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How to Write a Research Paper
Writing a research paper is a bit more difficult that a standard high school essay. You need to site sources, use academic data and show scientific examples. Before beginning, you’ll need guidelines for how to write a research paper.
Start the Research Process
Before you begin writing the research paper, you must do your research. It is important that you understand the subject matter, formulate the ideas of your paper, create your thesis statement and learn how to speak about your given topic in an authoritative manner. You’ll be looking through online databases, encyclopedias, almanacs, periodicals, books, newspapers, government publications, reports, guides and scholarly resources. Take notes as you discover new information about your given topic. Also keep track of the references you use so you can build your bibliography later and cite your resources.
Develop Your Thesis Statement
When organizing your research paper, the thesis statement is where you explain to your readers what they can expect, present your claims, answer any questions that you were asked or explain your interpretation of the subject matter you’re researching. Therefore, the thesis statement must be strong and easy to understand. Your thesis statement must also be precise. It should answer the question you were assigned, and there should be an opportunity for your position to be opposed or disputed. The body of your manuscript should support your thesis, and it should be more than a generic fact.
Create an Outline
Many professors require outlines during the research paper writing process. You’ll find that they want outlines set up with a title page, abstract, introduction, research paper body and reference section. The title page is typically made up of the student’s name, the name of the college, the name of the class and the date of the paper. The abstract is a summary of the paper. An introduction typically consists of one or two pages and comments on the subject matter of the research paper. In the body of the research paper, you’ll be breaking it down into materials and methods, results and discussions. Your references are in your bibliography. Use a research paper example to help you with your outline if necessary.
Organize Your Notes
When writing your first draft, you’re going to have to work on organizing your notes first. During this process, you’ll be deciding which references you’ll be putting in your bibliography and which will work best as in-text citations. You’ll be working on this more as you develop your working drafts and look at more white paper examples to help guide you through the process.
Write Your Final Draft
After you’ve written a first and second draft and received corrections from your professor, it’s time to write your final copy. By now, you should have seen an example of a research paper layout and know how to put your paper together. You’ll have your title page, abstract, introduction, thesis statement, in-text citations, footnotes and bibliography complete. Be sure to check with your professor to ensure if you’re writing in APA style, or if you’re using another style guide.
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What is a "good" abstract?
• Self contained. Uses 1 or more well developed paragraphs • Uses introduction/body/conclusion structure • Presents purpose, results, conclusions and recommendations in that order • Adds no new information • Is understandable to a wide audience
Techniques to write an abstract
- Do the abstract last
- Reread the article looking specifically for the main parts: Purpose, methods, scope, results, conclusions, and recommendations
- Write a first rough draft without looking at the original article
- Edit your draft by correcting organization, improving transitions, dropping unnecessary information and words, and adding important information you left out
What is an abstract?
There are as many kinds as abstracts as there are types of research papers. The classic abstract is usually a "Informative" abstract. This kind of abstract communicates compressed information and include the purpose, methods, and scope of the article. They are usually short (250 words or less) and allow the reader to decide whether they want to read the article.
The goal is to communicate: 1. What was done? 2. Why was it done? 3. How was it done? 4. What was found? 5. What is the significance of the findings?
"Abstract Checklist" from: How to Write a Good Scientific Paper. Chris A. Mack. SPIE. 2018.
Abstract The abstract should be a concise (200 words or less), standalone summary of the paper, with 1–2 sentences on each of these topics: o Background: What issues led to this work? What is the environment that makes this work interesting or important? o Aim: What were the goals of this work? What gap is being filled? o Approach: What went into trying to achieve the aims (e.g., experimental method, simulation approach, theoretical approach, combinations of these, etc.)? What was actually done? o Results: What were the main results of the study (including numbers, if appropriate)? o Conclusions: What were the main conclusions? Why are the results important? Where will they lead?
The abstract should be written for the audience of this journal: do not assume too much or too little background with the topic. Ensure that all of the information found in the abstract also can be found in the body of the paper. Ensure that the important information of the paper is found in the abstract. Avoid: using the first paragraph of the introduction as an abstract; citations in the abstract; acronyms (but if used, spell them out); referring to figures or tables from the body of the paper; use of the first person; use of words like “new” or “novel,” or phrases like “in this paper,” “we report,” or “will be discussed.”
