These materials were made possible thanks to the generous support from the Kemper K. Knapp Bequest Committee.
On this page, the UW-Madison Writing Center Writer's Handbook offers advice on writing abstracts and answers questions such as: including:
On the "Abstracts: Examples" page, you will also find sample Undergraduate Symposium abstracts from a variety of disciplines.
What is an abstract?
An abstract is a concise summary of a larger project (a thesis, research report, performance, service project, etc.) that concisely describes the content and scope of the project and identifies the project’s objective, its methodology and its findings, conclusions, or intended results.
Remember that your abstract is a description of your project (what you specifically are doing) and not a description of your topic (whatever you’re doing the project on). It is easy to get these two types of description confused. Since abstracts are generally very short, it’s important that you don’t get bogged down in a summary of the entire background of your topic.
As you are writing your abstract, stop at the end of every sentence and make sure you are summarizing the project you have undertaken rather than the more general topic.
Do abstracts vary by discipline (science, humanities, service, art, or performance)?
Abstracts do vary from discipline to discipline, and sometimes within disciplines.
Abstracts in the hard sciences and social sciences often put more emphasis on methods than do abstracts in the humanities; humanities abstracts often spend much more time explaining their objective than science abstracts do.
However, even within single disciplines, abstracts often differ. Check with a professor to find out about the expectations for an abstract in your discipline, and make sure to ask for examples of abstracts from your field.
What should an abstract include?
Despite the fact that abstracts vary somewhat from discipline to discipline, every abstract should include four main types of information.
What should my Objective/Rationale section look like?
What is the problem or main issue? Why did you want to do this project in the first place?
The first few sentences of your abstract should state the problem you set out to solve or the issue you set out to explore and explain your rationale or motivation for pursuing the project. The problem or issue might be a research question, a gap in critical attention to a text, a societal concern, etc. The purpose of your study is to solve this problem and/or add to your discipline’s understanding of the issue.
Some authors state their thesis or hypothesis in this section of the abstract; others choose to leave it for the “Conclusions” section.
What should my Methods section look like?
What did you do?
This section of the abstract should explain how you went about solving the problem or exploring the issue you identified as your main objective.
For a hard science or social science research project, this section should include a concise description of the process by which you conducted your research. Similarly, for a service project, it should outline the kinds of service you performed and/or the process you followed to perform this service. For a humanities project, it should make note of any theoretical framework or methodological assumptions. For a visual or performing arts project, it should outline the media you employed and the process you used to develop your project.
What should my Results/Intended Results section look like?
What did you find?
This section of the abstract should list the results or outcomes of the work you have done so far. If your project is not yet complete, you may still want to include preliminary results or your hypotheses about what those results will be.
What should my Conclusion section look like?
What did you learn?
The abstract should close with a statement of the project’s implications and contributions to its field. It should convince readers that the project is interesting, valuable, and worth investigating further. In the particular case of the Undergraduate Symposium, it should convince readers to attend your presentation.
How should I choose my title?
You probably already have some idea for a title for your project. Consider your audience; for most projects, it is best to choose a title that is comprehensible to an audience of intelligent non-specialists.
Avoid jargon; instead, make sure that you choose terms that will be clear to a wide audience.
What my project isn't finished? What if my results didn’t turn the way I expected?
More often than not, projects are not completely finished by the time presenters need to submit their abstracts. Your abstract doesn’t need to include final results (though if you have them, by all means include them!).
If you don’t yet have final results, you can either include any preliminary results that you do have, or you can briefly mention the results that you expect to obtain.
Similarly, unexpected or negative results occur often. They can still be useful and informative, and you should include them in your abstract. Talk with your mentor to discuss how such results are normally handled in your discipline.
In any case, whether you have complete, partial, projected, or unexpected results, keep in mind that your explanation of those results – their significance – is more important than the raw results themselves.
How can I fit all of this into just 125 words?
Bestraightforward. Don’t worry about making your abstract “flow”. Don’t worry about writing a long or elaborate introduction or conclusion, and as we suggested above, don’t include too much background information on your project’s general topic. Instead, focus on what you have done and will do as you finish your project by providing the information we have suggested above.
If your abstract is still too long, look for unnecessary adjectives or other modifiers that do not directly contribute to a reader’s understanding of your project. Look for places where you repeat yourself, and cut out all unnecessary information.
How should I start writing my abstract?
Re-examine the work you have done so far (whether it is your entire project or a portion of it). Look specifically for your objectives, methods, results, and conclusions.
After re-examining your work, write a rough draft without looking back at the materials you’re abstracting. This will help you make sure you are condensing the ideas into abstract form rather than simply cutting and pasting sentences that contain too much or too little information.
Bring your draft to the Writing Center to get feedback from a writing instructor. Call 263-1992 to make an appointment.
What stylistic techniques will make my abstract most effective?
