How to write an abstract

How to write an abstract image

An abstract is a summary of the main contents of a paper. This part is the first glimpse of information a person gets before reading the whole paper. An abstract can influence the popularity of a paper, as a well-written one will attract readers, and a poorly-written one will drive them away.

First steps to writing an abstract

Before you actually start writing an abstract, make sure to follow these steps:

  • Read other papers: find papers with similar topics, or similar methodologies, simply to have an idea of how others have written their abstracts. Notice which points they decided to include, and how in depth they described them.
  • Double check the journal requirements: always make sure to review the journal guidelines to format your paper accordingly. Usually, they also specify abstract's formats.
  • Write the abstract after you finish writing the paper: you can only write an abstract once you finish writing the whole paper. This way you can include all important aspects, such as scope, methodology, and conclusion.

General format of an abstract

The general format of an abstract includes the following features:

  • Between 150-300 words.
  • An independent page, after the title page and before the table of contents.
  • Concise summary including the aim of the research, methodology, and conclusion.
  • Keywords describing the content.

The content of an abstract

As mentioned before, an abstract is a text that summarizes the main points of a research. Here is a break down of each element that should be included in an abstract:

  1. Purpose: every abstract should start by describing the main purpose or aim of the research.
  2. Methods: as a second point, the methodology carried out should be explained.
  3. Results: then, a concise summary of the results should be included.
  4. Conclusion: finally, a short outline of the general outcome of the research should be given.
  5. Keywords: along with the abstract, specific words and phrases related to the topics discussed in the research should be added. These words are usually around five, but the number can vary depending on the journal's guidelines.

Example

This abstract taken from ScienceDirect, illustrates the ideal structure of an abstract. It has 155 words, it's concise, and it clearly shows the division of elements necessary to write a successful abstract.

Elements of an abstract

Abstract style guides

The exact format of an abstract depends on the citation style you implement. Whether its a known style (like APA, IEEE, etc.) or a journal's style, each format has its own guidelines, so make sure to know which style you are using before writing your abstract.

APA is one of the most commonly used styles to format an abstract. Therefore, we created a guide with exact instructions on how to write an abstract in APA style, and a template to download:

📕 APA abstract page: format and template

Additionally, you will find below an IEEE and ASA abstract guide by Purdue Online Writing Lab:

📗 IEEE General Format - Abstract

📘 ASA Manuscript Formatting - Abstract

Frequently Asked Questions about writing an abstract

Should I write an abstract before the discussion of the paper?

No. You should always write an abstract once you finish writing the whole paper. This way you can include all important aspects of the paper, such as scope, methodology, and conclusion.



How long should an abstract be?

The length of a abstract depends on the formatting style of the paper. For example, APA style calls for 150 to 250 words. Generally, you need between 150-300 words.



Should I include an abstract in my table of contents?

No. An abstract has an independent section after the title page and before the table of contents, and should not be included in the table of contents.



How do I format an abstract in APA style?

Take a look at APA abstract page: format and template for exact details on how to format an abstract in APA style.



Where can I find examples of abstracts?

You can access any paper through Google Scholar or any other search engine, pick a paper and read the abstract. Abstracts are always freely available to read.