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How to Write a Scientific Abstract
Nair Hospital Dental College, Mumbai, India
Scientific publications are an important source of information and knowledge in Academics, Research and development. When articles are submitted for publication, the 1st part that comes across and causes an impact on the minds of the readers is the abstract. It is a concise summary of the paper and must convey the right message. It is a quick overview of the entire paper and giving a gist of the paper and also gives us and insight into whether the paper fulfills the expectations of the reader.
Abstracts are significant parts of academic assignments and research papers. The abstract is written at the end and by this time, the author has a clear picture regarding the findings and conclusions and hence the right message can be put forward.
Types of Scientific Abstracts [ 1 ]
- Non structured
This type of abstract is usually very short (50–100 words). Most descriptive abstracts have certain key parts in common. They are:
□ Particular interest/focus of paper
□ Overview of contents (not always included)
These abstracts are inconvenient in that, by not including a detailed presentation of the results, it is necessary to have access to the complete article ; they may present the results via a phrase synthesizing them, without contributing numerical or statistical data. Ultimately, these guide readers on the nature of the contents of the article, but it is necessary to read the whole manuscript to know further details [ 1 ].
From these abstracts, you must get the essence of what your report is about, usually in about 200 words. Most informative abstracts also have key parts in common. Each of these parts might consist of 1–2 sentences. The parts include:
□ Aim or purpose of research
□ Method used
The abstracts provide accurate data on the contents of the work, especially on the results section. Informative abstracts are short scientific productions, since they follow the IMRaD structure [ 2 ] and can in fact replace the whole text, because readers extract from these the most valuable information and in many instances it is not necessary to read the complete text.
Recommendations by the CONSORT [ 3 ] declaration, in its adaptation for abstracts, offer a guide for the elaboration of an abstract of a clinical trial in structured and informative manner, using up to 400 words and briefly including the Title, Methods (participants, interventions, objective, outcomes, randomization, blind tests), Results (number of randomizations, recruitment, number of analyses, outcome, important adverse effects), and Conclusions, registry of the clinical trial and conflict of interests.
A structured abstract has a paragraph for each section: Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, and Conclusion (it may even include paragraphs for the objectives or other sections). This type of presentation is often required for informative abstracts. The CONSORT [ 3 ] declaration suggests the presentation of clinical trials with structured abstracts . Structuring an abstract permits its informative development
A semi-structured abstract is written in only one paragraph, where each sentence corresponds to a section . All the sections of the article are present as in the structured abstract [ 1 ].
When the abstract does not present divisions between each section , and it may not even present any of them, it is a non-structured abstract. The sentences are included in a sole paragraph. This type of presentation is ideal for descriptive abstracts [ 1 ].
Key Steps to Plan Writing an Abstract [ 4 ]
- Introduction—what is the topic?
- Statement of purpose?
- Summarize why have other studies not tackled similar research questions?
- How has the research question been tackled?
- How was the research done?
- What is the key impact of the research?
Errors in the Creation of an Abstract [ 1 ]
- The abstract of an article should contribute to readers the most relevant aspects of each part of the whole manuscript, maintaining a balance between excessive detail and a vague contribution of information.
- The abstract should be written by adequately selecting the words and sentences to accomplish coherent, clear, and concise contents.
- A common defect is including adequate information like abbreviations, excessive acronyms, bibliographic references, or figures.
- The length of an abstract will be determined by the instructions to authors by each journal; an excessively lengthy abstract is the most frequent error.
- Sections should maintain coherence and order and that the conclusions must be substantiated by the results revealed and respond to the objectives proposed.
- Frequently, abstracts have poorly defined objectives, excessive numerical data and statistical results, and conclusions not based on results presented.
