How to Write a Clear and Concise Abstract
- What Is an Abstract?
- Types of Abstracts
- What Is the Purpose of an Abstract?
- Typical Structure of Academic Abstract
- Examples of Abstracts
The quantity of academic and scholarly knowledge is increasing at an unprecedented rate, facilitated by technological applications. For students and researchers to keep up with this pace, they need to be able to access and preview the most authoritative and relevant material. Consequently, abstracts have become a prominent requirement for writing academic and scholarly papers. Unfortunately, most people do not understand the intricacies involved in producing exceptional abstracts. Here, you will find information on some strategies to use for this important document, as well as examples to follow. The article begins with a definition of an abstract.
Definitions and Types of Abstracts
Before we explore how to write an abstract, we need first to understand what it is that we intend to write. While there is no universal consensus on the definition of the concept, most definitions seem to agree on one point, that abstracting implies summarizing. Let us explore the meaning further.
What Is an Abstract?
An abstract implies a short and objective description of an intellectual resource. Most instructors require their students to submit an abstract together with their papers. Abstracts, by their nature, must include enough information for readers to judge the significance and character of the topic, the adequacy of the methodology, as well as the nature of the findings and conclusions. In this respect, an abstract is a highly condensed version of a paper, which offers a preview of what the reader can expect from the whole text. From this section, a reader should have an understanding of the main points you make. The goal is to demonstrate why the text is worth reading further.
What Are the Types of Abstracts and How Do You Choose?
There are three main types of abstracts, appropriate for different kinds of papers. These are the descriptive, critical, and informative types. A descriptive abstract presents information as is, without passing judgment on the outcome. In other words, you will not be expected to provide a conclusion of the research. Instead, you should offer a general outline of how the topic was studied. This type of abstract is short, often less than 100 words.
The second type is the informative abstract. Unlike the descriptive variant, this type goes beyond a mere description of processes, offering explanations of the research question, the thesis, findings, and the main evidence. You will need to use a clear and concise language and avoid jargons and ambiguities. The informative abstract is ideal for strictly structured documents like lab reports, surveys, and empirical studies.
It has four important components including:
- Purpose —Stating the rationale for or the main objectives of the study
- The methodology used —Highlighting the techniques used to carry out the research
- Findings —Presenting the data or observations collected in the course of the research
- Conclusions —Your analysis or evaluation of the findings and their implications
Unlike the other two variants, a critical abstract offers, in addition to a description of the findings and information, a comment or judgment about the validity, completeness, or reliability of the findings. The researcher evaluates the work, often comparing it with other similar papers on the subject. This type of abstracts is rare and usually takes between 400-500 words due to the additional interpretive commentary.
So, which type of abstract is right for you? Well, the choice between these two will depend on your discipline and paper type. The safest strategy would be to ask your instructor for clarification or to refer to the prompt. You could also make an informed guess based on the length permitted, with more than 25o words implying an informative abstract.
What Is the Purpose of an Abstract in Academic Papers?
As you write an abstract, you should keep in mind the purpose it should serve. One of the main objectives for writing an abstract is to offer your audience with useful information about the paper. This component is also meant to help readers to assess and choose a paper that would assist in their own research. In other words, the reader should be able to identify the bare-bones information about the original paper, without having to read the actual document. This is, however, not to say that an abstract is a simple summary of a document or a critique of that document. Rather, it is a synthesis of the main components of the paper, aimed at offering insight into the study.
An abstract is also a requirement for any paper meant to appear in a database as it facilitates search. In other words, if your paper has a thorough descriptive abstract, readers can easily locate and use it for research, thereby enhancing your reputation as a scholar. An abstract is, therefore, the important part to be selected for reading and research.
When Do People Write Abstracts?
Since an abstract is a concise synthesis of your paper, it can only be written for a document that is complete. There are times when an instructor may explicitly request for an abstract. Other times, the writer is left to use his or her own discretion on whether to include an abstract or not.
Here are some of the times when you need to write an abstract:
- When making applications for research grants
- When making submissions to journals, particularly online ones
- When completing a master’s thesis or Ph.D. dissertation
- When submitting a book proposal or proposal for a book chapter
- When finalizing a proposal for a conference paper
- When explicitly indicated as part of the assignment
In most cases, the author of the paper (or prospective work) complete the draft. However, there are some professional abstracting services that hire expert writers to create abstracts for other people’s work. When a paper has been produced by multiple authors, it is often the responsibility of the first author to write the abstract. Please note that, during your undergraduate studies, you may be asked to draft abstracts of articles or books for fellow students who have not had the chance to read the larger text.
Typical Structure of Academic Abstract
Flexibility is allowed in the structuring of an academic structure.
However, you need to observe the ABCs, which are:
- Accuracy —Make sure that you include only information that is in the actual document
- Brevity —A stellar abstract is concise and gets straight to the point. Do not waste space with superfluous
- Clarity —Avoid jargons and ambiguous words. Make sure that the abstract can be understood as a standalone document.
The secret to writing a good abstract is planning.
Start out by organizing your writing around six sentences that cover these sections:
- An introduction, where you offer a description of what is included in the paper
- A statement of the problem
- A summary of why the research question has not been answered before
- An explanation of how you approached the research question
- An outline of the methods you used
- An insight into the key implications of the study
What All Abstracts Must Include
All good abstracts function as a summary of the main points in a paper. They must be written in clear and concise language.
In addition, such a synthesis must contain the following:
- The purpose of the study
- The research problem
- The basic study design
- Main findings or trends emerging from the research
- A brief summary of your conclusions and interpretations
- The same language and style as the original paper
- Key phrases and words that quickly identify the focus and content of the paper
- Concise and clear language
What Abstracts May Include
In addition to the already mentioned elements, and depending on the type of paper and discipline, an abstract may also include:
- The thesis statement of the work
- Some background information that places the work in the context
- A chronological arrangement similar to the original paper
Tips on How to Draft a Stellar Abstract
While the abstract is the section that your readers will come across first, it should be written last. This way, you can summarize all the main elements of the work. Start out by taking important sentences and phrases for every section, and placing them in a sequence that summarizes the work. You can then revise the wording and add connecting words or phrases to make the narrative flow seamlessly. Before submitting the final draft, make sure that information included in the abstract completely agrees with what is written in the paper.
Examples of Abstracts
Example 1: Investigating the Effects of Exposure to Insecticide On the Movement and Population Size of Ground Beetles.
Estimates of the size of the arthropod population may experience paradoxical increases following the application of insecticide. Previous research with ground beetles has suggested that such an association is reflected in the increased movement of ground beetles, rather than actual changes in the population sizes. It is, however, unclear whether direct or indirect mechanisms are responsible for the changes in movement patterns. This study, through a video tracking process, demonstrates that a brief exposure to chemicals increases the total distance moved by beetles, as well as maximum velocity. The study has significant implications for the use of chemicals in farming.
Example 2: The Long-Term Impact of Childhood Obesity on Morbidity
Few systematic reviews have explored the health implications of child and adolescent obesity in the long-term. The current study sought to synthesize the evidence on the long-term effects of obesity in relation to morbidity in adulthood. Basing its analysis on studies published between 2010 and 2018, it was established that there is a fairly consistent body of evidence demonstrating a connection between childhood obesity and premature mortality as well as physical morbidity.
These examples follow the convention of restating the purpose of the research, highlighting the method used, and the outcomes. As you can see, with proper planning and execution, you can write concise and clear abstract. Just make sure to read and edit your final draft before submitting it carefully.