Helpful Tips for Writing an Abstract

, Staff Writer
Updated August 9, 2016
Student writing an abstract
    Student writing an abstract
    Jupiterimages / Stockbyte / Getty

Knowing how to write an abstract is very important for anyone who is required to write a formal paper. But it can be a nightmare to create. The abstract is a short synopsis of the paper, and many people use it as a way to determine whether they want to read the entire work or listen to the entire speech at a conference. Beyond knowing the purpose, it’s hard to figure out what to include when writing an abstract. To keep things clear, find out what an abstract is and get tips for how to write an abstract.

What Is an Abstract?

An abstract is basically a short summary used for research surveys or large papers, such as a thesis or dissertation. As the majority of theses and dissertations are quite lengthy, an abstract is used to provide a complete but concise summary of the entire academic writing.


Importance of an Abstract

The abstract is vitally important because it is a short representation of the entire findings or thesis. When researching material for a dissertation or thesis, the abstracts of research and academic papers help people determine if the information is worth reading in detail. In many ways, it can be considered the selling point for your entire work, and it should be treated as such by presenting the topic of your research or dissertation in a way that will make others interested in reading it thoroughly.

In order to write an abstract that captures the attention of readers while summarizing the entire paper, there are a few tips you should follow.

Helpful Tips for Writing an Abstract

To present the information from your research or thesis in a manner that will help others to be interested in your academic writing, you should:

  1. Write the abstract after your paper - Writing the abstract before the paper could have the potential to leave out important information, even if your research is complete. Once you’ve completed the paper itself, everything will be fresh in your mind. You might even consider highlighting potential bits to include in the abstract as you are writing.
  2. Identify the problem and solution -The abstract should have an opening that identifies that particular subject matter and how the research that you have done will provide a solution. It is very important to make this clear in the initial sentence or two of the abstract as people want to know immediately what the dissertation is about.
  3. Stick to the word count - In general, an abstract is usually no more than 250 words. It is important to keep the word count in mind when writing an abstract. Knowing you only have 250 words to summarize your entire dissertation can prevent you from being overly descriptive.
  4. Include information on methods and results - Part of the abstract should briefly mention the methods and results that pertain to your topic. The method is basically the type of research you did, and the results are what was learned or created as a result of the methods. Remember to clearly describe the most important bits. The abstract is selling your paper to your audience so you want the important stuff to stand out.
  5. Be explicit with research - At the close of the abstract, it is important to briefly mention how results affect the initial problem that was mentioned in the opening of the abstract. Be concise and stick to the facts. You want readers to see the importance of your findings, but you don’t want to mislead them. Remember the important words of Sgt. Friday from Dragnet, “Only the facts, ma’am.”
  6. Review and update the abstract - If you wrote your abstract before the paper was complete, it may be necessary for you to review and update the abstract. As you write your dissertation, your views may change, and it may be necessary to change the abstract to reflect the shift in your viewpoint presented in your dissertation.
  7. Make it broad - Your abstract should be for everyone, not just the target audience of your research. Therefore, it should be broad enough for anyone to understand by avoiding technical jargon and unique acronyms.

Tips for Things to Avoid in an Abstract

It’s always good to have words of wisdom for what to do when writing your abstract, but it’s equally important to know what not to do. Explore these things you should avoid when writing an abstract.

  • Defining terms
  • Referring to other works or citations
  • Grammatical errors
  • Fluffy writing like lengthy background info
  • Routine or mundane details
  • Misleading conclusions

Tailoring Your Abstract

There are a variety of academic disciplines that require abstracts. Review the abstracts from your particular discipline to grasp how you should present your information to the public. Likewise, there are a number of resources such as the American Psychological Association (APA) Style Guide, which can be very helpful in detailing how to write an abstract.

Need more help with how to write your abstract? Dive into some abstract examples. You can also learn the difference between an abstract and introduction and how to use both properly.