Advice on Writing an Abstract for a Research Paper

Tips on writing an abstract

An abstract is a brief overview of a larger academic research paper. It is usually around 150 words and it should contain the following details:

  • Optional: Background information
  • Necessary: Purpose of the study (research question/problem)
  • Necessary: Methods (how the research was conducted)
  • Necessary: Results (the key findings)
  • Optional: Conclusion (and implications for future research)
  • Optional: Keywords (a list of nouns related to the topic of the study)

Regarding optional content:

  • Background information: This can be optional as some topics do not require any introductory information for the reader to understand the topic and purpose of the research.
  • A conclusion statement is helpful to allow the reader to understand how the study answers the research question. This is sometimes obvious from the results, and therefore an extra concluding statement may not be needed.
  • Keywords help the reader know which words (nouns) are closely related to the study.

Note: You’ll notice that the ideas from the Discussion section of an academic article are usually not included in an abstract.

Abstract Examples

Here is an example that was written by a student of mine (modified slightly for clarity):

Abstract

As technology develops, children spend more time using media which has increased their exposure to advertising from the food industry. The purpose of this report is to investigate whether food advertisements affect the diet of children under 12. A face-to-face survey was conducted with 50 parents who had children under 12. The results showed that more than half of the children (67%) had asked for food in advertisements. The majority of parents felt that food advertisements were unhealthy, though they did not report significant difficulty when they try to feed their children. These findings suggest children’s diet is influenced by food advertisements.  Therefore, it is suggested that parents continuously educate their children to create healthy eating habits.

Keywords: food advertisements, children’s diet, eating habit, media

Note the colors representing each section:

  • Background
  • Purpose of the study
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Conclusion & Implication for future study
  • Keywords

The below abstract was taken from the free sample report entitled Running on Empty.

Abstract

This study examined the effects of short-term food deprivation on two cognitive abilities—concentration and perseverance. Undergraduate students (N-51) were tested on both a concentration task and a perseverance task after one of three levels of food deprivation: none, 12 hours, or 24 hours. We predicted that food deprivation would impair both concentration scores and perseverance time. Food deprivation had no significant effect on concentration scores, which is consistent with recent research on the effects of food deprivation (Green et al., 1995; Green et al., 1997). However, participants in the 12-hour deprivation group spent significantly less time on the perseverance task than those in both the control and 24-hour deprivation groups, suggesting that short-term deprivation may affect some aspects of cognition and not others.

Keywords: food deprivation, concentration, perseverance, cognitive performance

Note the colors representing each section:

  • Purpose of the study
  • Methods
  • (Hypothesis – not necessary but helpful)
  • Results
  • Conclusion & Implication for future study

 

Summary of Points

  • An abstract is a short overview of the key points of an academic research paper.
  • An abstract must contain the research purpose (or research question), methods, and results.

Is an Abstract a Summary?

Yes, it is a summary of the specific points (background, method, results, and conclusion). However, the abstract should not summarize the following:

  • introductory information from secondary sources: Most academic papers begin with dozens of pages of background information that describe other research. Generally, it is not necessary to include this information in your abstract. Instead, stick to describing the purpose of your own study.
  • the discussion section: The discussion section may involve speculation as to the causes of your findings, an attempt to compare your results to other studies, or a description of the limitations of your study. None of this information needs to be in the abstract.

In other words, an abstract does not equally summarize information from all parts of a research paper. It focuses on key information from specific sections.

Writing Tips – Language for Abstracts

  1. Be concise and clear: get to the point.
  2. Use the past tense to describe the methods and results (“Forty people were interviewed… The results showed that…”)
  3. Write in academic style. This means avoiding personal language, among other things.
  4. Don’t use paragraphing. An abstract should be a big block of text.

Lastly, because the abstract is a summary of key parts of your research paper, you should write it after you write your research paper (although the abstract should be place after your title page, at the beginning).

I hope this information has been useful for your academic writing. There is more to be said about abstracts, but I feel these tips will be helpful. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.

— Written by Matthew Barton (copyright) / Creator of Englishcurrent.com

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3 comments on “Advice on Writing an Abstract for a Research Paper

  1. Jasmeen kaur Sandhu (Posted on 8-4-2020 at 02:59) Reply

    It was really helpful, thx for posting it . It makes my learning easier.

  2. Laura (Posted on 8-6-2020 at 16:21) Reply

    Very clear, concise and helpful. Thank you so much.

  3. Karla L. (Posted on 8-7-2020 at 02:52) Reply

    Great examples, help to understand the topic

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