Research Paper Abstract Writing Guide

APA format is the official style of the American Psychological Association and is use in psychology writing as well as other social sciences. These style guidelines specify different aspects of a document's presentation and layout, including how pages are structured, the organization of references, and how citations are made. This format also stipulates the use of an abstract designed to very briefly summarize the key details contained in a paper without providing too much detail.

Why Is an Abstract Important In APA Format?

While it is sometimes overlooked or only an afterthought, an abstract is an important part of any academic or professional paper. This brief overview serves as a summary of what your paper contains, so it should succinctly and accurately represent what your paper is about and what the reader can expect to find.

Fortunately, by following a few simple guidelines, you can create an abstract that generates interest in your work and help readers quickly learn if the paper will be of interest to them.

The Basics of an APA Format Abstract

The abstract is the second page of a lab report or APA-format paper and should immediately follow the title page. Think of an abstract as a highly condensed summary of your entire paper.

The purpose of your abstract is to provide a brief yet thorough overview of your paper. The APA publication manual suggests that your abstract should function much like your title page—it should allow the person reading it too quickly determine what your paper is all about.

The APA manual also states that the abstract is the single most important paragraph in your entire paper. It is the first thing that most people will read, and it is usually what informs their decision to read the rest of your paper. A good abstract lets the reader know that your paper is worth reading.

According to the official guidelines of the American Psychological Association, a good abstract should be:

  • Brief but packed with information. Each sentence must be written with maximum impact in mind. To keep your abstract short, focus on including just four or five of the essential points, concepts, or findings.
  • Objective and accurate. The abstract's purpose is to report rather than provide commentary. It should also accurately reflect what your paper is about. Only include information that is also included in the body of your paper.

How to Write an Abstract

  1. First, write your paper. While the abstract will be at the beginning of your paper, it should be the last section that you write. Once you have completed the final draft of your psychology paper, use it as a guide for writing your abstract.
  2. Begin your abstract on a new page and place your running head and the page number 2 in the top right-hand corner. You should also center the word "Abstract" at the top of the page.
  3. Keep it short. According to the APA style manual, an abstract should be between 150 to 250 words. Exact word counts can vary from journal to journal. If you are writing your paper for a psychology course, your professor may have specific word requirements, so be sure to ask. The abstract should also be written as only one paragraph with no indentation. In order to succinctly describe your entire paper, you will need to determine which elements are the most important.
  1. Structure the abstract in the same order as your paper. Begin with a brief summary of the Introduction, and then continue on with a summary of the Method, Results, and Discussion sections of your paper.
  2. Look at other abstracts in professional journals for examples of how to summarize your paper. Notice the main points that the authors chose to mention in the abstract. Use these examples as a guide when choosing the main ideas in your own paper.
  3. Write a rough draft of your abstract. While you should aim for brevity, be careful not to make your summary too short. Try to write one to two sentences summarizing each section of your paper. Once you have a rough draft, you can edit for length and clarity.
  1. Ask a friend to read over the abstract. Sometimes having someone look at your abstract with fresh eyes can provide perspective and help you spot possible typos and other errors.

Things to Consider When Writing an Abstract

The format of your abstract also depends on the type of paper you are writing. For example, an abstract summarizing an experimental paper will differ from that of a meta-analysis or case study.

For an abstract of an experimental report:

  • Begin by identifying the problem.
  • Describe the participants in the study.
  • Briefly, describe the study method used.
  • Give the basic findings.
  • Provide any conclusions or implications of the study.

For an abstract of a meta-analysis or literature review:

  • Describe the problem of interest.
  • Explain the criteria that were used to select the studies included in the paper.
  • Identify the participants in the studies.
  • Provide the main results.
  • Describe any conclusions or implications.

How Long Should Your Abstract Be?

The sixth-edition APA manual suggests that an abstract be between 150 and 250 words. However, they note that the exact requirements vary from one journal to the next. If you are writing the abstract for a class, you might want to check with your instructor to see if he or she has a specific word count in mind.

Psychology papers such as lab reports and APA format articles also often require an abstract. In these cases as well, the abstract should include all of the major elements of your paper, including an introduction, hypothesis, methods, results, and discussion. Remember, although the abstract should be placed at the beginning of your paper (right after the title page), you will write the abstract last after you have completed a final draft of your paper.

