, not on the work of others.
- The abstract should be self-contained and fully understandable without reference to other sources.
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.
The abstract appears on its own page in the thesis or dissertation , after the title page and acknowledgements but before the table of contents .
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- Thesis Abstract: Writing Techniques and Guidelines
Thesis Abstract Writing Guidelines
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Thesis abstract process of writing, dissertation / thesis abstract examples, undergraduate level thesis abstract example, graduate level thesis abstract example.
Thesis abstract is an essential part of the dissertation paper. It is a summary of a complete work. It gives readers a chance to discover the key points of your dissertation, its research chapter, methodology and results part. Writing a proper abstract is important. Students use various techniques and guidelines to perform a perfect thesis abstract. Proper structure and of thesis dissertation is crucial. It should answer all the study’s questions and be written to identify a major element of a dissertation or thesis paper. Also check other thesis writing tips that will lead you to success or contact our thesis writing service to get professional help with Ph.D. work.
Thesis abstract (same as dissertation abstract ) answers the main questions of an entire paper. This short summary is a single page of text. It needs to show key methods used in a work, problems analyzed and gathered outcomes of a complex research work. This kind of academic assignment requires profound knowledge. People, who read abstracts, prefer those summaries that remain short, but very informative, with presented limitations in research and clear study results.
How to write the abstract of a thesis ? Thesis abstract is a small version of your dissertation or thesis . This small description ensures a better understanding of an entire paper, discovers the present condition of analyzed problems, distinguishes main objectives and determines existing expectations. A profound analysis of a major question is requested. Abstract needs to be less than five percent of the dissertation. Students write thesis abstracts of a proper length, get information for the summary using their own personal background information, knowledge and analyses’ fallouts.
Thesis abstract includes main analyzed objectives, compound research questions , problem statements, detailed dissertation methodology , and conclusions. Abstract needs to include source references and acronyms. It allows describing the top point of a dissertation paper providing a good understanding of the studied subjects and discovering numerous outcomes. Key theories and hypotheses are requested parts. They bring needed thesis abstract accurate form and allow saving time for this essential part flawless completion. Don't forget to check out thesis abstract examples provided by our professional thesis writers at the end of this article.
Writing a proper summary requires a good knowledge of an analyzed theme, valuable background information, improved writing and analytical skills. Advanced analytical skills allow performing its professional version. Key theories need to be a part of the short summary, showing main objectives of conducted analyses and research works. Proper thesis abstract format includes the following major elements:
- general background information;
- research hypotheses;
The beginning of abstract needs to include general information. It draws readers’ attention, allows them discovering key research work’ objectives and outcomes of conducted studies when reading a single summary. However, don't confude an abstract with an executive summary format . Checking introduction, people get main information about conducted work. It is a kind of dissertation’s professional review. Writing a thesis abstract takes time for performing and must be performed after the entire dissertation paper is complete. It is clever to write it in such a way. It saves precious time and efforts used for editing in future.
Thesis abstract has a limit of words and describes the major purpose of research works, writer’s contribution to assigned problem-solving history. Many scientists have made great discoveries in their dissertations. Today, students face the same challenges. Numerous investigations are conducted with an aim to answer main questions of dissertation paper and provide appropriate indications. The level of papers’ difficulty depends on a scientist’s personal characteristics. They mostly include research skills and general knowledge.
Three key elements of a Thesis Abstract
Begin by clearly defining the purpose of your research. What practical or theoretical problem does the research respond to, or what research question did you aim to answer? You can include some brief context on the social or academic relevance of your topic, but don’t go into detailed background information.
After identifying the problem, state the objective of your research. Use verbs like investigate, test, analyze or evaluate to describe exactly what you set out to do. This part of the abstract can be written in the present or past simple tense, but should never refer to the future, as the research is already complete.
After - mention the research methods that you used to answer your question. This part should be a direct description of what you did in one or two sentences. It is usually written in the past simple tense as it refers to completed actions.
There is no need to evaluate validity or obstacles you might have encountered in this part - the goal is not to give an account of the methodology strengths and weaknesses, but to give the reader a quick insight into the overall approach and procedures you used. Mention whether you have used quantitative or qualitative methods .
Next - summarize the main research results. This part of the abstract can be in the present or past simple tense. Depending on how long and complex your research is, you may not be able to include all results here. Try to highlight only the most important findings that will allow the reader to understand your conclusions.
Finally, provide the main conclusion in thesis : what is your answer to the problem or question? The reader should finish with a clear understanding of the central point that your research has proved or argued. Conclusions are usually written in the present simple tense. If your aim was to solve a practical problem, the conclusions might include recommendations for implementation. If relevant, you can briefly make suggestions for further research.
The literature review brings additional identifications and valuable sources of information. Writing down titles and authors of used works allows readers gaining additional sources of assigned problem discoveries and reaching data for calculations. Many analyses require accurate figures and numbers. You may connect present studies with investigations described in published articles and conducted by famous researchers in past. You show your own contributions and accounts. An abstract format may be updated many times. Each popular thesis abstract includes writer’s scores greatly described at the beginning of written dissertation work.
An accurate summary shows the author’s analytical and writing skills. It contains key objectives, research justifications, detailed methodology, writing techniques, major results and study statements. Never write thesis abstracts before completing a dissertation. Table of content and paper headings may be used as guidelines to write proper thesis abstract. Letting other people read your thesis abstract before submitting is important; it gives a chance to deal with possible mistakes in minutes. Thesis abstract includes various elements. It casts light on difficult methodology and identifies what is your research problem .
Experienced writers prefer writing a dissertation abstract after the entire paper was written and the results were reached. It allows creating a professional paper’s summary. Proper scientific content is important when readers generally read dissertation’s summaries first. This is a short version of the main paper allowing readers gaining the main information and building their own expectations about dissertation outcomes. This special content needs to be flawless and original.