In short, a good abstract is one that:
- Is coherent and concise
- Covers all the essential academic elements of the full-length paper
- Contains no information not included in the paper;
- Is written in plain English and is understandable to a wider audience and discipline-specific audience;
- Uses passive structures in order to report on findings
- Uses the language of the original paper, in a more simplified form
- Usually does not include any referencing; and
- In publications such as journals, it is found at the beginning of the text, but in academic assignments, it is placed on a separate preliminary page.
A good abstract usually ensures a good article, but a bad abstract often points towards an undesirable article. Scientific abstracts are a challenge to write and for the success of our publications, careful and planned writing of the abstract is absolutely essential.
Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper
Definition and Purpose of Abstracts
An abstract is a short summary of your (published or unpublished) research paper, usually about a paragraph (c. 6-7 sentences, 150-250 words) long. A well-written abstract serves multiple purposes:
- an abstract lets readers get the gist or essence of your paper or article quickly, in order to decide whether to read the full paper;
- an abstract prepares readers to follow the detailed information, analyses, and arguments in your full paper;
- and, later, an abstract helps readers remember key points from your paper.
It’s also worth remembering that search engines and bibliographic databases use abstracts, as well as the title, to identify key terms for indexing your published paper. So what you include in your abstract and in your title are crucial for helping other researchers find your paper or article.
If you are writing an abstract for a course paper, your professor may give you specific guidelines for what to include and how to organize your abstract. Similarly, academic journals often have specific requirements for abstracts. So in addition to following the advice on this page, you should be sure to look for and follow any guidelines from the course or journal you’re writing for.
The Contents of an Abstract
Abstracts contain most of the following kinds of information in brief form. The body of your paper will, of course, develop and explain these ideas much more fully. As you will see in the samples below, the proportion of your abstract that you devote to each kind of information—and the sequence of that information—will vary, depending on the nature and genre of the paper that you are summarizing in your abstract. And in some cases, some of this information is implied, rather than stated explicitly. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association , which is widely used in the social sciences, gives specific guidelines for what to include in the abstract for different kinds of papers—for empirical studies, literature reviews or meta-analyses, theoretical papers, methodological papers, and case studies.
Here are the typical kinds of information found in most abstracts:
- the context or background information for your research; the general topic under study; the specific topic of your research
- the central questions or statement of the problem your research addresses
- what’s already known about this question, what previous research has done or shown
- the main reason(s) , the exigency, the rationale , the goals for your research—Why is it important to address these questions? Are you, for example, examining a new topic? Why is that topic worth examining? Are you filling a gap in previous research? Applying new methods to take a fresh look at existing ideas or data? Resolving a dispute within the literature in your field? . . .
- your research and/or analytical methods
- your main findings , results , or arguments
- the significance or implications of your findings or arguments.
Your abstract should be intelligible on its own, without a reader’s having to read your entire paper. And in an abstract, you usually do not cite references—most of your abstract will describe what you have studied in your research and what you have found and what you argue in your paper. In the body of your paper, you will cite the specific literature that informs your research.
When to Write Your Abstract
Although you might be tempted to write your abstract first because it will appear as the very first part of your paper, it’s a good idea to wait to write your abstract until after you’ve drafted your full paper, so that you know what you’re summarizing.
What follows are some sample abstracts in published papers or articles, all written by faculty at UW-Madison who come from a variety of disciplines. We have annotated these samples to help you see the work that these authors are doing within their abstracts.
Choosing Verb Tenses within Your Abstract
The social science sample (Sample 1) below uses the present tense to describe general facts and interpretations that have been and are currently true, including the prevailing explanation for the social phenomenon under study. That abstract also uses the present tense to describe the methods, the findings, the arguments, and the implications of the findings from their new research study. The authors use the past tense to describe previous research.
The humanities sample (Sample 2) below uses the past tense to describe completed events in the past (the texts created in the pulp fiction industry in the 1970s and 80s) and uses the present tense to describe what is happening in those texts, to explain the significance or meaning of those texts, and to describe the arguments presented in the article.
The science samples (Samples 3 and 4) below use the past tense to describe what previous research studies have done and the research the authors have conducted, the methods they have followed, and what they have found. In their rationale or justification for their research (what remains to be done), they use the present tense. They also use the present tense to introduce their study (in Sample 3, “Here we report . . .”) and to explain the significance of their study (In Sample 3, This reprogramming . . . “provides a scalable cell source for. . .”).
