How to Write an Abstract

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    Keep it in order. There are specific questions your abstract must provide answers for, but the answers must be kept in order as well. Ideally it should mimic the overall format of your essay, with a general ‘introduction, ‘body,’ and ‘conclusion.’

    • Many journals have specific style guides for abstracts. If you’ve been given a set of rules or guidelines, follow them to the letter.[12]

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    Provide helpful information. Unlike a topic paragraph, which may be intentionally vague, an abstract should provide a helpful explanation of your paper and your research. Word your abstract so that the reader knows exactly what you’re talking about, and isn’t left hanging with ambiguous references or phrases.

    • Avoid using direct acronyms or abbreviations in the abstract, as these will need to be explained in order to make sense to the reader. That uses up precious writing room, and should generally be avoided.
    • If your topic is about something well-known enough, you can reference the names of people or places that your paper focuses on.
    • Don’t include tables, figures, sources, or long quotations in your abstract. These take up too much room and usually aren’t what your readers want from an abstract anyway.[13]

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    Write it from scratch. Your abstract is a summary, yes, but it should be written completely separate from your paper. Don't copy and paste direct quotes from yourself, and avoid simply paraphrasing your own sentences from elsewhere in your writing. Write your abstract using completely new vocabulary and phrases to keep it interesting and redundancy-free.

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    Use key phrases and words. If your abstract is to be published in a journal, you want people to be able to find it easily. In order to do so, readers will search for certain queries on online databases in hopes that papers, like yours, will show up. Try to use 5-10 important words or phrases key to your research in your abstract.[14]

    • For example, if you’re writing a paper on the cultural differences in perceptions of schizophrenia, be sure to use words like “schizophrenia,” “cross-cultural,” “culture-bound,” “mental illness,” and

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      “societal acceptance.” These might be search terms people use when looking for a paper on your subject.

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    Use real information. You want to draw people in with your abstract; it is the hook that will encourage them to continue reading your paper. However, do not reference ideas or studies that you don’t include in your paper in order to do this. Citing material that you don’t use in your work will mislead readers and ultimately lower your viewership.

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    Avoid being too specific. An abstract is a summary, and as such should not refer to specific points of your research other than possibly names or locations. You should not need to explain or define any terms in your abstract, a reference is all that is needed. Avoid being too explicit in your summary and stick to a very broad overview of your work.[15]

    • Make sure to avoid jargon. This specialized vocabulary may not be understood by general readers in your area and can cause confusion.[16]

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    Be sure to do basic revisions. The abstract is a piece of writing that, like any other, should be revised before being completed. Check it over for grammatical and spelling errors and make sure it is formatted properly.

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    Get feedback from someone. Having someone else read your abstract is a great way for you to know whether you’ve summarized your research well. Try to find someone who doesn’t know everything about your project. Ask him or her to read your abstract and then tell you what s/he understood from it. This will let you know whether you’ve adequately communicated your key points in a clear manner.[17]

    • Consulting with your professor, a colleague in your field, or a tutor or writing center consultant can be very helpful. If you have these resources available to you, use them!
    • Asking for assistance can also let you know about any conventions in your field. For example, it is very common to use the passive voice (“experiments were performed”) in the sciences. However, in the humanities active voice is usually preferred.

Category: Abstract

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