Tips on Writing Abstracts

Typically, an informative abstract answers these questions in 150-300 words:

  • Why did you undertake this study or project?
  • What did you do and how?
  • What did you find?
  • What do your findings mean?

 

These are the basic components of an abstract in any discipline:

1) Motivation/problem statement: Why do we care about the problem? What previous research are you building on? What practical, scientific, scholarly, theoretical, or artistic gap is your research filling?

2) Methods/procedure/approach: What did you actually do to get your results? (e.g. analyzed 3 novels, completed a series of 5 oil paintings, interviewed 17 students)

3) Results/findings/product: As a result of completing the above procedure, what did you learn, invent, create, or discover?

4) Conclusion/implications: What are the larger implications of your findings, especially for the problem or gap identified in step 1?

However, it is important to note that the weight accorded to the different components can vary by discipline. Here are some tips on how to write:

  • Since an abstract will nearly always be read along with the title, do not repeat or rephrase your title. 
  • Since it will likely be read on its own, your abstract should be complete enough to stand on its own.
  • Your readers expect you to summarize your purposes, methods, and main findings.  Emphasize the different points of your study in proportion to the emphasis they receive in your poster.
  • DO NOT discuss in the abstract information that is not in your presentation.  This is very important and is a little like "truth in advertising." You do not want to give your reader the impression that your study covers information it does not actually contain.
  • Avoid using the first person "I" or "we."  In addition, whenever possible, choose active verbs instead of passive ones (ex:  use "the study tested" instead of "it was tested by the study" or "I tested in the study").
  • Avoid, if possible, using trade names, acronyms, abbreviations, or symbols in your abstract and which you will need to use valuable words to explain.
  • Avoid evaluative language in your abstract; report instead of praising or criticizing your findings.
  • Use key words from the document to help indexers more accurately catalog your presentation for future reference.
  • Be sensitive to the needs and knowledge of your audience.  What might seem perfectly obvious to you after working on a research project may be brand new to your audience.

Research Presentation Resources