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How to prepare an abstract

Abstract writing
The length of the abstract should be restricted to the limit set by the journal or relevant academic regulation, often about 250 words (say about 15 sentences). The abstract consists of 5 linked parts: background, problem, methods, results, and implications. The proportion of the abstract taken by each part varies considerably. You need to get the attention of the reader with the abstract, make them interested in your work.

Briefly set up the background and context to the study, its rationale and significance. Within this background, you need to couch the problem.

Here you need to identify the particular research problem under investigation, the purpose of the study, and any specific research objectives or hypotheses.

Outline the approach you took and the methods you used to investigate the problem. Describe the extent of the study, what you did or measured, and how you did it. Specify the location of the study and when it was performed.

Give any important data. Be specific, not vague. Quantify if possible; avoid terms such as "most" or "some" if you have the specific numbers. State the major interpretations and findings, how the findings relate to the original research problem, and any limitations/caveats on the results.

Finish by stating the contribution of the work and its implications. There may be implications for associated problems, or for previous studies, e.g., reinterpretation of a previous model may be necessary in the light of your findings. Do your results have general or specific application or relevance?

Abstracts for meetings, conferences, and conference proceedings are sometimes more speculative/descriptive in nature and may not completely follow this structure.

Abstract tips

  • make your own work sound interesting and exciting, after all, if you can't, who can?
  • avoid long-winded, complex sentences
  • avoid excessive use of jargon
  • keep within the specified word limit, otherwise someone else may chop it down for you
  • ensure the abstract contains all your key words (for the searchable databases)
  • short abstracts (100-300 words, for articles and papers) should usually be a single unified paragraph; longer abstracts for theses and reports may be paragraphed

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last updated 08/03/2005 by Christian and Anja