Sample Abstract 1
From the social sciences.
Reporting new findings about the reasons for increasing economic homogamy among spouses
Gonalons-Pons, Pilar, and Christine R. Schwartz. “Trends in Economic Homogamy: Changes in Assortative Mating or the Division of Labor in Marriage?” Demography , vol. 54, no. 3, 2017, pp. 985-1005.
Sample Abstract 2
From the humanities.
Analyzing underground pulp fiction publications in Tanzania, this article makes an argument about the cultural significance of those publications
Emily Callaci. “Street Textuality: Socialism, Masculinity, and Urban Belonging in Tanzania’s Pulp Fiction Publishing Industry, 1975-1985.” Comparative Studies in Society and History , vol. 59, no. 1, 2017, pp. 183-210.
Sample Abstract/Summary 3
From the sciences.
Reporting a new method for reprogramming adult mouse fibroblasts into induced cardiac progenitor cells
Lalit, Pratik A., Max R. Salick, Daryl O. Nelson, Jayne M. Squirrell, Christina M. Shafer, Neel G. Patel, Imaan Saeed, Eric G. Schmuck, Yogananda S. Markandeya, Rachel Wong, Martin R. Lea, Kevin W. Eliceiri, Timothy A. Hacker, Wendy C. Crone, Michael Kyba, Daniel J. Garry, Ron Stewart, James A. Thomson, Karen M. Downs, Gary E. Lyons, and Timothy J. Kamp. “Lineage Reprogramming of Fibroblasts into Proliferative Induced Cardiac Progenitor Cells by Defined Factors.” Cell Stem Cell , vol. 18, 2016, pp. 354-367.
Sample Abstract 4, a Structured Abstract
Reporting results about the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy in managing acute bacterial sinusitis, from a rigorously controlled study
Note: This journal requires authors to organize their abstract into four specific sections, with strict word limits. Because the headings for this structured abstract are self-explanatory, we have chosen not to add annotations to this sample abstract.
Wald, Ellen R., David Nash, and Jens Eickhoff. “Effectiveness of Amoxicillin/Clavulanate Potassium in the Treatment of Acute Bacterial Sinusitis in Children.” Pediatrics , vol. 124, no. 1, 2009, pp. 9-15.
“OBJECTIVE: The role of antibiotic therapy in managing acute bacterial sinusitis (ABS) in children is controversial. The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of high-dose amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate in the treatment of children diagnosed with ABS.
METHODS : This was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Children 1 to 10 years of age with a clinical presentation compatible with ABS were eligible for participation. Patients were stratified according to age (<6 or ≥6 years) and clinical severity and randomly assigned to receive either amoxicillin (90 mg/kg) with potassium clavulanate (6.4 mg/kg) or placebo. A symptom survey was performed on days 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 20, and 30. Patients were examined on day 14. Children’s conditions were rated as cured, improved, or failed according to scoring rules.
RESULTS: Two thousand one hundred thirty-five children with respiratory complaints were screened for enrollment; 139 (6.5%) had ABS. Fifty-eight patients were enrolled, and 56 were randomly assigned. The mean age was 6630 months. Fifty (89%) patients presented with persistent symptoms, and 6 (11%) presented with nonpersistent symptoms. In 24 (43%) children, the illness was classified as mild, whereas in the remaining 32 (57%) children it was severe. Of the 28 children who received the antibiotic, 14 (50%) were cured, 4 (14%) were improved, 4(14%) experienced treatment failure, and 6 (21%) withdrew. Of the 28children who received placebo, 4 (14%) were cured, 5 (18%) improved, and 19 (68%) experienced treatment failure. Children receiving the antibiotic were more likely to be cured (50% vs 14%) and less likely to have treatment failure (14% vs 68%) than children receiving the placebo.
CONCLUSIONS : ABS is a common complication of viral upper respiratory infections. Amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate results in significantly more cures and fewer failures than placebo, according to parental report of time to resolution.” (9)
Some Excellent Advice about Writing Abstracts for Basic Science Research Papers, by Professor Adriano Aguzzi from the Institute of Neuropathology at the University of Zurich:
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How to Write a Scientific Abstract for Your Research Article | Parts of a Research Article
Karen McKee, Scientist
January 21, 2022
One of the most important parts of a scientific research article is the abstract. Why? Because they act like advertisements for your paper. Successful authors put substantial effort into crafting their abstracts as it is often the only section of a paper that is read! And will determine whether a reader decides to continue. In the case of a conference paper, the abstract will determine whether it is accepted or not for presentation to colleagues. Conference organizers and journal editors and reviewers pay close attention to the abstract because it is a good predictor of the quality of the paper or talk. A poorly written abstract says the author is inexperienced or doesn’t care about quality.
What is the purpose of a scientific abstract?
Essentially, an abstract should reflect all the parts of your research paper, including yourself, but in shortened form. In other words, a person reading only your abstract should be able to:
- understand why you conducted the study
- how you conducted it
- what you found,
- and why your work is important.
In general, avoid the novice’s cut-and-paste approach when crafting your abstract and instead write a unique, standalone summary. Although inclusion of data is acceptable, report only those numbers that represent the most important information. Some authors include citations or URLs in their abstracts, but many journals discourage or prohibit such additions. Be sure to stay within the word limit, which most journals and conferences set for abstracts. Use Wiley Author Services to find the best journal for publication of your paper and understand their submission process for more details.
Let’s now consider how to write an abstract. Some journals or conferences provide a template that specifies four or five sections, e.g., Background or Aim, Question, Methods, Results, and Conclusions. If so, then follow those instructions. If not, then the four-part structure provided below will serve as a basic guideline. If you follow this formula, your abstract will be well organized and will contain all the essential elements. There are four main parts in which you need to answer the following questions:
How to Write an Abstract
1. what problem did you study and why is it important.
Here, you want to provide some background to the study, the motivation behind the study, and/or the specific question or hypothesis you addressed. You may be able to set the stage with only one or two sentences, but sometimes it takes a longer description. You’ll have to use your best judgment here as to how much to say in this first section.
2. What methods did you use to study the problem?
Next, you want to give an overview of your methods. Was it a field study or a laboratory experiment? What experimental treatments were applied? Generally, you want to keep the methods section brief unless it is the focus of the paper.
3. What were your key findings?
When describing your results, strive to focus on the main finding(s) and list no more than two or three points. Also, avoid ambiguous or imprecise wording, which is a common mistake found in conference abstracts written before the data have been completely collected or analyzed. If your data are incomplete or still being analyzed, you are not ready to present your paper.
4. What did you conclude based on these findings and what are the broader implications?
The conclusions section is where you want to drive home the broader implications of your study. What is new or innovative about the findings? How do your findings affect the field of study? Are there any applications? In writing this section, however, don’t state sweeping generalizations unsupported by the data or say that insights “will be discussed”.
What other considerations should I take when writing my abstract?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which means including keywords people are likely to use when looking for papers on your topic . In addition to including such terms in the title and keyword field of your paper, you want to repeat those terms contextually throughout the abstract. Such repetition is used by search engines to rank an online document. By optimizing your abstract for discovery by search engines, you can raise the ranking of your paper in a search and make it easier for colleagues to find.
Some journals are now encouraging or requiring “enhanced abstracts” such as graphical abstracts or video abstracts . Although such abstracts include additional visual components, the same basic guidelines I’ve covered in this post still apply. All good abstracts recapitulate the paper and contain the four key parts listed above.
Writing good abstracts is not an art, but a learned skill. Developing such a skill takes practice. Here is an exercise to help you develop this skill. Pick a scientific article in your field. Read the paper with the abstract covered. Then try to write an abstract based on your reading. Compare your abstract to the author’s. Repeat until you feel confident. If you’ve not yet published a paper, this exercise will help you hone the skills necessary to write a concise and informative abstract.
If you would like to view a presentation that summarizes the points in this post and uses a published abstract to illustrate, see this link.
