A Guide to Writing Abstracts
An abstract is simply a summary of your research article. A good abstract briefly and precisely explains what a research paper is about and what readers can expect to find from it. A shortly written abstract plays an important role as it helps readers to decide whether to continue reading the article or not. It’s crucial to follow the simple guidelines for writing an abstract to help your readers quickly determine if the article is interesting. Note that most of the articles are rejected by publishers due to poorly crafted abstracts.
In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about abstracts, including tips on how to write a killer abstract.
What is an Abstract
As mentioned above, an abstract is designed to briefly summarize the main information contained in a research paper without giving lots of detail. The sections of an abstract depend on your niche and the journal you intend to submit your article. Keep in mind that an abstract is not a review, although it includes the key terms and frameworks contained in the research paper. An abstract is regarded as an original piece of writing and not necessarily a text extracted from the main paper.
Different Types of Abstracts
Types of abstracts are based on factors like style, format or substance. Be sure to consult the journal or your supervisor to know the kind of abstract they need. The main types of abstracts are structured/unstructured and descriptive/informative.
A structured abstract is presented in separate sections. The sections include an introduction, methods, results and discussion. Structured abstracts are the most preferred type nowadays.
Unstructured abstracts are presented in a single paragraph and still have the same information as structured ones. This type does not have any specific topic per section or paragraph. However, the details, sequence and order should be similar to structured abstract.
A descriptive abstract describes the kind of details contained in the main article. This type of abstract does not evaluate the paper or offer definitive research results or conclusions. It gives the main concepts or terms found in the article and may include the objectives, methods, and scope of the research. A descriptive abstract is more of an outline than a long synopsis and is, in most cases, short- about 100-150 words.
In an informative abstract, the author elaborates on all main arguments and critical sections such as outcomes, study participants and other important information. Informative abstracts are often longer as they present helpful information about the research paper.
When to Write an Abstract
- Applying for research grants
- Writing a patent
- Preparing a proposal for a conference paper
- Submitting articles to journals
- Completing an undergraduate/ M.A thesis or Ph. D. dissertation
- Submitting a book proposal
- Writing a proposal for a book chapter
Tips on Preparing an Abstract
- Complete your research article first. Although an abstract appears at the beginning of your paper, it should be the last section to write. Once you complete your article, you can use it as a guide to crafting your abstract.
- Use the same order as your article. Structure your abstract the way your paper is written. Start with a brief summary of the introduction, then a synopsis of the method, followed by results and conclusion.
- Keep it short. Generally, an abstract should have about 150-250 words. Note that the number of words varies per journal, institution, funding organization, publisher etc. Be sure to verify the accepted length before submitting an abstract.
- Create a rough draft of your abstract. Although an abstract should be brief, you must be keen not to make it very short and omit the key points. It’s essential to prepare a rough draft to ensure all major sections are included. You can then edit and rewrite it for clarity and length.
- Check other abstracts in a peer-reviewed journal to get an idea of the styles used and apply them to your abstract.
- Request a colleague to go through your abstract. It will help you to get new perspectives and spot mistakes.
- Do not include references. Unless the conference requires it, never include references in your abstract. The reader will lose interest in your paper.
- Avoid jargon, abbreviations, repetition of words, tables, figures, superlative and informal words, complimenting one’s own work and overusing active voice.