How to Write an Abstract for a Research Paper: Professional Tips From a Professional Wordsmith

How to Write an Abstract for a Research Paper: Easy Steps to Academic Success

Looking for some help figuring out how to write an abstract? Worry not! You've come to the right place. Sure, doing your own research requires a lot of hard and scrupulous work. Gathering and analyzing data is already a challenge, but one of the hardest parts for some is writing and presenting their work. Many stumble upon the first step already – writing an abstract for a research paper. To help those struggling, I decided to step in and create an elaborate guide on that, so buckle up.

What is an abstract?

Let's begin with the definition. What is an abstract? To put it simply, an abstract is a brief description of your research paper. Usually, it's a short paragraph (about 150-250 words) that is meant to let the readers know what your paper is about. It simply provides the context and key points your research contains.

Importance of abstracts in research papers

Abstracts serve as a bridge between you and the reader, making it a good tool to communicate whatever you want to tell your audience before they dive into reading your paper. This way, you get a unique opportunity to help your audience decide whether a paper is relevant to their interests or research needs. That's why the first thing you should learn is not only how to write a scientific paper but how to write an abstract for it.

They also play a big part in cataloging all the research papers in the database since abstracts for journal submissions are often put into databases and search engines, so researchers can easily find papers on topics they're interested in just by searching for keywords. Besides, a lot of science magazines and conferences ask for abstracts when people submit their papers so they can use them later to decide if a paper should be published or presented.

Good abstracts can also help bring attention to a paper and make more people want to read it. They might be included in journal indexes and online databases, which can help more people find the paper. Besides, abstracts for conference papers can even be included in conference programs.

What does it look like in an article?

An abstract always comes right after the title, and before the introduction since the typical abstract structure guidelines of a scientific paper look like this:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References

Sometimes, scientific papers also have extra bits like appendices, thank-yous, or statements about any conflicts of interest. The way a scientific paper is set up can change a bit depending on the topic and where it's going to be published.

Abstracts for beginners: purpose, types, and structure

What is an abstract in a paper for? In addition to providing a brief overview of the article and letting people know what to expect next and decide if the article actually caters to their needs or not, an abstract has other purposes. It serves to grab attention and give people a general understanding of the following thesis and the topic of the paper, letting them easily find the specific info they are looking for. A well-composed abstract saves time and helps students and researchers browse and navigate through works with ease and high efficiency.

The way an abstract is set up might change a little depending on where it's going to be published. But usually, these main parts are included to give a good summary of the research paper:

Abstract types and requirements

When it comes to abstract types, you should know that we have three most common ones:

  1. Descriptive abstracts
  2. Informative abstracts
  3. Critical abstracts

Each abstract example has its own purpose, which we'll discuss in more detail a little later.

In terms of structure, here's the standard layout:

  1. Introduction 

    In the first part, we provide some background information about the study. This helps understand what the research is about, what problem it's trying to solve, or what question it's trying to answer.
  2. Objective

    Here, we say the goal of the study is to clearly state for your readers what you want to find out or understand.
  3. Method explanation

    After that, we explain how the research was carried out and what tools or methods were used. This includes info about who took part, what materials were used, and how data was collected and analyzed.
  4. Key findings overview

    Next, we summarize the main findings of the study to tell people what was discovered or learned. This part might include numbers and other data.
  5. Discussion

    Highlighting major results and implications, this part is meant to explain how the study contributes to the field and why it's important. It might also suggest what could be done next or what areas need more research.
  6. Keywords

    Including keywords is the final stage of writing an abstract. These are important words or phrases that help readers find papers on similar topics. 

All these points are vital components of an abstract. Together, they provide a comprehensive summary of the research paper or article, allowing readers to quickly understand its content, significance, and relevance.

Writing process: where to start and how to handle everything

There are several things you need to consider when writing an abstract, so let's go step by step.

  1. Identifying your target readership

    When figuring out how to write an abstract, consider who you're writing it for and think about who would be interested in your research. Consider who might benefit from reading about your study and who it might be important for. Overall, try to put yourself in the shoes of the people you're writing for and think about what they would find interesting or helpful.

