How To
7 min read

First Impressions are Everything: Here’s How to Write a Great Abstract

Rachel Chaiet

June 30, 2022

Reading abstracts is a right of passage for all students. But when it’s time to write one ourselves, it’s easy to get a bit stuck. 

So how do you write an abstract that will make the grade? Find out everything you need to know in this guide, which includes everything you need to know about creating a successful abstract that will inform your audience and compel them to read the rest of your paper. 

white ruled paper

What is an abstract?

An abstract is like a highlight reel or a movie trailer — but for an academic paper. Abstracts appear at the beginning of an essay, report, or study for the purpose of introducing the reader to what’s in store.

A good abstract should be about 150-250 words long and summarize the main points of the work: the thesis, methodology, findings, and implications. The ultimate goal of an abstract is to maximize the chances of the rest of the document being read, so the paragraph should be both engaging and informative.

Your abstract should always answer the following questions:

  • What is the problem or question that your work proposes?
  • What is the answer to this problem or question? Oftentimes, this will include a recommendation or a call to action to continue research on the topic.
  • Why is this important? Who does it affect?
  • How did you approach the problem?
  • What are your results, and what are the implications of these results on your field of study? How do they relate to other findings in the same area?

To help you understand the difference between a successful abstract and one that doesn’t quite meet the mark, check out the two examples below.

Example 1:

This paper presents a framework for a Human Resources recruitment program in the construction industry. We determine the effect of experience, location, and career development on a candidate’s success. We describe how Human Resources professionals working in the construction industry can use this knowledge to hire candidates who will be more likely to succeed long-term in their positions. This paper also includes commentary on the importance of our findings to the wider Human Resources field. 

Example 2:

Within the Human Resources field, recruitment in the construction industry poses unique challenges — namely, one of the highest rates of employee overturn and job dissatisfaction in any industry. We aimed to explore the recruitment factors that would help improve this, administering a survey to over 1,000 construction workers in the Chicago area to gather data on job satisfaction and personal, educational, and organizational qualities. 

The survey analysis showed that experience, home distance to work, and career development positively affect a construction worker’s long-term job satisfaction in an employment position. 

The implications of this study indicate that job satisfaction in the construction industry is dependent on both organization and personal qualities. We recommend further research to determine whether the same results apply in different geographical locations. 

You can probably tell which of the examples is the better one. The second abstract incorporates storytelling to help the reader understand the situation and the purpose of the study. On the other hand, the first example is relatively bland and doesn’t answer all of the questions an abstract should cover (listed above). 

When writing an abstract, make sure you’re providing enough context and information in a style that is engaging and easy to understand. While it should be formal, that doesn’t mean it has to be boring!

When should you write an abstract?

If you’re writing a thesis, dissertation, research paper, or article for an academic journal, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll have to include an abstract. 

Although the abstract will be at the beginning of your document, right underneath the title, it’s not the first thing you should write. In fact, it should actually be the last. After you’ve written your essay, you’ll understand the full scope of your concept and everything you want to say — this will make it easy to summarize the most important parts of your document in your abstract. 

You’ll also want to get feedback from your advisors and peers on your document before writing the abstract. You may need to do some extra work depending on what that feedback is, which will determine the contents of your abstract as well.

How do I start an abstract?

To start your abstract, clearly define the purpose of your research. Set the scene for your reader to help them quickly determine whether your paper will answer their questions or pique their interest. Whether or not you want to include some brief context on your topic's social or academic relevance is up to you. However, you don’t want to be too detailed here. 

Identify the problem and state the objective of your research. Some handy verbs you can use to describe exactly what you set out to do are investigate, test, analyze, and evaluate. Your writing should always be in the present or past tense, and the tense you use should be consistent. You can’t write in the future tense since the research is already complete!

In one or two sentences, explain the research methods you used to answer your question. Next, summarize the main results you found. Your paper may include several findings, but your abstract should highlight the most important ones to help your reader understand your conclusion.

Finally, you’ll want to conclude your abstract with a statement on the main takeaways from your research. Here is where you should answer the question or problem you posed at the beginning. 

Not sure how to get started? Try Copy.ai’s Essay Intro tool, which makes it easy to write and even brainstorm introduction ideas for your abstract. Check it out here.

How to write an abstract

1. Consider your audience and publication

Think about who is going to read your paper. Are they in the medical profession? Are they in academia? Or maybe it’ll just be everyday people reading your work.

Whoever your audience is, you need to use language that is appropriate and relevant to them. Don’t use terminology your readers aren’t likely to understand and don’t use a conversational tone if you’re targeting an academic or professional audience. To avoid these pitfalls, always consider your potential audience groups and make sure your abstract will work for them.

You might also want to think about the keywords your audience is likely to use when searching for articles on your subject. Plugging these keywords into your abstract will help you appear higher in search engine results.

2. Provide introductory background information

The first 1-3 sentences are valuable real estate in an abstract. After all, it’s their job to tell the reader precisely why you have embarked on this research journey. You’ll want to make these sentences intriguing and enlightening so your reader understands the problem and wants to find out more.

3. Briefly describe your methodology 

Introduce the methodology you used with a quick summary of the basic design of your research. If there are limitations to your research methodology, you’ll want to mention them as well. For example, if your research method was in-depth interviews, your sample size was likely not as large due to the time required to conduct interviews. This is a limitation you can briefly outline in your abstract.

4. Describe the most significant findings

Here’s where you’ll get to the juicy bits: the results! This section should be the longest part of your abstract because people want to know what came out of your research. Make sure you are detailed and informative here and ensure that your summary accurately represents the findings in the rest of your document. This may sound obvious, but one study found that data discrepancies in abstracts are surprisingly common. Always look over your abstract with a fine-tooth comb to double-check that it’s entirely accurate.

5. State the conclusion

To finish off strong, end your abstract with a sentence or two devoted to the overall conclusion or takeaway of your study. You can include some substantial implications that your research has on the relevant industry or add to the body of knowledge on the topic. You could mention some practical or theoretical applications from your conclusions for future research. 

Here are some tips for writing an abstract, as well as some examples of excellent abstracts that are structured to perfection.

Tips for writing a good abstract

1. Avoid using jargon or abbreviations in your abstract

When writing abstracts, you’ll want to use plain, everyday English. An abstract is a summary, not a technical document, so it needs to be easy for anyone to understand, not just people working in your field. 

Avoiding industry-specific jargon and abbreviations will help make your abstract clear and engaging. For example, using the term ‘low-hanging fruit’ might make sense to those who work in commerce, but the average person may not know that the term refers to a simple idea that delivers quick and valuable results. 

Jargon and abbreviations make your abstract difficult for people outside of your field to understand. And if they don’t understand your abstract, it’s pretty unlikely they will venture on to read the rest of your paper. 

2. Write clearly and concisely

Keep your abstract short and sweet to make the biggest impact. You only have limited space to win the reader’s attention, so ensure that your writing is clear and concise. Don’t be tempted by filler words; these are unnecessary and have no place in an abstract. 

3. Review other abstracts for inspiration

Do you need a point of comparison? Take some time to read other abstracts, and you’ll get a better idea of abstract conventions. Make sure to read abstracts in the same discipline as yours so you get a better feel for the particulars of your industry.

4. Write the paper first

Remember: You can make it easier to write your abstract by writing your research paper first. A finished paper will serve as a guide to writing your abstract since it encompasses everything about your research from beginning to end. 

person writing on white paper

Conclusion

Arguably, the abstract is the most crucial section in a research paper or academic article — after all, it is the section most likely to be read. There are plenty of tips and tricks for writing a strong abstract, but the key is to summarize your research clearly and concisely to tell the reader what you wanted to find out, how you tested your hypothesis, and what conclusions you were able to draw. The guide above will help ensure your abstract provides accurate and relevant information, sparks your audience’s interest, and is structured clearly and purposefully. 

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