In order to ensure that all of your APA formatting is correct, consider consulting a copy of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association

A Word From Verywell

The abstract may be very brief, but it is so important that the official APA style manual identifies it as the most important paragraph in your entire paper. It may not take a lot of time to write, but careful attention to detail can ensure that your abstract does a good job representing the contents of your paper. 

Some more tips that might help you get your abstract in tip-top shape:

  1. Look in academic psychology journals for examples of abstracts.
  2. Keep on hand a copy of a style guide published by the American Psychological Association for reference.
  3. If possible, take your paper to your school's writing lab for assistance.

Expert Reviewed

How to Write an Abstract

Four Parts:Getting Your Abstract StartedWriting Your AbstractFormatting Your AbstractSample AbstractsCommunity Q&A

If you need to write an abstract for an academic or scientific paper, don't panic! Your abstract is simply a short, stand-alone summary of the work or paper that others can use as an overview.[1] An abstract describes what you do in your essay, whether it’s a scientific experiment or a literary analysis paper. It should help your reader understand the paper and help people searching for this paper decide whether it suits their purposes prior to reading. To write an abstract, finish your paper first, then type a summary that identifies the purpose, problem, methods, results, and conclusion of your work. After you get the details down, all that's left is to format it correctly. Since an abstract is only a summary of the work you've already done, it's easy to accomplish!

Steps

Part 1

Getting Your Abstract Started

  1. 1

    Write your paper first. Even though an abstract goes at the beginning of the work, it acts as a summary of your entire paper. Rather than introducing your topic, it will be an overview of everything you write about in your paper. Save writing your abstract for last, after you have already finished your paper.
    • A thesis and an abstract are entirely different things. The thesis of a paper introduces the main idea or question, while the abstract works to review the entirety of the paper, including the methods and results.
    • Even if you think that you know what your paper is going to be about, always save the abstract for last. You will be able to give a much more accurate summary if you do just that - summarize what you've already written.
  2. 2

    Review and understand any requirements for writing your abstract. The paper you’re writing probably has specific guidelines and requirements, whether it’s for publication in a journal, submission in a class, or part of a work project. Before you start writing, refer to the rubric or guidelines you were presented with to identify important issues to keep in mind.
    • Is there a maximum or minimum length?
    • Are there style requirements?
    • Are you writing for an instructor or a publication?
  3. 3

    Consider your audience. Abstracts are written to help readers find your work. For example, in scientific journals, abstracts allow readers to quickly decide whether the research discussed is relevant to their own interests. Abstracts also help your readers get at your main argument quickly. Keep the needs of your readers in mind as you write the abstract.[2]
    • Will other academics in your field read this abstract?
    • Should it be accessible to a lay reader or somebody from another field?
  4. 4

    Determine the type of abstract you must write. Although all abstracts accomplish essentially the same goal, there are two primary styles of abstract: descriptive and informative. You may have been assigned a specific style, but if you weren’t, you will have to determine which is right for you. Typically, informative abstracts are used for much longer and technical research while descriptive abstracts are best for shorter papers.[3]
    • Descriptive abstracts explain the purpose, goal, and methods of your research but leave out the results section. These are typically only 100-200 words.
    • Informative abstracts are like a condensed version of your paper, giving an overview of everything in your research including the results. These are much longer than descriptive abstracts, and can be anywhere from a single paragraph to a whole page long.[4]
    • The basic information included in both styles of abstract is the same, with the main difference being that the results are only included in an informative abstract, and an informative abstract is much longer than a descriptive one.
    • A critical abstract is not often used, but it may be required in some courses. A critical abstract accomplishes the same goals as the other types of abstract, but will also relate the study or work being discussed to the writer’s own research. It may critique the research design or methods.[5]

Part 2

Writing Your Abstract

  1. 1

    Identify your purpose. You're writing about a correlation between lack of lunches in schools and poor grades. So what? Why does this matter? The reader wants to know why your research is important, and what the purpose of it is. Start off your descriptive abstract by considering the following questions:
    • Why did you decide to do this study or project?
    • How did you conduct your research?
    • What did you find?
    • Why is this research and your findings important?
    • Why should someone read your entire essay?
  2. 2