Thesis abstract is an essential part of every dissertation paper. It is a professional summary of a complete dissertation work presented on a few pages at the beginning of the dissertation paper. It gives readers a chance to discover the key points of the dissertation, its research chapters, calculations, source references, methodology and results part. Writing a proper abstract is essential.
Students use various popular techniques and guidelines to perform perfect thesis abstract, including numerous summaries samples available online. Proper structure of short summary is crucial. It should answer all researches’ questions and be written to identify major elements and objectives of a dissertation. Thesis abstract answers main questions of the entire paper. This short summary is a single page of text. Every thesis abstract needs to show the key methods used in a work, problems analyzed and gathered outcomes of conducted complex research work.
Researcher: [Name Surname] Presentation Title: Characterization of Iron Deposition in Recombinant Heteropolymer Ferritins Research Focus: Chemistry School: [School Name] Presentation Type: Poster Presentation Abstract: Characterization of Iron Deposition in Recombinant Heteropolymer Ferritins Deneen Cole, Dr. Fadi Bou-Abdallah, SUNY Potsdam (NY, USA), Dr. Paolo Arosio, University of Brescia (Italy), Dr. Sonia Levi, Vita-Salute San Raffaele University (Italy) Ferritin is a ubiquitous iron storage and detoxification protein found highly conserved in species from bacteria to plants to humans. In mammals, ferritin is composed of two functionally and genetically distinct subunit types, H (heavy, ~21,000 Da) and L (light, ~19,000 Da) subunits which co-assemble in various ratios with tissue specific distribution to form a shell-like protein. The H-subunit is responsible for the fast conversion of Fe(II) to Fe(III) by dioxygen (or H2O2) whereas the L-subunit is thought to contribute to the nucleation of the iron core. In the present work, we investigated the iron oxidation and deposition mechanism in two recombinant heteropolymers ferritin samples of ~20H:4L (termed H/L) and ~22L:2H (termed L/H) ratios. Data indicates that iron oxidation occurs mainly on the H-subunit with a stoichiometry of 2Fe(II):1O2, suggesting formation of H2O2. The H/L sample completely regenerates its ferroxidase activity within a short period of time suggesting rapid movement of Fe(III) from the ferroxidase center to the cavity to form the mineral core, consistent with the role of L-chain in facilitating iron turn-over at the ferroxidase center of the H-subunit. In L/H, Fe(II) oxidation and mineralization appears to occur by two simultaneous pathways at all levels of iron additions: a peroxidation pathway with a 2Fe(II)/1O2 ratio and a mineralization pathway with a 4Fe(II)/1O2 resulting in an average net stoichiometry of ~3Fe(II)/1O2. These results illustrate how recombinant heteropolymer ferritins control iron and oxygen toxicity while providing a safe reservoir for reversible uptake and release of iron for use by the cell.
Researcher: [Name Surname] Presentation Title: An Analysis of Yukon Delta Salmon Management Research Focus: Fisheries management related to Bering Sea fisheries and Yukon River salmon populations. School: [School Name] Student Level: Masters Presentation Type: Oral Presentation Abstract: The broad range of Pacific Alaskan salmon has resulted in the creation of a complex and multiorganizational system of management that includes the state of Alaska, various federal departments, a Congressionally-mandated fishery council, and a number of commercial and nongovernmental fish organizations. In the Bering Sea salmon are caught by the commercial groundfish fleet as by-catch. On the Yukon River salmon are commercially and traditionally harvested for both economic and cultural sustenance by the Yup’ik residents of the Yukon Delta. Declining salmon populations has driven scientific research which considers the effects of Bering Sea salmon by-catch. My research findings indicate that Bering Sea fisheries occur where juvenile salmon mature, directly impacting Yukon River salmon populations. Further, the research reflects that although Yukon salmon populations have plummeted, a recent effort was made to open the northern Bering Sea, which includes the Yukon River coastal shelf, to deep-sea commercial fishing. By researching the relationship of policy to cultural salmon dependence, it becomes evident that Alaskan salmon-tribes are excluded from salmon management and decision-making. Legal research reflects that three basic federal Indian concepts – inherent rights, Indian Country, and tribal right of occupancy – emerge as potential foundations that may allow Alaskan salmon tribes to begin sharing legal responsibility over salmon. Yukon River salmon are an international and anadromous species that require multi organizational management. My research reflects that current management favors the Bering Sea commercial fishing industry, despite data indicating Bering Sea fisheries impact Yukon salmon populations and an overall downward trend in Yukon salmon populations.
The methodology is an important part of your dissertation. It describes a broad philosophical underpinning to your chosen research methods, either quantitative or qualitative, to explain to readers your approach better. Make sure that you’re clear about an academic basis for your choice of research ...
When writing an academic paper on either broad or narrow research paper topics, a good research question can help you start well. It’s all about stating a clear one that your research will answer. It plays an important role because it helps you focus the entire paper and enables you to make a strong...
When you write a thesis, you should pay exceptional attention to the introduction. The reader will start your thesis from the introduction, and he will make up his view and understanding of the problem, your ideas, professionalism and writing skills based on the introduction. Your introduction is an...
- How to Write an Abstract for a Dissertation or Thesis
- Doing a PhD
What is a Thesis or Dissertation Abstract?
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines an abstract in academic writing as being “ a few sentences that give the main ideas in an article or a scientific paper ” and the Collins English Dictionary says “ an abstract of an article, document, or speech is a short piece of writing that gives the main points of it ”.
Whether you’re writing up your Master’s dissertation or PhD thesis, the abstract will be a key element of this document that you’ll want to make sure you give proper attention to.