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An abstract summarizes, usually in one paragraph of 300 words or less, the major aspects of the entire paper in a prescribed sequence that includes: 1) the overall purpose of the study and the research problem(s) you investigated; 2) the basic design of the study; 3) major findings or trends found as a result of your analysis; and, 4) a brief summary of your interpretations and conclusions.
Writing an Abstract. The Writing Center. Clarion University, 2009; Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper. The Writing Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Importance of a Good Abstract
Sometimes your professor will ask you to include an abstract, or general summary of your work, with your research paper. The abstract allows you to elaborate upon each major aspect of the paper and helps readers decide whether they want to read the rest of the paper. Therefore, enough key information [e.g., summary results, observations, trends, etc.] must be included to make the abstract useful to someone who may want to examine your work.
How do you know when you have enough information in your abstract? A simple rule-of-thumb is to imagine that you are another researcher doing a similar study. Then ask yourself: if your abstract was the only part of the paper you could access, would you be happy with the amount of information presented there? Does it tell the whole story about your study? If the answer is "no" then the abstract likely needs to be revised.
How to Write a Research Abstract. Office of Undergraduate Research. University of Kentucky; Staiger, David L. “What Today’s Students Need to Know about Writing Abstracts.” International Journal of Business Communication January 3 (1966): 29-33; Swales, John M. and Christine B. Feak. Abstracts and the Writing of Abstracts . Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2009.
Structure and Writing Style
I. Types of Abstracts
To begin, you need to determine which type of abstract you should include with your paper. There are four general types.
Critical Abstract A critical abstract provides, in addition to describing main findings and information, a judgment or comment about the study’s validity, reliability, or completeness. The researcher evaluates the paper and often compares it with other works on the same subject. Critical abstracts are generally 400-500 words in length due to the additional interpretive commentary. These types of abstracts are used infrequently.
Descriptive Abstract A descriptive abstract indicates the type of information found in the work. It makes no judgments about the work, nor does it provide results or conclusions of the research. It does incorporate key words found in the text and may include the purpose, methods, and scope of the research. Essentially, the descriptive abstract only describes the work being summarized. Some researchers consider it an outline of the work, rather than a summary. Descriptive abstracts are usually very short, 100 words or less. Informative Abstract The majority of abstracts are informative. While they still do not critique or evaluate a work, they do more than describe it. A good informative abstract acts as a surrogate for the work itself. That is, the researcher presents and explains all the main arguments and the important results and evidence in the paper. An informative abstract includes the information that can be found in a descriptive abstract [purpose, methods, scope] but it also includes the results and conclusions of the research and the recommendations of the author. The length varies according to discipline, but an informative abstract is usually no more than 300 words in length.
Highlight Abstract A highlight abstract is specifically written to attract the reader’s attention to the study. No pretense is made of there being either a balanced or complete picture of the paper and, in fact, incomplete and leading remarks may be used to spark the reader’s interest. In that a highlight abstract cannot stand independent of its associated article, it is not a true abstract and, therefore, rarely used in academic writing.
II. Writing Style
Use the active voice when possible , but note that much of your abstract may require passive sentence constructions. Regardless, write your abstract using concise, but complete, sentences. Get to the point quickly and always use the past tense because you are reporting on a study that has been completed.
Abstracts should be formatted as a single paragraph in a block format and with no paragraph indentations. In most cases, the abstract page immediately follows the title page. Do not number the page. Rules set forth in writing manual vary but, in general, you should center the word "Abstract" at the top of the page with double spacing between the heading and the abstract. The final sentences of an abstract concisely summarize your study’s conclusions, implications, or applications to practice and, if appropriate, can be followed by a statement about the need for additional research revealed from the findings.
Composing Your Abstract
Although it is the first section of your paper, the abstract should be written last since it will summarize the contents of your entire paper. A good strategy to begin composing your abstract is to take whole sentences or key phrases from each section of the paper and put them in a sequence that summarizes the contents. Then revise or add connecting phrases or words to make the narrative flow clearly and smoothly. Note that statistical findings should be reported parenthetically [i.e., written in parentheses].
