Writing Resources

Features of A Good Abstract

This handout is available for download in DOCX format and PDF format.


An abstract is a summary of a piece of academic writing. The abstract appears in multiple locations, including at the start of a publication, in conference proceedings, and in electronic databases. Readers typically use the abstract to decide whether or not to read your paper or attend your talk.

Features of a Good Abstract

  • Summarizes the entire paper, usually in one paragraph
  • Usually about 150-300 words
  • Typically written in the past tense and mostly in the third person
  • Entirely new text (not cut and pasted from the paper)
  • Stands alone—the reader can understand the abstract on its own
  • Includes keywords; only includes critical references; usually does not include graphics
  • Has concise, clear, specific (not vague), carefully edited language
  • Understands the audience: what does the reader know?
  • Is not misleading; acknowledges when findings are preliminary

Structure of a Good Abstract

In science, the abstract should include a few sentences from each of the following sections:

  • Introduction: the goal of the study, crucial background
  • Methods: basic study design
  • Results: summary of major findings
  • Discussion: Interpretations, conclusions, broader implications, future research

Importantly, this same format can apply to abstracts written in disciplines outside the sciences:

  • Introduction = the state of the field and/or the gap your research is filling
  • Method = Describing what you did to develop your argument
  • Results = A statement of the thesis
  • Discussion = The larger implications of your findings

Elissa Jacobs, University Writing Program, 2020.