What is the Purpose of an Abstract?
The aim of a thesis abstract is to give the reader a broad overview of what your research project was about and what you found that was novel, before he or she decides to read the entire thesis. The reality here though is that very few people will read the entire thesis, and not because they’re necessarily disinterested but because practically it’s too large a document for most people to have the time to read. The exception to this is your PhD examiner, however know that even they may not read the entire length of the document.
Some people may still skip to and read specific sections throughout your thesis such as the methodology, but the fact is that the abstract will be all that most read and will therefore be the section they base their opinions about your research on. In short, make sure you write a good, well-structured abstract.
How Long Should an Abstract Be?
If you’re a PhD student, having written your 100,000-word thesis, the abstract will be the 300 word summary included at the start of the thesis that succinctly explains the motivation for your study (i.e. why this research was needed), the main work you did (i.e. the focus of each chapter), what you found (the results) and concluding with how your research study contributed to new knowledge within your field.
Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States of America, once famously said:
The point here is that it’s easier to talk open-endedly about a subject that you know a lot about than it is to condense the key points into a 10-minute speech; the same applies for an abstract. Three hundred words is not a lot of words which makes it even more difficult to condense three (or more) years of research into a coherent, interesting story.
What Makes a Good PhD Thesis Abstract?
Whilst the abstract is one of the first sections in your PhD thesis, practically it’s probably the last aspect that you’ll ending up writing before sending the document to print. The reason being that you can’t write a summary about what you did, what you found and what it means until you’ve done the work.
A good abstract is one that can clearly explain to the reader in 300 words:
- What your research field actually is,
- What the gap in knowledge was in your field,
- The overarching aim and objectives of your PhD in response to these gaps,
- What methods you employed to achieve these,
- You key results and findings,
- How your work has added to further knowledge in your field of study.
Another way to think of this structure is:
- Aims and objectives,
Following this ‘formulaic’ approach to writing the abstract should hopefully make it a little easier to write but you can already see here that there’s a lot of information to convey in a very limited number of words.
How Do You Write a Good PhD Thesis Abstract?
The biggest challenge you’ll have is getting all the 6 points mentioned above across in your abstract within the limit of 300 words . Your particular university may give some leeway in going a few words over this but it’s good practice to keep within this; the art of succinctly getting your information across is an important skill for a researcher to have and one that you’ll be called on to use regularly as you write papers for peer review.
Keep It Concise
Every word in the abstract is important so make sure you focus on only the key elements of your research and the main outcomes and significance of your project that you want the reader to know about. You may have come across incidental findings during your research which could be interesting to discuss but this should not happen in the abstract as you simply don’t have enough words. Furthermore, make sure everything you talk about in your thesis is actually described in the main thesis.
Make a Unique Point Each Sentence
Keep the sentences short and to the point. Each sentence should give the reader new, useful information about your research so there’s no need to write out your project title again. Give yourself one or two sentences to introduce your subject area and set the context for your project. Then another sentence or two to explain the gap in the knowledge; there’s no need or expectation for you to include references in the abstract.
Explain Your Research
Some people prefer to write their overarching aim whilst others set out their research questions as they correspond to the structure of their thesis chapters; the approach you use is up to you, as long as the reader can understand what your dissertation or thesis had set out to achieve. Knowing this will help the reader better understand if your results help to answer the research questions or if further work is needed.
Keep It Factual
Keep the content of the abstract factual; that is to say that you should avoid bringing too much or any opinion into it, which inevitably can make the writing seem vague in the points you’re trying to get across and even lacking in structure.
Write, Edit and Then Rewrite
Spend suitable time editing your text, and if necessary, completely re-writing it. Show the abstract to others and ask them to explain what they understand about your research – are they able to explain back to you each of the 6 structure points, including why your project was needed, the research questions and results, and the impact it had on your research field? It’s important that you’re able to convey what new knowledge you contributed to your field but be mindful when writing your abstract that you don’t inadvertently overstate the conclusions, impact and significance of your work.
Thesis and Dissertation Abstract Examples
Perhaps the best way to understand how to write a thesis abstract is to look at examples of what makes a good and bad abstract.
Example of A Bad Abstract
Let’s start with an example of a bad thesis abstract:
In this project on “The Analysis of the Structural Integrity of 3D Printed Polymers for use in Aircraft”, my research looked at how 3D printing of materials can help the aviation industry in the manufacture of planes. Plane parts can be made at a lower cost using 3D printing and made lighter than traditional components. This project investigated the structural integrity of EBM manufactured components, which could revolutionise the aviation industry.
What Makes This a Bad Abstract
Hopefully you’ll have spotted some of the reasons this would be considered a poor abstract, not least because the author used up valuable words by repeating the lengthy title of the project in the abstract.
Working through our checklist of the 6 key points you want to convey to the reader:
- There has been an attempt to introduce the research area , albeit half-way through the abstract but it’s not clear if this is a materials science project about 3D printing or is it about aircraft design.
- There’s no explanation about where the gap in the knowledge is that this project attempted to address.
- We can see that this project was focussed on the topic of structural integrity of materials in aircraft but the actual research aims or objectives haven’t been defined.
- There’s no mention at all of what the author actually did to investigate structural integrity. For example was this an experimental study involving real aircraft, or something in the lab, computer simulations etc.
- The author also doesn’t tell us a single result of his research, let alone the key findings !
- There’s a bold claim in the last sentence of the abstract that this project could revolutionise the aviation industry, and this may well be the case, but based on the abstract alone there is no evidence to support this as it’s not even clear what the author did .
This is an extreme example but is a good way to illustrate just how unhelpful a poorly written abstract can be. At only 71 words long, it definitely hasn’t maximised the amount of information that could be presented and the what they have presented has lacked clarity and structure.