  2. Outlining and writing

    Before starting to think about how to outline a research paper, think about the outline of your abstract first. Use the standard scheme I've provided above. Make sure you include all the elements mentioned in this article but don't make it too long (remember, it's a brief summary that shouldn't exceed 250 word count).

    When your outline is ready, start writing. Keep in mind that your main goal is to make the content easy to understand for your target audience. Don't try to sound smart by making the text overcomplicated while writing an abstract. One of the indicators of intelligence is actually an ability to explain complicated topics in a simple and elaborate manner.

  3. Following guidelines
    While writing an abstract, experts from the writing center of the University of Missouri recommend in their guidelines to keep in mind the questions you should answer, such as:
  • What is the research about?
  • What methods did you use?
  • What's the objective?
  • Did you work alone or with someone else?
  • What materials did you use?
  • What finding are you going to mention?

After all of these are elaborated on in your abstract, be sure to add keywords and check if your abstract is written in a comprehensive manner that is easy to perceive. Don't be shy to ask for abstract writing help. If you feel like it's hard for you to judge if the quality is good, try reading it to someone else and ask them questions to check if they got the main point correctly with no trouble whatsoever.

To add the final touch to your masterpiece, make sure the abstract adheres to the formatting guidelines provided by the journal or publication venue, including word limits, structure, and citation style.

Easy ways to write an effective abstract

To write a really good abstract, you should read some research paper abstract examples first. They all definitely have a pattern, and you'll notice it quite quickly. To speed up the process of understanding what a good one actually means in this context, I'm going to give you some tips I've learned throughout my writing career.

Do's and don'ts checklist

Your abstract needs some rizz, and to achieve that, you should put some effort into making your abstract as effective as you can. To help you achieve that, I've prepared a set of do's and don'ts to avoid common mistakes in abstract writing:


  • Clearly explain the topic, goal, and main discoveries of the research.
  • Use simple and clear language, avoiding difficult terms or jargon.
  • Stick to the abstract writing format given by the journal or where you want to publish.
  • Give enough background to help readers grasp why the research is important.
  • Discuss the importance and possible uses of the research.
  • Add relevant words or phrases to help readers understand what the paper is about.
  • Make the abstract interesting, informative, and convincing about the value of the research.
  • Check carefully for mistakes in grammar, punctuation, and spelling.


  • Don't overload the abstract with too much detail or extra information.
  • Don't use unclear or confusing language that might confuse readers.
  • Don't state things that aren't backed up by what was found in the research.
  • Don't include citations or references to other works in the abstract.
  • Don't go over the word limit set by the journal or publication.
  • Don't add personal opinions or interpretations of the research.
  • Don't skip revising and editing to make sure the abstract makes sense and is clear.
  • Don't forget to compare the abstract to the original paper to make sure it's correct and matches.

Tips for concise and clear writing

Writing concisely and clearly is the key to a successful abstract. After making sure you've followed each point, polish your text, following my advice for concise and clear writing. There are multiple ways you can improve your writing, simplify it, and make it easy to understand.

Here is the abstract writing checklist I use in my work daily:

  1. Always focus on the main message, and don't let yourself get distracted by subtopics.
  2. Use simple language and avoid repeating yourself (unless it's necessary to emphasize key points).
  3. Use online tools to improve your writing and correct your writing style (there are lots of tools for that; my personal favorite is Grammarly, but feel free to use anything you find more fitting).
  4. Don't edit your text right after finishing writing. Let it sit for a while. This way, when you look at it again, it will be easier to spot mistakes and redundancies.
  5. Be specific and use examples to explain difficult parts.

Also, if you have time, I recommend you read one of my lifetime favorites - "On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction" by William Zinsser. This absolute masterpiece contains all the information you may need to learn to write any type of nonfiction text, including the topic of abstracts in academic writing.

Different types of abstracts

There are three types of abstracts used in different situations:

  1. Descriptive abstracts

These abstracts just sum up the main points studied in the paper without giving any opinions or analyses. They tell you what the paper is about, explain its purpose, and what it covers. They also explain how it was done, and what was found. Descriptive abstracts are usually short and simple, giving facts without talking about why the study matters.

  1. Informative abstracts

Informative abstracts not only tell you what the paper is about but also give some thoughts or analysis of the results. They don't just describe the paper; they also talk about why the research is important, what it means, and what it could be used for. Informative abstracts are often longer and more detailed, giving readers a better understanding of the study and its impact on the field.

