How to Write a Good Abstract
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 use the abstract to decide whether to read your paper or see your talk.
Features of a Good Abstract
- Summarizes the entire paper (usually in one paragraph)
- Usually ~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?
- Isn’t misleading; acknowledges when findings are preliminary
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
This same format can apply to abstracts written for disciplines outside the sciences:
- Introduction/Objective = Why do we care about the problem?
- State of knowledge in the field
- What gap is your research filling?
- Method = What did you do to get to your argument?
- Could involve analyzing literary works, completing a series of paintings, searching archives, comparing documents
- Results = What is your argument?
- A statement of the thesis
- Discussion = What are the larger implications of your findings