A final point to note is the use of the EBM acronym, which stands for Electron Beam Melting in the context of 3D printing; this is a niche acronym for the author to assume that the reader would know the meaning of. It’s best to avoid acronyms in your abstract all together even if it’s something that you might expect most people to know about, unless you specifically define the meaning first.
Example of A Good Abstract
Having seen an example of a bad thesis abstract, now lets look at an example of a good PhD thesis abstract written about the same (fictional) project:
Additive manufacturing (AM) of titanium alloys has the potential to enable cheaper and lighter components to be produced with customised designs for use in aircraft engines. Whilst the proof-of-concept of these have been promising, the structural integrity of AM engine parts in response to full thrust and temperature variations is not clear.
The primary aim of this project was to determine the fracture modes and mechanisms of AM components designed for use in Boeing 747 engines. To achieve this an explicit finite element (FE) model was developed to simulate the environment and parameters that the engine is exposed to during flight. The FE model was validated using experimental data replicating the environmental parameters in a laboratory setting using ten AM engine components provided by the industry sponsor. The validated FE model was then used to investigate the extent of crack initiation and propagation as the environment parameters were adjusted.
This project was the first to investigate fracture patterns in AM titanium components used in aircraft engines; the key finding was that the presence of cavities within the structures due to errors in the printing process, significantly increased the risk of fracture. Secondly, the simulations showed that cracks formed within AM parts were more likely to worsen and lead to component failure at subzero temperatures when compared to conventionally manufactured parts. This has demonstrated an important safety concern which needs to be addressed before AM parts can be used in commercial aircraft.
What Makes This a Good Abstract
Having read this ‘good abstract’ you should have a much better understand about what the subject area is about, where the gap in the knowledge was, the aim of the project, the methods that were used, key results and finally the significance of these results. To break these points down further, from this good abstract we now know that:
- The research area is around additive manufacturing (i.e. 3D printing) of materials for use in aircraft.
- The gap in knowledge was how these materials will behave structural when used in aircraft engines.
- The aim was specifically to investigate how the components can fracture.
- The methods used to investigate this were a combination of computational and lab based experimental modelling.
- The key findings were the increased risk of fracture of these components due to the way they are manufactured.
- The significance of these findings were that it showed a potential risk of component failure that could comprise the safety of passengers and crew on the aircraft.
The abstract text has a much clearer flow through these different points in how it’s written and has made much better use of the available word count. Acronyms have even been used twice in this good abstract but they were clearly defined the first time they were introduced in the text so that there was no confusion about their meaning.
The abstract you write for your dissertation or thesis should succinctly explain to the reader why the work of your research was needed, what you did, what you found and what it means. Most people that come across your thesis, including any future employers, are likely to read only your abstract. Even just for this reason alone, it’s so important that you write the best abstract you can; this will not only convey your research effectively but also put you in the best light possible as a researcher.
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The Dissertation Abstract: 101
How to write a clear & concise abstract (with examples).
By: Madeline Fink (MSc) Reviewed By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | June 2020
So, you’ve (finally) finished your thesis or dissertation or thesis. Now it’s time to write up your abstract (sometimes also called the executive summary). If you’re here, chances are you’re not quite sure what you need to cover in this section, or how to go about writing it. Fear not – we’ll explain it all in plain language , step by step , with clear examples .
Overview: The Dissertation/Thesis Abstract
- What exactly is a dissertation (or thesis) abstract
- What’s the purpose and function of the abstract
- Why is the abstract so important
- How to write a high-quality dissertation abstract
- Example/sample of a quality abstract
- Quick tips to write a high-quality dissertation abstract
What is an abstract?
Simply put, the abstract in a dissertation or thesis is a short (but well structured) summary that outlines the most important points of your research (i.e. the key takeaways). The abstract is usually 1 paragraph or about 300-500 words long (about one page), but but this can vary between universities.
A quick note regarding terminology – strictly speaking, an abstract and an executive summary are two different things when it comes to academic publications. Typically, an abstract only states what the research will be about, but doesn’t explore the findings – whereas an executive summary covers both . However, in the context of a dissertation or thesis, the abstract usually covers both, providing a summary of the full project.
In terms of content, a good dissertation abstract usually covers the following points:
- The purpose of the research (what’s it about and why’s that important)
- The methodology (how you carried out the research)
- The key research findings (what answers you found)
- The implications of these findings (what these answers mean)
We’ll explain each of these in more detail a little later in this post. Buckle up.
What’s the purpose of the abstract?
A dissertation abstract has two main functions:
The first purpose is to inform potential readers of the main idea of your research without them having to read your entire piece of work. Specifically, it needs to communicate what your research is about (what were you trying to find out) and what your findings were . When readers are deciding whether to read your dissertation or thesis, the abstract is the first part they’ll consider.
The second purpose of the abstract is to inform search engines and dissertation databases as they index your dissertation or thesis. The keywords and phrases in your abstract (as well as your keyword list) will often be used by these search engines to categorize your work and make it accessible to users.
Simply put, your abstract is your shopfront display window – it’s what passers-by (both human and digital) will look at before deciding to step inside.
Why’s it so important?
The short answer – because most people don’t have time to read your full dissertation or thesis! Time is money, after all…
If you think back to when you undertook your literature review , you’ll quickly realise just how important abstracts are! Researchers reviewing the literature on any given topic face a mountain of reading, so they need to optimise their approach. A good dissertation abstract gives the reader a “TLDR” version of your work – it helps them decide whether to continue to read it in its entirety. So, your abstract, as your shopfront display window, needs to “sell” your research to time-poor readers.
You might be thinking, “but I don’t plan to publish my dissertation”. Even so, you still need to provide an impactful abstract for your markers. Your ability to concisely summarise your work is one of the things they’re assessing, so it’s vital to invest time and effort into crafting an enticing shop window.