Avoid jargon. Jargon is the specialized, technical vocabulary that is used for communicating within a specific field. Jargon is not effective for communicating ideas to a broader, less specialized audience such as the Undergraduate Symposium audience.
Discipline-specific sentence: Hostilities will be engaged with our adversary on the coastal perimeter.
Revised for a more general audience: We will fight on the beaches.
Discipline-specific sentence: Geographical and cultural factors function to spatially confine growth to specific regions for long periods of time.
Revised for a more general audience: Geographical and cultural factors limit long-term economic growth to regions that are already prosperous.
Discipline-specific sentence: The implementation of statute-mandated regulated inputs exceeds the conceptualization of the administrative technicians.
Revised for a more general audience: The employees are having difficulty mastering the new regulations required by the law.
(Examples excerpted from Lantham, Richard. Revising Prose; McCloskey, Donald N. The Writing of Economics; and Scott, Gregory M. and Garrison, Stephen M., The Political Science Student Writer’s Manual.)
Be concise. Don’t use three words where you can communicate the same idea in one. Don’t repeat information or go into too much detail. Don’t just cut and paste sentences from your research paper into your abstract; writing that is appropriate for long papers is often too complicated for abstracts. Read more about general principles of writing clear, concise sentences.
Useshort, direct sentences. Vary your sentence structure to avoid choppiness. Read your abstract aloud, or ask someone else to read it aloud to you, to see if the abstract is appropriately fluid or too choppy.
Usepast tense when describing what you have already done.
Check with a professor in your field to determine whether active or passive voice is more appropriate for your discipline. Read more about active and passive voice.
Don’t cite sources, figures, or tables, and don’t include long quotations. This type of material takes up too much space and distracts from the overall scope of your project.
What kind of feedback should I seek to make sure my abstract is effective?
Work with a professor or another student in your field throughout the entire process of writing your abstract. People familiar with work in your field will be able to help you see where you need to say more and where you need to say less and will be able to help with clarity and precision as well.
Bring your draft to the Writing Center to get feedback from a writing instructor. Call 263-1992 to set up an appointment.
Finally, ask someone you know (a roommate, friend, or family member) who specializes in a different field to read your abstract and point out any confusing points. If you can make your abstract understandable to an intelligent non-specialist, you’ve probably made it effective for the audience of a standard conference or symposium.
Continue reading for examples of abstracts from many disciplines.
(Works Consulted: LEO Writing Abstracts, ©1995, ‘96, ‘97, ’98 The Write Place; Writer’s Workshop, University of Illinois, Urbana, adapted by Kitty O. Locker, 1997.)
A research paper is more than a summary of a topic with credible sources, it is an expanded essay that presents a writer’s interpretation and evaluation or argument. The purpose of writing this paper is to analyze a perspective or argue a point thus demonstrating your knowledge, writing and vocabulary skills, and ability to do a great research on a given topic.
Sometimes, your professor may ask for an abstract along with a research paper. Although abstracts are relatively short, many students find them confusing. You also need to write abstracts if your work revolves around carrying out research or other investigative processes. Writing process is easier than you think, keep reading to see how to complete this task. Also, you can find ideas on the topics of a phychology research paper.
What is an abstract?
In order to write one, you have to know what abstracts are exactly. Well, an abstract is defined as a concise summary of a larger project; it describes the content and scope of the project while identifying objective, methodology, findings, and conclusion.
The purpose of an abstract is to summarize the major aspects of a argumentative essay or paper, but it is important to bear in mind they are descriptions of your project, not the topic in general.
Basically, you use abstract to describe what specifically you are doing, not the topic your project is based upon. For example, if your research paper is about the bribe, the abstract is about survey or investigation you carry out about the prevalence of bribe, how people are likely to offer it to someone, do people take bribe etc. In this case, the abstract is not about the bribe itself, its definition, why people do it, and other related things. If you don` know, what the research work should look like - look at the example of a research paper.
Types of abstracts
- Critical abstract – describes main information and findings while providing a comment or judgment about the study’s reliability, validity, and completeness. Here, the researcher evaluates some paper and compares it to other works and papers on the same topic
- Descriptive abstract – only describes the work being summarized without comparing it to other papers on the given subject
- Informative abstract – most common type of abstracts, the researcher explains and presents the main arguments and most important results. While it doesn’t compare one work to others on the same subject, informative abstract includes conclusions of the research and recommendations of the author
- Highlight abstract – written to catch the reader’s attention, rarely used in academic writing
Elements the abstract has to contain
Even though there are different types of abstracts, one thing is in common for all of them – they contain the same elements i.e. four types of information presented to the reader. Before you learn how to write an abstract for a research paper, make sure your abstract should comprise of the following:
Objective or the main rationale of the project introduces readers with the research you carried out. This section accounts for the first few sentences of the abstract and announces the problem you set out to solve or the issue you have explored. The objective can also explain a writer’s motivation for the project.
Once the objective is described, it’s time to move to the next section – methods. Here, a writer explains how he/she decided to solve a problem or explore some issue i.e. methods or steps they used to get the answers. Of course, your approach or methods depend on the topic, your field of expertise, subject etc. For example:
- Hard science or social science – a concise description of the processes used to conduct a research
- Service project – to outline types of services performed and the processes followed
- Humanities project – to identify methodological assumptions or theoretical framework
- Visual or performing arts project – to outline media and processes used to develop the project
In other words, regardless of the field or subject, methods section serves to identify any process you used to reach the results and conclusions.
This section is self-explanatory; your goal is to list the outcomes or results of the research. If the research isn’t complete yet, you can include preliminary results or theory about the potential outcome.
Just like in every other work, the conclusion is the sentence or two wherein you summarize everything you’ve written above. In the abstract, a writer concludes or summarizes the results. When writing the conclusion, think of the question “what do these results mean”, and try to answer it in this section.
NOTE: More extensive research papers can also include a brief introduction before objective section. The introduction features one-two sentences that act as a basis or foundation for the objective. A vast majority of abstracts simply skip this section.
Abstract should not contain
A common mistake regarding abstracts is writing them the same way you would write the rest of a research paper. Besides some elements that your abstract has to contain, there are some things you should avoid. They are:
- Fluff, abstracts should be relatively short, no need to pump up the word volume
- Images, illustration figures, tables
- Incomplete sentences
- Lengthy background information, that’s what research paper is for, abstracts should be concise
- New information that is not present in the research paper
- Phrases like “current research shows” or “studies confirm”
- Terms that reader might find confusing
- Unnecessary details that do not contribute to the overall intention of the abstract
Writing the abstract
Now that you know what the abstract is, elements it should contain and what to avoid, you are ready to start writing. The first thing to bear in mind is that your abstract doesn’t need a certain “flow”. Keep in mind that abstract should be precise and concise, you don’t need to worry about making it seem bigger. Ideally, you should focus on introducing facts and making sure a reader will get the clear picture of the topic presented through your research paper. Follow these steps to create a strong, high-quality abstract.
Start writing the abstract only when you complete the research paper. By the time you finish the essay writing process, you will know what to use in abstract to perfectly describe your work. Choosing to write an abstract first is highly impractical, takes ages, and it doesn’t represent the research paper adequately.
For your objective and conclusion sections, you can use the most important information from introduction and conclusion section of the research paper. Rather than wasting your time on trying to figure out what to include, just use the important premises and summarize them into one-two sentences in the abstract.
While researching or carrying out surveys for your paper, write down everything you do. Use these notes to create methods sections for the abstract. This particular section just has to inform a reader about the process you implemented to find the answers from the objective. No need to introduce unnecessary information.
Make sure the abstract answers these questions:
What is the purpose of this research?
How was the research conducted? How did I get my answers?
What answers did I get?
What do these results mean?
When the abstract is complete, read everything you have written from top to bottom. Then, eliminate all extra information in order to keep it as concise as possible.
Read the abstract thoroughly again. Make sure there is the consistency of information presented in the abstract and in the research paper. Basically, information included in both abstract and research paper shouldn’t be different. After all, the abstract is a summary or a short description of the research paper itself. This is why you shouldn’t introduce new details into abstract as well.
Once you ensure the abstract contains only relevant information and describes the research paper concisely, read it again. This time, you should look for grammar and spelling mistakes, punctuation, sentence structures, and tense consistency. Never submit the abstract (and research paper or any other type of work) without proofreading and editing first.
At this point, your research paper and abstract are error-free, complete, and ready for you to send them to your professor or client.
Don’t forget to…
- Vary sentence structures to avoid choppiness. Don’t include too many long sentences one after another and avoid doing the same with short sentences as well. Mixture of longer and shorter sentences work the best
- To avoid adding too many long sentences, just break them up into shorter structures
- Use active voice whenever possible. Also, ask your professor whether it is okay to use passive voice when necessary. Every professor has his/her criteria, asking is a great way to avoid mistakes
- Use past tense to describe the work you have already done
- Read the abstract aloud or to someone else in order to make sure the content is readable and easy to understand
The research paper is a common assignment in college education, and beyond. Writing these papers usually involves creating an abstract, a brief summary or description of the subject or argument you discussed throughout the paper. Abstracts are a major source of concern for many students, but they are incredibly easy to write when you’re familiar with the steps. As seen throughout this post, the ideal way to write an abstract is to keep it concise without pumping up word count with unnecessary information. If you don`t know what about you can write - look at different research paper topics! Now you’re ready to start writing the abstracts for research papers, good luck. Don't forget to see another guide about abstract research paper!