An abstract summarizes the most pertinent details of a text, usually an academic article, thesis or dissertation, or conference presentation. After reading an abstract, a reader should know the work’s purpose and the main problems addressed. The abstract also makes the reader aware of the work’s thesis or main argument, findings, and implications. Many readers use abstracts to decide whether or not to read the remainder of the text.

Features and Content

Abstracts are concise, yet provide a coherent description of the:

  • background, problem, or purpose
  • methods or approaches
  • findings and outcomes
  • conclusions, implications, or applications

Tips for Effectiveness

  • Use meaningful and specific words.
  • Replace jargon with commonly used words. If discipline-specific terminology is necessary, define your terms.
  • Eliminate words that add no new understanding or meaning.
  • Use active verbs rather than passive verbs.
  • Use short sentences but vary sentence structure so that the abstract doesn’t sound choppy.
  • Unless the abstract is very short (100-125 words), divide it into two or more paragraphs.
  • Give information only once.
  • Use the same tone and emphasis as the rest of the article.
  • Organize the information in the way that will be most useful to the reader. Most readers find that a thesis-first abstract is most useful. That is, start with the thesis, conclusion, or findings, then go on to the supporting data or details.
  • Do not comment on or evaluate the article. An abstract should not be confused with a review.

Check out this resource from Carnegie Mellon for examples of creating concise, jargon free sentences.

Writing Strategies

Abstracts are most often written last. An abstract can be likened to a movie preview: it can’t be created without first obtaining the original footage. If you’ve written your full document, follow these steps (adapted from Patricia Goodson’s [2017] Becoming an Academic Writer):

  • Highlight or underline each paragraph’s key sentence.
  • Format the abstract to follow the same structure as your manuscript, e.g., introduction, purpose, methods, results/findings, and discussion/conclusion.
  • Copy and paste the key sentences you highlighted in the appropriate order.
  • Modify and clean up those sentences to fit the abstract’s format: Keep the most important points, edit for flow and concision, and keep the word count in mind.

Abstract requirements vary by the intended purpose. For example, many journals and meetings require specific formatting or headers for acceptance. Be sure to identify the target reader(s) and requirements for your abstract before final crafting and formatting.

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