A good abstract also has an added purpose for grad students . As a freshly minted graduate, your dissertation or thesis is often your most significant professional accomplishment and highlights where your unique expertise lies. Potential employers who want to know about this expertise are likely to only read the abstract (as opposed to reading your entire document) – so it needs to be good!
Think about it this way – if your thesis or dissertation were a book, then the abstract would be the blurb on the back cover. For better or worse, readers will absolutely judge your book by its cover .
How to write your abstract
As we touched on earlier, your abstract should cover four important aspects of your research: the purpose , methodology , findings , and implications . Therefore, the structure of your dissertation or thesis abstract needs to reflect these four essentials, in the same order. Let’s take a closer look at each of them, step by step:
Step 1: Describe the purpose and value of your research
Here you need to concisely explain the purpose and value of your research. In other words, you need to explain what your research set out to discover and why that’s important. When stating the purpose of research, you need to clearly discuss the following:
- What were your research aims and research questions ?
- Why were these aims and questions important?
It’s essential to make this section extremely clear, concise and convincing . As the opening section, this is where you’ll “hook” your reader (marker) in and get them interested in your project. If you don’t put in the effort here, you’ll likely lose their interest.
Step 2: Briefly outline your study’s methodology
In this part of your abstract, you need to very briefly explain how you went about answering your research questions. In other words, what research design and methodology you adopted in your research. Some important questions to address here include:
- Did you take a qualitative or quantitative approach ?
- Who/what did your sample consist of?
- How did you collect your data?
- How did you analyse your data?
Simply put, this section needs to address the “ how ” of your research. It doesn’t need to be lengthy (this is just a summary, after all), but it should clearly address the four questions above.
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Step 3: Present your key findings
Next, you need to briefly highlight the key findings . Your research likely produced a wealth of data and findings, so there may be a temptation to ramble here. However, this section is just about the key findings – in other words, the answers to the original questions that you set out to address.
Again, brevity and clarity are important here. You need to concisely present the most important findings for your reader.
Step 4: Describe the implications of your research
Have you ever found yourself reading through a large report, struggling to figure out what all the findings mean in terms of the bigger picture? Well, that’s the purpose of the implications section – to highlight the “so what?” of your research.
In this part of your abstract, you should address the following questions:
- What is the impact of your research findings on the industry /field investigated? In other words, what’s the impact on the “real world”.
- What is the impact of your findings on the existing body of knowledge ? For example, do they support the existing research?
- What might your findings mean for future research conducted on your topic?
If you include these four essential ingredients in your dissertation abstract, you’ll be on headed in a good direction.
Example: Dissertation/thesis abstract
Here is an example of an abstract from a master’s thesis, with the purpose , methods , findings , and implications colour coded.
The U.S. citizenship application process is a legal and symbolic journey shaped by many cultural processes. This research project aims to bring to light the experiences of immigrants and citizenship applicants living in Dallas, Texas, to promote a better understanding of Dallas’ increasingly diverse population. Additionally, the purpose of this project is to provide insights to a specific client, the office of Dallas Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs, about Dallas’ lawful permanent residents who are eligible for citizenship and their reasons for pursuing citizenship status . The data for this project was collected through observation at various citizenship workshops and community events, as well as through semi-structured interviews with 14 U.S. citizenship applicants . Reasons for applying for U.S. citizenship discussed in this project include a desire for membership in U.S. society, access to better educational and economic opportunities, improved ease of travel and the desire to vote. Barriers to the citizenship process discussed in this project include the amount of time one must dedicate to the application, lack of clear knowledge about the process and the financial cost of the application. Other themes include the effects of capital on applicant’s experience with the citizenship process, symbolic meanings of citizenship, transnationalism and ideas of deserving and undeserving surrounding the issues of residency and U.S. citizenship. These findings indicate the need for educational resources and mentorship for Dallas-area residents applying for U.S. citizenship, as well as a need for local government programs that foster a sense of community among citizenship applicants and their neighbours.
Practical tips for writing your abstract
When crafting the abstract for your dissertation or thesis, the most powerful technique you can use is to try and put yourself in the shoes of a potential reader. Assume the reader is not an expert in the field, but is interested in the research area. In other words, write for the intelligent layman, not for the seasoned topic expert.
Start by trying to answer the question “why should I read this dissertation?”
Remember the WWHS.
Make sure you include the what , why , how , and so what of your research in your abstract:
- What you studied (who and where are included in this part)
- Why the topic was important
- How you designed your study (i.e. your research methodology)
- So what were the big findings and implications of your research
Keep it simple.
Use terminology appropriate to your field of study, but don’t overload your abstract with big words and jargon that cloud the meaning and make your writing difficult to digest. A good abstract should appeal to all levels of potential readers and should be a (relatively) easy read. Remember, you need to write for the intelligent layman.
When writing your abstract, clearly outline your most important findings and insights and don’t worry about “giving away” too much about your research – there’s no need to withhold information. This is the one way your abstract is not like a blurb on the back of a book – the reader should be able to clearly understand the key takeaways of your thesis or dissertation after reading the abstract. Of course, if they then want more detail, they need to step into the restaurant and try out the menu.
Psst… there’s more (for free)
This post is part of our research writing mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.
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This was so very useful, thank you Caroline.
This was so useful. Thank you very much.
This was really useful in writing the abstract for my dissertation. Thank you Caroline.
Very clear and helpful information. Thanks so much!
Fabulous information – succinct, simple information which made my life easier after the most stressful and rewarding 21 months of completing this Masters Degree.
Very clear, specific and to the point guidance. Thanks a lot. Keep helping people 🙂
Thanks for this nice and helping document.