  1. Critical abstracts

Critical abstracts look at a research paper or article and give a critical review of its good points, weaknesses, and how it helps the subject area. They don't just sum up what the paper says but also judge how good it is and how important it is. Critical abstracts might talk about whether the research methods were good, whether the findings are important, and how the study might change the subject. They want to help readers understand if the research is good and important.

Tips for styling and formatting

Depending on your goals and the type of paper, choose the abstract example that fits your needs the most and then just follow abstract writing rules to come up with a decent result.

What format and style should be used for an abstract?

As I've already mentioned before, an abstract is placed right at the beginning, and its length requirement is 150-250 words.

Usually, it stands as a separate section with its own heading ("Abstract" or "Summary"). In addition, it should be formatted consistently with the rest of the paper, using the same font style and size.

Here's a brief guide on abstract length and style I compiled so you don't miss anything:

  1. Keep it short

Abstracts should be brief, usually between 150 to 250 words. Stick to the essential info and avoid extra details.

  1. Structure it right

Follow a specific structure, including the research topic, objectives, methods, results, conclusions, and keywords. Each part should be clear and in the right order.

  1. Be clear

Write in simple and clear language so that readers who aren't experts can understand. Use precise words to get your point across.

  1. Use keywords

Add relevant keywords or phrases to help readers know what your research is about. Choose them carefully to represent your work accurately.

  1. Format correctly

Stick to any formatting rules given by the journal or publication. Make sure your abstract looks the same as the rest of your paper.

Note! One of the most important abstract writing tips is to write your abstract in the past tense and the third person since your research is already done. Avoid using "I" or expressing personal opinions.

To format their paper, writers are required to use the standard mla format essay (you can check it out in this guide provided by Purdue Owl).

As for other requirements, you always need to check the abstract writing guidelines provided by the target media where you want to publish your article or paper.

Common mistakes you should avoid

After reading a ton of abstract examples, I've noticed a lot of people getting confused and making the same mistakes, so I decided to prevent them in advance and gathered a short list of the common ones to avoid:

  1. Don't include misleading or ambiguous references

    According to all abstract writing resources, every reference you use in your abstract must come from relevant and reliable sources, so double-check everything before referencing. 

  2. Don’t overuse acronyms and abbreviations

    When dealing with anything science-related, you can come across many acronyms and abbreviations, and although you are familiar with them, they might be totally confusing for your audience. That's why, to avoid making your text unreadable, try to minimize using such things in the text, and even if you do, try providing context or an elaboration even if you know you are writing for a well-read audience.

  3. Don’t include tables, figures, or footnotes

    Abstracts are short and to the point, so they usually don't have footnotes or references to specific sources, like tables or figures. Adding these things would make the abstract too long and less clear.

Abstract FAQs

How long should an abstract be?

A good abstract example should be 150-250 words long (unless something else is stated in the requirements provided by the specific media where you want to publish it).

What is the difference between a descriptive and informative abstract?

Descriptive abstract writing examples simply summarize the main points of a paper without offering opinions or analyses. They outline the paper's topic, purpose, methodology, findings, and scope in a straightforward manner, avoiding discussions on the significance of the study. 

In contrast, informative abstracts not only provide a summary of the paper but also offer analysis and insights into its implications. They delve into the importance of the research, its implications, and potential applications, providing readers with a deeper understanding of the study's impact on the field.

Should I include references in my abstract?

No, you shouldn’t.

How do I make my abstract concise and clear?

Focus on the main point, use simple language, proofread properly, and seek feedback.

Final thoughts

Abstracts are like a short summary of a paper. They help readers decide if they want to read the whole paper. That's why writing effective abstracts matters so much. Also, they help organize papers online so people can find them easily. If an abstract is written well, it can make more people want to read the paper, so make sure you invest yourself in writing a good one. It might also be shown in conference programs, or online so more people can see it, which means it has to be comprehensive and to the point.

In this elaborate guide, I gathered everything I deem important to refine your abstract writing style, judging from my personal experience. Now you know what an abstract is, its purpose, and the key elements it should have. The writing tips I've included should make this task an easy walk, teaching you how to write an abstract, so don't be scared and start to write.