Before handing in your final paper, check to make sure that the information in the abstract completely agrees with what you have written in the paper. Think of the abstract as a sequential set of complete sentences describing the most crucial information using the fewest necessary words. The abstract SHOULD NOT contain:
- A catchy introductory phrase, provocative quote, or other device to grab the reader's attention,
- Lengthy background or contextual information,
- Redundant phrases, unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, and repetitive information;
- Acronyms or abbreviations,
- References to other literature [say something like, "current research shows that..." or "studies have indicated..."],
- Using ellipticals [i.e., ending with "..."] or incomplete sentences,
- Jargon or terms that may be confusing to the reader,
- Citations to other works, and
- Any sort of image, illustration, figure, or table, or references to them.
Abstract. Writing Center. University of Kansas; Abstract. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College; Abstracts. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Borko, Harold and Seymour Chatman. "Criteria for Acceptable Abstracts: A Survey of Abstracters' Instructions." American Documentation 14 (April 1963): 149-160; Abstracts. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Hartley, James and Lucy Betts. "Common Weaknesses in Traditional Abstracts in hte Social Sciences." Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 60 (October 2009): 2010-2018; Procter, Margaret. The Abstract. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Riordan, Laura. “Mastering the Art of Abstracts.” The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 115 (January 2015 ): 41-47; Writing Report Abstracts. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Abstracts. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Koltay, Tibor. Abstracts and Abstracting: A Genre and Set of Skills for the Twenty-First Century . Oxford, UK: 2010; Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper. The Writing Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Never Cite Just the Abstract!
Citing to just a journal article's abstract does not confirm for the reader that you have conducted a thorough or reliable review of the literature. If the full-text is not available, go to the USC Libraries main page and enter the title of the article [NOT the title of the journal]. If the Libraries have a subscription to the journal, the article should appear with a link to the full-text or to the journal publisher page where you can get the article. If the article does not appear, try searching Google Scholar using the link on the USC Libraries main page. If you still can't find the article after doing this, contact a librarian or you can request it from our free i nterlibrary loan and document delivery service .
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Writing an Abstract
What is an abstract.
An abstract is a 150- to 250-word paragraph that provides readers with a quick overview of your essay or report and its organization. It should express your thesis (or central idea) and your key points; it should also suggest any implications or applications of the research you discuss in the paper.
According to Carole Slade, an abstract is “a concise summary of the entire paper.”
The function of an abstract is to describe, not to evaluate or defend, the paper.
The abstract should begin with a brief but precise statement of the problem or issue, followed by a description of the research method and design, the major findings, and the conclusions reached.
The abstract should contain the most important key words referring to method and content: these facilitate access to the abstract by computer search and enable a reader to decide whether to read the entire dissertation.
Note: Your abstract should read like an overview of your paper, not a proposal for what you intended to study or accomplish. Avoid beginning your sentences with phrases like, “This essay will examine...” or “In this research paper I will attempt to prove...”
(The examples above are taken from Form and Style (10th ed.), by Carole Slade; The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers (5th ed.); and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.).)
Note: The following are specifications for an abstract in APA style, used in the social sciences, such as psychology or anthropology. If you are in another discipline, check with your professor about the format for the abstract.
Writing an Abstract for an IMRaD Paper
Many papers in the social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering sciences follow IMRaD structure: their main sections are entitled Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. People use the abstract to decide whether to read the rest of the paper, so the abstract for such a paper is important.
Because the abstract provides the highlights of the paper, you should draft your abstract after you have written a full draft of the paper. Doing so, you can summarize what you’ve already written in the paper as you compose the abstract.
Typically, an abstract for an IMRaD paper or presentation is one or two paragraphs long (120 – 500 words). Abstracts usually spend
25% of their space on the purpose and importance of the research (Introduction)
25% of their space on what you did (Methods)
35% of their space on what you found (Results)
15% of their space on the implications of the research
Try to avoid these common problems in IMRaD abstracts:
1. The abstract provides a statement of what the paper will ask or explore rather than what it found:
X This report examines the causes of oversleeping. (What did it find out about these causes?) √ Individuals oversleep because they go to bed too late, forget to set their alarms, and keep their rooms dark.
