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Writing an Abstract

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An abstract is like the plastic wrap around a case of Kraft Dinner. It is designed to attract consumers to the product and give them some details about the product (e.g. number of boxes and weight) without exposing the full nutritional details or flavour. Likewise, an abstract attracts readers to an article or paper and gives some detail about the document, but it does not expose all of the background, research, and conclusions.

The main trick to writing an abstract is to keep it brief and to the point. Start with a “hook” sentence to interest the reader in the topic. Follow this sentence with one stating the goal of the research. Next, describe the method of the research. Then, for most abstracts, give the main findings of the research. Occasionally, this part is not required, especially for abstracts written before the research is conducted. The last sentence of the abstract should state why the findings are important or what their impact is. Finally, some professors and journals ask writers to submit a list of 4-6 keywords on a separate line at the end of the abstract.

When the abstract is complete, read it over to ensure that the main point of the research is stated clearly and that it will make sense as a stand-alone document. Here are some do’s and don’ts for writing abstracts:

Do:

  • Whenever possible, write the paper (or most of the paper) first
  • Focus on the research process
  • Use short sentences and concise phrases
  • Keep within the word limit
  • Write out abbreviations/acronyms in full
  • Give the results in the same order that they appear in the paper

Do not:

  • Use sentences identical to sentences in the paper. No one wants to read the same thing twice.
  • Include in-text citations or footnotes
  • Give minor points or examples
  • Include directions for further study
  • Refer to new information that is not covered in the paper

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