Waw!!, this is a master piece to say the least.
Very helpful and enjoyable
Thank you for sharing the very important and usful information. Best Bahar
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- USC Libraries
- Research Guides
Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper
- 3. The Abstract
- Purpose of Guide
- Design Flaws to Avoid
- Independent and Dependent Variables
- Glossary of Research Terms
- Reading Research Effectively
- Narrowing a Topic Idea
- Broadening a Topic Idea
- Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
- Academic Writing Style
- Choosing a Title
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- Research Process Video Series
- Executive Summary
- The C.A.R.S. Model
- Background Information
- The Research Problem/Question
- Theoretical Framework
- Citation Tracking
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- Primary Sources
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- Tiertiary Sources
- Scholarly vs. Popular Publications
- Qualitative Methods
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- Using Non-Textual Elements
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- Further Readings
An abstract summarizes, usually in one paragraph of 300 words or less, the major aspects of the entire paper in a prescribed sequence that includes: 1) the overall purpose of the study and the research problem(s) you investigated; 2) the basic design of the study; 3) major findings or trends found as a result of your analysis; and, 4) a brief summary of your interpretations and conclusions.
Writing an Abstract. The Writing Center. Clarion University, 2009; Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper. The Writing Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Importance of a Good Abstract
Sometimes your professor will ask you to include an abstract, or general summary of your work, with your research paper. The abstract allows you to elaborate upon each major aspect of the paper and helps readers decide whether they want to read the rest of the paper. Therefore, enough key information [e.g., summary results, observations, trends, etc.] must be included to make the abstract useful to someone who may want to examine your work.
How do you know when you have enough information in your abstract? A simple rule-of-thumb is to imagine that you are another researcher doing a similar study. Then ask yourself: if your abstract was the only part of the paper you could access, would you be happy with the amount of information presented there? Does it tell the whole story about your study? If the answer is "no" then the abstract likely needs to be revised.
How to Write a Research Abstract. Office of Undergraduate Research. University of Kentucky; Staiger, David L. “What Today’s Students Need to Know about Writing Abstracts.” International Journal of Business Communication January 3 (1966): 29-33; Swales, John M. and Christine B. Feak. Abstracts and the Writing of Abstracts . Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2009.
Structure and Writing Style
I. Types of Abstracts
To begin, you need to determine which type of abstract you should include with your paper. There are four general types.
Critical Abstract A critical abstract provides, in addition to describing main findings and information, a judgment or comment about the study’s validity, reliability, or completeness. The researcher evaluates the paper and often compares it with other works on the same subject. Critical abstracts are generally 400-500 words in length due to the additional interpretive commentary. These types of abstracts are used infrequently.
Descriptive Abstract A descriptive abstract indicates the type of information found in the work. It makes no judgments about the work, nor does it provide results or conclusions of the research. It does incorporate key words found in the text and may include the purpose, methods, and scope of the research. Essentially, the descriptive abstract only describes the work being summarized. Some researchers consider it an outline of the work, rather than a summary. Descriptive abstracts are usually very short, 100 words or less. Informative Abstract The majority of abstracts are informative. While they still do not critique or evaluate a work, they do more than describe it. A good informative abstract acts as a surrogate for the work itself. That is, the researcher presents and explains all the main arguments and the important results and evidence in the paper. An informative abstract includes the information that can be found in a descriptive abstract [purpose, methods, scope] but it also includes the results and conclusions of the research and the recommendations of the author. The length varies according to discipline, but an informative abstract is usually no more than 300 words in length.
Highlight Abstract A highlight abstract is specifically written to attract the reader’s attention to the study. No pretense is made of there being either a balanced or complete picture of the paper and, in fact, incomplete and leading remarks may be used to spark the reader’s interest. In that a highlight abstract cannot stand independent of its associated article, it is not a true abstract and, therefore, rarely used in academic writing.
II. Writing Style
Use the active voice when possible , but note that much of your abstract may require passive sentence constructions. Regardless, write your abstract using concise, but complete, sentences. Get to the point quickly and always use the past tense because you are reporting on a study that has been completed.
Abstracts should be formatted as a single paragraph in a block format and with no paragraph indentations. In most cases, the abstract page immediately follows the title page. Do not number the page. Rules set forth in writing manual vary but, in general, you should center the word "Abstract" at the top of the page with double spacing between the heading and the abstract. The final sentences of an abstract concisely summarize your study’s conclusions, implications, or applications to practice and, if appropriate, can be followed by a statement about the need for additional research revealed from the findings.
Composing Your Abstract
Although it is the first section of your paper, the abstract should be written last since it will summarize the contents of your entire paper. A good strategy to begin composing your abstract is to take whole sentences or key phrases from each section of the paper and put them in a sequence that summarizes the contents. Then revise or add connecting phrases or words to make the narrative flow clearly and smoothly. Note that statistical findings should be reported parenthetically [i.e., written in parentheses].
Before handing in your final paper, check to make sure that the information in the abstract completely agrees with what you have written in the paper. Think of the abstract as a sequential set of complete sentences describing the most crucial information using the fewest necessary words. The abstract SHOULD NOT contain:
- A catchy introductory phrase, provocative quote, or other device to grab the reader's attention,
- Lengthy background or contextual information,
- Redundant phrases, unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, and repetitive information;
- Acronyms or abbreviations,
- References to other literature [say something like, "current research shows that..." or "studies have indicated..."],
- Using ellipticals [i.e., ending with "..."] or incomplete sentences,
- Jargon or terms that may be confusing to the reader,
- Citations to other works, and
- Any sort of image, illustration, figure, or table, or references to them.
