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Abstracts - A Guide to Writing

What is an abstract?

Abstracts act as concise surrogates or representations of research projects. Abstracts precede papers in research journals and appear in programs of scholarly conferences. They should be brief, concise, and use clear language. A researcher reading an abstract should have a clear idea of what the research project is about after reading an abstract. 

Abstracts allow readers to grasp the purpose and major ideas of a paper, poster, or presentation. A great abstract will be packed with information on the research project and will let other researchers know whether reading the entire paper or attending a presentation is worthwhile.

Why write an abstract?

Abstracts often serve as the advertisement of a research project. They allow readers to quickly scan a small amount of text and to make a decision as to whether the work will satisfy their information needs. If a researcher is interested, he or she will continue on to read the entire document or attend the session.

Many online databases use abstracts to index larger research projects. Using keywords from your research project in your abstract will ensure your project is easily searched.

Types of abstracts

Different academic disciplines have different research methods and requirements.  For example, social sciences or hard science abstracts will typically include the parts of a research experiment; whereas abstracts in the humanities will often discuss the hypothesis being investigated and the conclusion.  Conferences and journals may have specific requirements for abstract submissions, so be sure to review the requirements prior to writing an abstract for your project.

Informative abstracts

Informative abstracts are generally used for documents pertaining to experimental investigations, inquiries, or surveys. The original document is condensed reflecting its form and content and provides quantitative and qualitative information.

Daidzic, N. E. (2015). Efficient general computational method for estimation of standard atmosphere parameters. International Journal of Aviation, Aeronautics, and Aerospace, 2(1).

Knowledge of standard air temperature, pressure, density, speed of sound, and viscosity as a function of altitude is essential information in aircraft design, performance testing, pressure altimeter calibration, and several other aeronautical engineering and aviation science applications. A new efficient computational method for rapid calculations of standard atmospheric parameters up to 86 orthometric km is presented. Additionally, mass and weight of each standard atmospheric layer were calculated using a numerical integration method. The sum of all fractional masses and weights represents the total mass and weight of Earth’s atmosphere. The results obtained here agree well with measurements and models of the real atmosphere. Various ISA scale heights were estimated from numerical integration of atmospheric masses and weights. The nature of the geopotential and the orthometric heights and the definition of MSL have been explained. Essential thermodynamic considerations of still and dry air were highlighted. In addition to general working equations for air pressure and density vertical distribution for each atmospheric layer an extensive table of calculated values up to 86 km has been provided in appendix. Several models of air viscosity were also compared. It was found that simple Granger’s model agrees well with the widely accepted Sutherland-type viscosity equation. All computations were performed with the fourteen significant-digits accuracy although only seven significant digits were typically presented in tables.

Indicative abstracts

Indicative abstracts simply describe what the research project is about.

Porter, L. (2014). Benedict Cumberbatch, transition completed: Films, fame, fans. MX Publishing. Abstract retrieved from

Star Trek: Into Darkness, The Fifth Estate, 12 Years a Slave, August: Osage County, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug—these would be milestones in most actors’ entire career. For Benedict Cumberbatch, roles in these films are merely a year’s additions to his already-vast resume. 2013 proved to be the final step in Cumberbatch’s transition from respected working actor to bona fide worldwide celebrity and recipient of BAFTA Los Angeles’ Britannia Award for British Artist of the Year. Like its predecessor, Benedict Cumberbatch, In Transition (MX Publishing, 2013), Benedict Cumberbatch, Transition Completed: Films, Fame, Fans explores the nature of Cumberbatch’s fame and fandom while analysing his most recent roles. This in-depth performance biography does more than critique the actor’s radio, stage, film, and television performances—especially his star turn in the long-awaited yet controversial third series of Sherlock. It also analyses how and why the actor’s work is so memorable in each role, a perspective unique to this performance biography. Cumberbatch’s role in popular culture, as much as his acting in multiple media, is well worth such scrutiny to illustrate that Benedict Cumberbatch represents both the best of acting and of the power of celebrity.

Best practices

What to include
What to avoid
  • The purpose of the research project
  • The research problem being investigated
  • The methodology used
  • The conclusion reached
  • The significance of the research project
  • The use of active verbs, when possible
  • The use of keywords specific to your project
  • All within a range within 150-250 words
  • Jargon or technical language
  • Redundancy
  • Irrelevancy
  • Unfamiliar terms
  • Undefined acronyms, abbreviations, and symbols
  • Needless words
  • Narration


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