How To Write The Abstract Section Of A Research Paper

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.

A research paper is more than a summary of a topic with credible sources, it is an expanded essay that presents a writer’s interpretation and evaluation or argument. The purpose of writing this paper is to analyze a perspective or argue a point thus demonstrating your knowledge, writing and vocabulary skills, and ability to do a great research on a given topic. 

Sometimes, your professor may ask for an abstract along with a research paper. Although abstracts are relatively short, many students find them confusing. You also need to write abstracts if your work revolves around carrying out research or other investigative processes. Writing process is easier than you think, keep reading to see how to complete this task. Also, you can find ideas on the topics of a phychology research paper.

What is an abstract?

In order to write one, you have to know what abstracts are exactly. Well, an abstract is defined as a concise summary of a larger project; it describes the content and scope of the project while identifying objective, methodology, findings, and conclusion. 

The purpose of an abstract is to summarize the major aspects of a argumentative essay or paper, but it is important to bear in mind they are descriptions of your project, not the topic in general. 

Basically, you use abstract to describe what specifically you are doing, not the topic your project is based upon. For example, if your research paper is about the bribe, the abstract is about survey or investigation you carry out about the prevalence of bribe, how people are likely to offer it to someone, do people take bribe etc. In this case, the abstract is not about the bribe itself, its definition, why people do it, and other related things. If you don` know, what the research work should look like - look at the example of a research paper.

Types of abstracts

  • Critical abstract – describes main information and findings while providing a comment or judgment about the study’s reliability, validity, and completeness. Here, the researcher evaluates some paper and compares it to other works and papers on the same topic
  • Descriptive abstract – only describes the work being summarized without comparing it to other papers on the given subject
  • Informative abstract – most common type of abstracts, the researcher explains and presents the main arguments and most important results. While it doesn’t compare one work to others on the same subject, informative abstract includes conclusions of the research and recommendations of the author
  • Highlight abstract – written to catch the reader’s attention, rarely used in academic writing 

Elements the abstract has to contain 

Even though there are different types of abstracts, one thing is in common for all of them – they contain the same elements i.e. four types of information presented to the reader. Before you learn how to write an abstract for a research paper, make sure your abstract should comprise of the following: 

Objective 

Objective or the main rationale of the project introduces readers with the research you carried out. This section accounts for the first few sentences of the abstract and announces the problem you set out to solve or the issue you have explored. The objective can also explain a writer’s motivation for the project. 

Methods

Once the objective is described, it’s time to move to the next section – methods. Here, a writer explains how he/she decided to solve a problem or explore some issue i.e. methods or steps they used to get the answers. Of course, your approach or methods depend on the topic, your field of expertise, subject etc. For example: 

  • Hard science or social science – a concise description of the processes used to conduct a research 
  • Service project – to outline types of services performed and the processes followed 
  • Humanities project – to identify methodological assumptions or theoretical framework 
  • Visual or performing arts project – to outline media and processes used to develop the project 

In other words, regardless of the field or subject, methods section serves to identify any process you used to reach the results and conclusions. 

Results

This section is self-explanatory; your goal is to list the outcomes or results of the research. If the research isn’t complete yet, you can include preliminary results or theory about the potential outcome. 

Conclusion 

Just like in every other work, the conclusion is the sentence or two wherein you summarize everything you’ve written above. In the abstract, a writer concludes or summarizes the results. When writing the conclusion, think of the question “what do these results mean”, and try to answer it in this section. 

NOTE: More extensive research papers can also include a brief introduction before objective section. The introduction features one-two sentences that act as a basis or foundation for the objective. A vast majority of abstracts simply skip this section.

Abstract should not contain

A common mistake regarding abstracts is writing them the same way you would write the rest of a research paper. Besides some elements that your abstract has to contain, there are some things you should avoid. They are: 

  • Abbreviations
  • Fluff, abstracts should be relatively short, no need to pump up the word volume 
  • Images, illustration figures, tables
  • