What is an abstract?

An abstract is a summary of a larger project that is already finished or project in progress. An abstract is normally written is a very concise, coherent and clear manner. The length of an abstract is usually between 200-300 words.

Why do you need to write an abstract?

To share highlights of your project not only with the experts in your field, but with a general audience as well. To let someone quickly grasp the content and decide whether or not to proceed with further reading.

Components of an abstract:

Abstracts are discipline specific. For example, an abstract in neuroscience would have different content, style, language from an abstract in sociology or art history. Abstracts are also event- and journal- specific. Different conferences and disciplinary journals may have some very specific requirements. However, all abstracts have certain common components such as:

Statement of a problem (Motivation): What is your research question? Why you are interested in this particular research?

Methods (Approach): What methods, procedures or concepts did you use to collect your data or evidence?

Results (Product): What kind of data did you get? For example, it might be a set of experimental data, a series of photographs, a piece of creative writing, or a critical analysis of a historical document.

Conclusion, Implications and Future Directions: How did your findings connect to your research question? How might your results apply to a real world problem? How could your results fit within and perhaps beyond your discipline?

Types of abstracts:

Descriptive: Describes the information about the project; this type of abstract may include Purpose, Methods and Scope of research. Descriptive abstract does not include Results, Conclusion and judgment statements.  It is rather short in length - 100 words or less.

Informative: Most widely used type of abstract. It includes all parts of the informative abstract (Purpose, Methods, and Scope of the research) as well as Results, Conclusions, and Implications. Like a descriptive abstract, an informative abstract should not include any judgment and be in between 200-300 words in length.

Critical: This abstract is useful for writing a review paper with a large number of literature sources in any academic field.

Abstracts include: Most important information about the project in a concise manner and in the chronological order which is similar to the original work. Style and language of writing also should be similar to the original work. Abstracts may include thesis, background information, and keywords (optional).

Techniques and helpful tips for writing an abstract:

Reverse Outline: Write the main idea of each section of the work (purpose, methods, results, conclusions, and implications) separately, as a single sentence and then combine these statements into one coherent paragraph.

Cut and Paste: Isolate a thesis statement and major topic sentences from the main work and then combine them into one coherent paragraph.

When writing an abstract, please do not do the following:

  • use quotations, citations and footnotes unless there is a specific requirement or expectation of your discipline or research mentor to do so (note – quotations/citations are not common in science abstracts, but may be acceptable in certain disciplines)
  • use headings within the paragraph
  • use different styles of writing within the paragraph

When writing an abstract, please do the following:

  • Use personal voice very sparingly and strategically (may differ by discipline)
  • Ask advice of your mentor on content and style of your abstract
  • Revise, proofread, use the MSU Writing Center for additional ideas and support
  • Concentrate on your own work, not on something that was done by someone else
  • Use APA, MLA, Chicago or CSE style manual for guidance on writing style by discipline