How to write a paper abstract

Being able to write a paper abstract is important if you want to participate in academic conferences. However, even if you have practically memorised your paper, or know your field of study back to front, being able to produce a clear, and succinct abstract can be difficult.

A well written or poorly written abstract can be the difference between your paper being chosen for the research conference or being rejected - the difference between your research paper being read or skipped. If you want to give your paper the exposure it deserves, you need to know how to write a quality abstract. Though it is probable that the research conference or journal you are submitting to will have guidelines for your abstract, we have prepared a short guide telling you all you need to know about how to write a paper abstract.

What is an abstract?

Before you write your abstract, we should clarify what an abstract actually is.

Your abstract isn’t an expansion or evaluation of your research paper, nor is it a commentary. It’s a short and clear summary, containing your hypothesis, key background information to your paper, a sentence or two about your methodology, and your conclusion.

Most importantly, your abstract needs to be brief; you should look to write no less than 100 words and no more than 500. For a precise word count, try to aim for around 300 words.

Write your paper first

Your abstract is a summary of your research paper, not a summary of your idea. Therefore, your abstract will be far easier to write, and of greater quality, if you write your paper first. After all, it is impossible to summarise something which does not yet exist. Your research paper is likely to change in numerous ways during the writing process, and your abstract needs to work as a summary of your paper in its finished state.

What to include in your abstract

As mentioned before, your abstract is a summary of your research paper, and as such, it needs to include or mention all the important information in your paper, albeit in a much shortened state.

As such, it should include:

  • Any key background information that readers less knowledgeable about your topic should be aware of, or any details that informed your study. This should be no more than a sentence.
  • You should include the central question you wish to explore or answer.
  • Whilst you do not have room or space to write a full literature review, mentioning prior research into the topic, or points already discussed can help demonstrate both why your paper is important and where it might stand in relation to the existing corpus.
  • Once you have covered prior research or justification for your study, you should describe in a sentence or two your research methodology.
  • As with the final paper, your mentioning of prior literature and your methodology will feed into your description of your findings.
  • To conclude your abstract, mention as briefly as possible the significance of your findings. This may even help persuade the reader to include your final paper in their journal or conference.

While writing your paper, try to put yourself in the shoes of the conference committee or journal editor. They don’t have time to carefully examine each paper in detail, so their decision to include or reject your paper is based entirely on the quality of your abstract. So be sure to spend some time getting it right. However, if you keep in mind all of what we have included above, you should find writing your abstract an easier and more enjoyable process.

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