2. The abstract provides general categories rather than specific details in the findings:
X The study draws conclusions about which variables are most important in choosing a movie theater. (What, specifically, are these variables?)
√ The study concludes that the most important variables in choosing a movie theater are comfortable seats and high-quality popcorn.
How to Write an Abstract for a Scientific Paper
- Chemical Laws
- Periodic Table
- Projects & Experiments
- Scientific Method
- Physical Chemistry
- Medical Chemistry
- Chemistry In Everyday Life
- Famous Chemists
- Activities for Kids
- Abbreviations & Acronyms
- Weather & Climate
- Ph.D., Biomedical Sciences, University of Tennessee at Knoxville
- B.A., Physics and Mathematics, Hastings College
If you're preparing a research paper or grant proposal, you'll need to know how to write an abstract. Here's a look at what an abstract is and how to write one.
An abstract is a concise summary of an experiment or research project. It should be brief -- typically under 200 words. The purpose of the abstract is to summarize the research paper by stating the purpose of the research, the experimental method, the findings, and the conclusions.
How to Write an Abstract
The format you'll use for the abstract depends on its purpose. If you're writing for a specific publication or a class assignment, you'll probably need to follow specific guidelines. If there isn't a required format, you'll need to choose from one of two possible types of abstracts.
An informational abstract is a type of abstract used to communicate an experiment or lab report .
- An informational abstract is like a mini-paper. Its length ranges from a paragraph to 1 to 2 pages, depending on the scope of the report. Aim for less than 10% the length of the full report.
- Summarize all aspects of the report, including purpose, method, results, conclusions, and recommendations. There are no graphs, charts, tables, or images in an abstract. Similarly, an abstract does not include a bibliography or references.
- Highlight important discoveries or anomalies. It's okay if the experiment did not go as planned and necessary to state the outcome in the abstract.
Here is a good format to follow, in order, when writing an informational abstract. Each section is a sentence or two long:
- Motivation or Purpose: State why the subject is important or why anyone should care about the experiment and its results.
- Problem: State the hypothesis of the experiment or describe the problem you are trying to solve.
- Method: How did you test the hypothesis or try to solve the problem?
- Results: What was the outcome of the study? Did you support or reject a hypothesis? Did you solve a problem? How close were the results to what you expected? State-specific numbers.
- Conclusions: What is the significance of your findings? Do the results lead to an increase in knowledge, a solution that may be applied to other problems, etc.?
Need examples? The abstracts at PubMed.gov (National Institutes of Health database) are informational abstracts. A random example is this abstract on the effect of coffee consumption on Acute Coronary Syndrome .
A descriptive abstract is an extremely brief description of the contents of a report. Its purpose is to tell the reader what to expect from the full paper.
- A descriptive abstract is very short, typically less than 100 words.
- Tells the reader what the report contains, but doesn't go into detail.
- It briefly summarizes the purpose and experimental method, but not the results or conclusions. Basically, say why and how the study was made, but don't go into findings.
Tips for Writing a Good Abstract
- Write the paper before writing the abstract. You might be tempted to start with the abstract since it comes between the title page and the paper, but it's much easier to summarize a paper or report after it has been completed.
- Write in the third person. Replace phrases like "I found" or "we examined" with phrases like "it was determined" or "this paper provides" or "the investigators found".
- Write the abstract and then pare it down to meet the word limit. In some cases, a long abstract will result in automatic rejection for publication or a grade!
- Think of keywords and phrases a person looking for your work might use or enter into a search engine. Include those words in your abstract. Even if the paper won't be published, this is a good habit to develop.
- All information in the abstract must be covered in the body of the paper. Don't put a fact in the abstract that isn't described in the report.
- Proof-read the abstract for typos, spelling mistakes, and punctuation errors.
Watch Now: How to Write a Bibliography
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A good strategy to begin composing your abstract is to take whole sentences or key phrases from each section of the paper and put them in a
The abstract should begin with a brief but precise statement of the problem or issue, followed by a description of the research method and design, the major
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An abstract is a concise summary of an experiment or research project. It should be brief -- typically under 200 words. The purpose of the