Apr 27, 2024

How to Write an Abstract for Your Research Paper

Did you know that many people decide whether or not to read your entire research paper based on the abstract alone? Make sure yours packs a punch!

This guide will break down the elements of an effective abstract, helping you showcase your research and attract the right readership.

Purpose of an Abstract

Think of your abstract as a multi-purpose tool:

  1. Snapshot for Readers:

  • Quick Overview: Potential readers can get the gist of your research (problem, methods, results, significance) in a matter of minutes.

  • Decision-Making Tool: They can quickly decide if your paper goes deep enough into their area of interest to warrant reading it in full.

  1. Discoverability Beacon:

  • Keywords: Strategic keywords increase the chance of your paper appearing in relevant database searches.

  • Indexing: Abstracts play a role in how journals index your research, improving its visibility within your field.

Crafting a Research Paper Abstract

While brief, a well-written abstract packs a punch. Here's what to include:

  • Research Problem: Briefly state the question, issue, or gap in knowledge that your research addresses.

  • Methodology: Summarize your approach in a sentence or two (e.g., experimental design, survey, qualitative analysis).

  • Main Results: Highlight your most important findings or key discoveries.

  • Conclusion/Significance: Concisely explain the impact or implications of your findings for the field.


  • Be Specific: Avoid vague or overly general statements.

  • Self-Contained: A reader should understand the abstract without having read the whole paper.

  • Word Count Matters: Follow any guidelines on word limits (typically around 150-250 words).

IMPORTANT: Abstracts often have strict formatting requirements (no citations, headings, etc.). Always consult the specific instructions from your instructor or publication.

Types of Abstracts

The two primary types of abstracts differ in their level of detail:

Descriptive Abstract

  • Purpose: Outlines the main purpose, scope, and focus of your research.

  • Omissions: Does NOT include specific results, conclusions, or recommendations.

  • Best For: Papers where the research question and methodology are the most interesting, or when the findings are complex and would be overwhelming to fully summarize in a short abstract.

Informative Abstract

  • Purpose: Acts as a mini version of your paper, including all major elements.

  • Includes: Problem statement, methods, key results, conclusions, and potential implications.

  • Best For: Empirical studies with straightforward results and clear conclusions, or papers where the findings are themselves the main contribution.

How to Write Each Type

  • Descriptive Abstract:

    • State the research problem/question

    • Briefly outline your methods

    • Highlight the type of data examined or the theoretical perspective used

    • Indicate the scope or focus of the research

  • Informative Abstract

    • All the elements of the descriptive abstract

    • Succinctly present your key findings

    • Conclude with significance or recommendations

Is an Informative Abstract Suitable for All Types of Research Papers?

No. Here's why:

  • Length: Informative abstracts can become lengthy. Some publications have stricter word limits.

  • Complexity: Papers with nuanced results or less conclusive findings might be better served by a descriptive abstract that focuses on the motivation of the research.

  • Audience: Consider who the likely readers are. A highly specialized audience might appreciate a detailed informative abstract, while a wider readership might find a descriptive abstract less intimidating.

Note: Always follow guidelines provided by your instructor or target publication. Some disciplines have strong preferences for one type of abstract over the other.

Structuring Your Abstract

While there's no single "perfect" structure, a common approach is to mirror the organization of the paper itself, presenting elements in a condensed form:

  • Problem Statement (1-2 sentences): Clearly outline the research question, the gap in the literature, or the specific issue addressed.

  • Methodology (1-2 sentences): Briefly describe the approach (experimental design, survey type, qualitative methodology, etc.).

  • Results (2-3 sentences): Present your most important or significant findings.

  • Conclusion/Significance (1-2 sentences): Summarize the main takeaway and the implications of your work for the field.

Should an Abstract Always Follow a Standard Structure?

No. While a standard structure provides familiarity, prioritizing the most compelling aspects of your research is key. Consider:

  • Groundbreaking Results: If your findings offer a significant breakthrough, it may be worth leading with those to immediately capture attention, even if it means slightly deviating from the standard structure.

  • Unique Methodology: If your research employs a novel or innovative methodology, highlighting this upfront can draw in readers intrigued by your approach.

Key Components to Include

While the order might shift slightly, make sure you touch on all of these:

  • Purpose: The "why" of your research. What were you aiming to achieve?

  • Method: How did you go about answering your question or exploring the issue?

  • Results: What did you find? (This should be the most substantial part of your abstract)

  • Significance: Why does your research matter? What does it contribute to the field?


  • Adapt Based on Type: A descriptive abstract might omit specific results, while an informative one must have them.

  • Word Count Matters: Strive for conciseness. Avoid wordiness or unnecessary jargon.

Abstract Writing Tips

  • Write it Last: It's often easier to write a strong abstract once you've finished your paper and can distill the most important points.

  • Keywords Carefully: Choose keywords that accurately reflect your research focus to increase discoverability in databases.

  • Get Feedback: Ask a peer, instructor, or mentor to read your abstract. They can ensure it makes sense even to someone unfamiliar with your specific topic.

  • Revise, Revise, Revise: Don't settle for your first draft. Refine your word choices for clarity and maximum impact within the word limit.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls

  • Too Much Jargon: Keep your language accessible to a broader audience within your field. Overuse of discipline-specific terminology can make your work seem inaccessible.

  • Excessive Detail: An abstract should entice the reader to explore your full paper for the details. Don't try to cram everything in.

  • Vagueness: Use specific terms and phrases. Avoid generic statements that could apply to any research paper.

  • Introducing New Material: Your abstract should summarize existing content from your paper, not introduce entirely new arguments or data.

Can Using Technical Jargon in an Abstract Benefit the Reader's Understanding?

Rarely. Here's why excessive jargon is detrimental:

  • Alienates Readers: Even within a field, readers have varying levels of specialization. Jargon creates a barrier and might discourage potential readers who could otherwise benefit from your work.

  • Obscures the Core Ideas: Jargon sometimes masks imprecise thinking. Plain language forces you to articulate complex concepts clearly.

  • Limits Reach: Using accessible language makes your research discoverable by a wider audience, potentially increasing citations and sparking interdisciplinary discussions.

When Jargon is Necessary:

  • Define Your Terms: If a technical term is unavoidable, provide a brief, clear definition the first time it's used.

  • Strike a Balance: Maintain a focus on readability while showcasing your grasp of the field's terminology.

Evaluating Abstract Quality

Ask yourself these key questions:

  • Does it accurately reflect the paper? Anyone reading your abstract should have a clear idea of what your full paper will contain, with no misleading promises.

  • Is it self-contained? The abstract should make sense on its own, without forcing the reader to consult your paper for clarification.

  • Is it engaging? Does your opening sentence grab attention? Does the abstract leave the reader curious to learn more?

  • Is it free of errors? A polished abstract signals attention to detail and professionalism. Proofread carefully!

  • Does it follow guidelines? Adherence to word limits and any formatting requirements mandated by your instructor or publisher is essential.

How Abstract Quality Impacts Reception

Your abstract has these important functions:

  • Gatekeeper: Researchers will often decide whether to read your full paper based on the abstract alone. A weak abstract means lost potential readers.

  • Search Optimizer: Your abstract, with its keywords, plays a crucial role in whether your paper surfaces when people search databases relevant to your field.

  • First Impression: The abstract sets the reader's expectations for the entire paper. A well-crafted abstract creates a positive anticipation for your work.

Feedback and Revisions

Here's how to strategically use feedback:

  • Multiple Readers: Get feedback from people with varying levels of familiarity with your topic. This helps you assess clarity for a wider audience.

  • Specific Questions: Ask your reviewers:

    • Did the abstract make you want to read the full paper?

    • Were any parts confusing or overly technical?

    • Does it accurately represent the paper's focus and conclusions?

  • Open to Change: Don't be afraid to significantly revise your abstract based on feedback. Sometimes a fresh opening sentence or rephrased result statement makes a world of difference.

Conclusion: Perfecting the Research Paper Abstract

Your abstract serves as a beacon, guiding readers to the heart of your research. It's a testament to the rigor of your study and a testament to your ability to synthesize complex ideas into a concise, compelling format. By carefully crafting your abstract, you showcase the following:

  • Understanding of Your Work: An effective abstract demonstrates that you have a strong grasp of your own research, its purpose, methodology, and key findings.

  • Communicative Clarity: The ability to articulate your research succinctly is a valuable skill across academic and professional settings.

  • Respect for Your Audience: A well-written abstract makes your work accessible to a broader readership, maximizing its potential impact within your field.

Remember, your abstract is often the first, and sometimes the only, encounter a potential reader will have with your research. Invest time and effort into refining this crucial component. In doing so, you open doors for meaningful engagement with your work, invite collaboration, and propel both your own scholarship and the broader scholarly landscape forward.

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Create your first piece of content with Jenni today and never look back