Abstract. Writing Center. University of Kansas; Abstract. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College; Abstracts. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Borko, Harold and Seymour Chatman. "Criteria for Acceptable Abstracts: A Survey of Abstracters' Instructions." American Documentation 14 (April 1963): 149-160; Abstracts. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Hartley, James and Lucy Betts. "Common Weaknesses in Traditional Abstracts in hte Social Sciences." Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 60 (October 2009): 2010-2018; Procter, Margaret. The Abstract. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Riordan, Laura. “Mastering the Art of Abstracts.” The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 115 (January 2015 ): 41-47; Writing Report Abstracts. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Abstracts. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Koltay, Tibor. Abstracts and Abstracting: A Genre and Set of Skills for the Twenty-First Century . Oxford, UK: 2010; Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper. The Writing Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Never Cite Just the Abstract!
Citing to just a journal article's abstract does not confirm for the reader that you have conducted a thorough or reliable review of the literature. If the full-text is not available, go to the USC Libraries main page and enter the title of the article [NOT the title of the journal]. If the Libraries have a subscription to the journal, the article should appear with a link to the full-text or to the journal publisher page where you can get the article. If the article does not appear, try searching Google Scholar using the link on the USC Libraries main page. If you still can't find the article after doing this, contact a librarian or you can request it from our free i nterlibrary loan and document delivery service .
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Five Elements to Include in Your Abstract
- Three Elements for a Proper Thesis Title
- Effective Strategies for Proofreading a Research Document
An abstract is usually about a page long and should give the whole picture of your research in terms of the literature review, methodology, results and conclusion. Readers user the abstract to quickly find out what your research is about. A well written abstract is critical to pull in readers so that they can open up and read your work. The five main elements to include in your abstract are stated below.
This is the first part of the abstract, and should be brief and attractive to the reader at the same time. After reading a well written intro, the reader would be eager to read more.
This usually answers the question: Why did you do this research?
This usually answers the questions: What did you do? How did you do it?
This answers the question: What did you find out after doing the research? Or what are the advantages of your method based on the results?
This usually answers the question: What do your findings mean? What have you contributed?
Read the abstract carefully and try to eliminate any sentence that doesn’t fit into any of the categories above. Make sure all of your sentences contribute to explain the whole picture.
How to use Google Scholar to Write an Effective Literature Review
Ten Tips for Effectively Writing a Research Paper for Peer-Review
What is the Best Way to Read Research Papers?
Seven Important Components to Consider when Writing a Research Paper
We need more types on an indicative abstract
where is the abstract as mentioned above (Read the abstract carefully and try to eliminate any sentence that doesn’t fit into any of the categories above. Make sure all of your sentences contribute to explain the whole picture.)
We need to know how to write the introduction
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Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper
Definition and Purpose of Abstracts
An abstract is a short summary of your (published or unpublished) research paper, usually about a paragraph (c. 6-7 sentences, 150-250 words) long. A well-written abstract serves multiple purposes:
- an abstract lets readers get the gist or essence of your paper or article quickly, in order to decide whether to read the full paper;
- an abstract prepares readers to follow the detailed information, analyses, and arguments in your full paper;
- and, later, an abstract helps readers remember key points from your paper.
It’s also worth remembering that search engines and bibliographic databases use abstracts, as well as the title, to identify key terms for indexing your published paper. So what you include in your abstract and in your title are crucial for helping other researchers find your paper or article.
If you are writing an abstract for a course paper, your professor may give you specific guidelines for what to include and how to organize your abstract. Similarly, academic journals often have specific requirements for abstracts. So in addition to following the advice on this page, you should be sure to look for and follow any guidelines from the course or journal you’re writing for.
The Contents of an Abstract
Abstracts contain most of the following kinds of information in brief form. The body of your paper will, of course, develop and explain these ideas much more fully. As you will see in the samples below, the proportion of your abstract that you devote to each kind of information—and the sequence of that information—will vary, depending on the nature and genre of the paper that you are summarizing in your abstract. And in some cases, some of this information is implied, rather than stated explicitly. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association , which is widely used in the social sciences, gives specific guidelines for what to include in the abstract for different kinds of papers—for empirical studies, literature reviews or meta-analyses, theoretical papers, methodological papers, and case studies.
Here are the typical kinds of information found in most abstracts:
- the context or background information for your research; the general topic under study; the specific topic of your research
- the central questions or statement of the problem your research addresses
- what’s already known about this question, what previous research has done or shown
- the main reason(s) , the exigency, the rationale , the goals for your research—Why is it important to address these questions? Are you, for example, examining a new topic? Why is that topic worth examining? Are you filling a gap in previous research? Applying new methods to take a fresh look at existing ideas or data? Resolving a dispute within the literature in your field? . . .
- your research and/or analytical methods
- your main findings , results , or arguments
- the significance or implications of your findings or arguments.
Your abstract should be intelligible on its own, without a reader’s having to read your entire paper. And in an abstract, you usually do not cite references—most of your abstract will describe what you have studied in your research and what you have found and what you argue in your paper. In the body of your paper, you will cite the specific literature that informs your research.
When to Write Your Abstract
Although you might be tempted to write your abstract first because it will appear as the very first part of your paper, it’s a good idea to wait to write your abstract until after you’ve drafted your full paper, so that you know what you’re summarizing.
What follows are some sample abstracts in published papers or articles, all written by faculty at UW-Madison who come from a variety of disciplines. We have annotated these samples to help you see the work that these authors are doing within their abstracts.
Choosing Verb Tenses within Your Abstract
The social science sample (Sample 1) below uses the present tense to describe general facts and interpretations that have been and are currently true, including the prevailing explanation for the social phenomenon under study. That abstract also uses the present tense to describe the methods, the findings, the arguments, and the implications of the findings from their new research study. The authors use the past tense to describe previous research.