    Explain the problem at hand. Abstracts state the “problem” behind your work. Think of this as the specific issue that your research or project addresses. You can sometimes combine the problem with your motivation, but it is best to be clear and separate the two.[6]
    • What problem is your research trying to better understand or solve?
    • What is the scope of your study - a general problem, or something specific?
    • What is your main claim or argument?
  3. 3

    Explain your methods. Motivation - check. Problem - check. Methods? Now is the part where you give an overview of how you accomplished your study. If you did your own work, include a description of it here. If you reviewed the work of others, it can be briefly explained.[7]
    • Discuss your own research including the variables and your approach.
    • Describe the evidence you have to support your claim
    • Give an overview of your most important sources.
  4. 4

    Describe your results (informative abstract only). This is where you begin to differentiate your abstract between a descriptive and an informative abstract. In an informative abstract, you will be asked to provide the results of your study. What is it that you found?[8]
    • What answer did you reach from your research or study?
    • Was your hypothesis or argument supported?
    • What are the general findings?
  5. 5

    Give your conclusion. This should finish up your summary and give closure to your abstract. In it, address the meaning of your findings as well as the importance of your overall paper. This format of having a conclusion can be used in both descriptive and informative abstracts, but you will only address the following questions in an informative abstract.[9]
    • What are the implications of your work?
    • Are your results general or very specific?

Part 3

Formatting Your Abstract

  1. 1

    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.[10]
  2. 2

    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.[11]
  3. 3

    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.

  4. 4

    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.[12]
    • 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 “societal acceptance.” These might be search terms people use when looking for a paper on your subject.
  5. 5

    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.

  6. 6

    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.[13]
    • Make sure to avoid jargon. This specialized vocabulary may not be understood by general readers in your area and can cause confusion.[14]
  7. 7

    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.

  8. 8

    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.[15]
    • 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.

You're helping people by reading wikiHow

wikiHow's mission is to help people learn, and we really hope this article helped you. Now you are helping others, just by visiting wikiHow.


Trek to Teach is a nonprofit organization that sends fluent English speakers to teach in Nepal near the Himalayas. In addition to teaching, Trek to Teach strengthens local communities by helping schools build infrastructure, paint their classrooms, and find furniture.


Click below to let us know you read this article, and wikiHow will donate to Trek to Teach on your behalf. Thanks for helping us achieve our mission of helping people learn how to do anything.


Yes, I read the article

Community Q&A

Add New Question
  • What is the difference between an abstract and an introduction?

    wikiHow Contributor

    An abstract explains the aim of the paper in very brief, (the methods, results, etc.). In the introduction, you write the background of your topic, explain the purpose of the paper more broadly, and explain the hypothesis, and the research question(s).

  • Can an abstract be a paper written or a soft copy?

    wikiHow Contributor

    An abstract can either be written, soft copy or any other form with words, it's the content that matters.

  • Which tense should be used to write an abstract?

    wikiHow Contributor

    In all the description of what you did, a simple past tense is best; since you're describing what you did, neither present nor future would be appropriate.

  • Should I cite references in my abstract?

    wikiHow Contributor

  • How do I calculate the number of words in my abstract?

    wikiHow Contributor

    Your word processing software probably includes a word count feature, consult the documentation. If you're doing it by hand, approximate the number of words per line (very roughly). Then count the number of lines, and multiply it by the number of words per line. It gives a fairly accurate estimate.

  • Should an abstract be put in the beginning or at the end?

    wikiHow Contributor

    Usually, abstracts are provided at the beginning of the thesis or article. This will help readers to understand the work, and will attract interested readers.

  • Am I supposed to add the author's name on the informative abstract?

    wikiHow Contributor

    First write down the important points about the author, such as name, date of birth, in which field he/she is involved - then add extra points.

  • What is the importance of an abstract?

  • Why must one create an abstract?

    wikiHow Contributor

    An abstract is one of the best tools to help researchers determine if a paper would be useful for them to read or not.

Ask a Question

Tips

  • Abstracts are typically a paragraph or two and should be no more than 10% of the length of the full essay. Look at other abstracts in similar publications for an idea of how yours should go.[16]
  • Consider carefully how technical the paper or the abstract should be. It is often reasonable to assume that your readers have some understanding of your field and the specific language it entails, but anything you can do to make the abstract more easily readable is a good thing.

One thought on “Research Paper Abstract Writing Guide

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *