4 Elements of a Good Abstract

How do you write a good abstract? Here are four elements of a good abstract.

Abstracts are important references for scientists or students working on their research proposal; particularly, in preparing their review of literature.  The abstract describes an unpublished or published research study in capsule form. It is a brief overview of the investigation so that researchers are able to comprehend the content of the research quickly.

The information provided in the abstract must be sufficient to help the researcher decide whether the work is relevant to his interest or not. It should be brief but not lacking in important elements necessary for understanding of the research conducted. The abstract will also help the researcher decide whether to read the research paper in its entirety or not.

So how should the abstract of a research paper be written so that maximum benefit is derived from it?

Four Elements of a Good Abstract

Specifically, you should write the abstract to meet its intended purpose. The abstract should:

  1. state clearly the objectives of the study;
  2. concisely describe the methodology or method employed in gathering the data, processing, and analysis;
  3. summarize the results, and
  4. state the principal conclusions of the research.

Generally, an informational abstract should give a brief summary of the main sections of the research paper, i.e., the introduction, the materials and/or methods used, the findings, discussion, conclusions, and recommendations.

In some academic institutions or scientific journals, however, recommendations are not incorporated in the abstract. That is because anyone can make recommendations based on the conclusion/s of the study.

The conclusion, in particular, should be given attention in writing the abstract. The conclusion should be well supported by the findings of the investigation; not a sweeping statement without any valid argument based on the findings to back it up. This is what really matters to the researcher trying to find gaps in knowledge that he can fill in.

Number of Words

Normally, abstracts should not exceed 250 words but this number could vary depending on the prescribed number of words, say, when you would like to submit your research paper to a popular scientific journal. Brevity is emphasized.

The limited number of words required for the abstract means that every word included in the abstract is necessary and that this should be presented in a coherent manner.  Important information should fit into one paragraph so this requires a little bit of thinking challenge and practice to the beginning researcher.

Tense of the Abstract

In what tense should the abstract be written?

The abstract should be written in the past tense because the investigation has transpired. However, statement of facts in, say, the results and discussion and the conclusion, must be in the present tense.

Finally, the references (e.g. name of author and date) should not be cited in the abstract unless the research paper involves an improvement or modification of a previously published method used by a researcher.

For more information and tips in writing the abstract of your research paper, visit the online writing lab of Purdue University.

©Patrick A. Regoniel 19 May 2014

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