The humanities sample (Sample 2) below uses the past tense to describe completed events in the past (the texts created in the pulp fiction industry in the 1970s and 80s) and uses the present tense to describe what is happening in those texts, to explain the significance or meaning of those texts, and to describe the arguments presented in the article.
The science samples (Samples 3 and 4) below use the past tense to describe what previous research studies have done and the research the authors have conducted, the methods they have followed, and what they have found. In their rationale or justification for their research (what remains to be done), they use the present tense. They also use the present tense to introduce their study (in Sample 3, “Here we report . . .”) and to explain the significance of their study (In Sample 3, This reprogramming . . . “provides a scalable cell source for. . .”).
Sample Abstract 1
From the social sciences.
Reporting new findings about the reasons for increasing economic homogamy among spouses
Gonalons-Pons, Pilar, and Christine R. Schwartz. “Trends in Economic Homogamy: Changes in Assortative Mating or the Division of Labor in Marriage?” Demography , vol. 54, no. 3, 2017, pp. 985-1005.
Sample Abstract 2
From the humanities.
Analyzing underground pulp fiction publications in Tanzania, this article makes an argument about the cultural significance of those publications
Emily Callaci. “Street Textuality: Socialism, Masculinity, and Urban Belonging in Tanzania’s Pulp Fiction Publishing Industry, 1975-1985.” Comparative Studies in Society and History , vol. 59, no. 1, 2017, pp. 183-210.
Sample Abstract/Summary 3
From the sciences.
Reporting a new method for reprogramming adult mouse fibroblasts into induced cardiac progenitor cells
Lalit, Pratik A., Max R. Salick, Daryl O. Nelson, Jayne M. Squirrell, Christina M. Shafer, Neel G. Patel, Imaan Saeed, Eric G. Schmuck, Yogananda S. Markandeya, Rachel Wong, Martin R. Lea, Kevin W. Eliceiri, Timothy A. Hacker, Wendy C. Crone, Michael Kyba, Daniel J. Garry, Ron Stewart, James A. Thomson, Karen M. Downs, Gary E. Lyons, and Timothy J. Kamp. “Lineage Reprogramming of Fibroblasts into Proliferative Induced Cardiac Progenitor Cells by Defined Factors.” Cell Stem Cell , vol. 18, 2016, pp. 354-367.
Sample Abstract 4, a Structured Abstract
Reporting results about the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy in managing acute bacterial sinusitis, from a rigorously controlled study
Note: This journal requires authors to organize their abstract into four specific sections, with strict word limits. Because the headings for this structured abstract are self-explanatory, we have chosen not to add annotations to this sample abstract.
Wald, Ellen R., David Nash, and Jens Eickhoff. “Effectiveness of Amoxicillin/Clavulanate Potassium in the Treatment of Acute Bacterial Sinusitis in Children.” Pediatrics , vol. 124, no. 1, 2009, pp. 9-15.
“OBJECTIVE: The role of antibiotic therapy in managing acute bacterial sinusitis (ABS) in children is controversial. The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of high-dose amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate in the treatment of children diagnosed with ABS.
METHODS : This was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Children 1 to 10 years of age with a clinical presentation compatible with ABS were eligible for participation. Patients were stratified according to age (<6 or ≥6 years) and clinical severity and randomly assigned to receive either amoxicillin (90 mg/kg) with potassium clavulanate (6.4 mg/kg) or placebo. A symptom survey was performed on days 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 20, and 30. Patients were examined on day 14. Children’s conditions were rated as cured, improved, or failed according to scoring rules.
RESULTS: Two thousand one hundred thirty-five children with respiratory complaints were screened for enrollment; 139 (6.5%) had ABS. Fifty-eight patients were enrolled, and 56 were randomly assigned. The mean age was 6630 months. Fifty (89%) patients presented with persistent symptoms, and 6 (11%) presented with nonpersistent symptoms. In 24 (43%) children, the illness was classified as mild, whereas in the remaining 32 (57%) children it was severe. Of the 28 children who received the antibiotic, 14 (50%) were cured, 4 (14%) were improved, 4(14%) experienced treatment failure, and 6 (21%) withdrew. Of the 28children who received placebo, 4 (14%) were cured, 5 (18%) improved, and 19 (68%) experienced treatment failure. Children receiving the antibiotic were more likely to be cured (50% vs 14%) and less likely to have treatment failure (14% vs 68%) than children receiving the placebo.
CONCLUSIONS : ABS is a common complication of viral upper respiratory infections. Amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate results in significantly more cures and fewer failures than placebo, according to parental report of time to resolution.” (9)
Some Excellent Advice about Writing Abstracts for Basic Science Research Papers, by Professor Adriano Aguzzi from the Institute of Neuropathology at the University of Zurich:
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The abstract should begin with a brief but precise statement of the problem or issue, followed by a description of the research method and design, the major
The abstract is a summary of the whole thesis. It presents all the major elements of your work in a highly condensed form. An abstract often functions, together
You can include some brief context on the social or academic relevance of your dissertation topic, but don't go into detailed background
Abstract needs to include source references and acronyms. It allows describing the top point of a dissertation paper providing a good understanding of the
research paper or entire thesis. It is an original work, not an excerpted passage. An abstract must be fully self-contained and make sense by.
The abstract you write for your dissertation or thesis should succinctly explain to the reader why the work of your research was needed, what you did, what you
As we touched on earlier, your abstract should cover four important aspects of your research: the purpose, methodology, findings, and implications. · Here you
It does incorporate key words found in the text and may include the purpose, methods, and scope of the research. Essentially, the descriptive abstract only
Introduction. This is the first part of the abstract, and should be brief and attractive to the reader at the same time. · Research significance. This usually
Abstracts contain most of the following kinds of information in brief form. The body of your paper will, of course, develop and explain these ideas much more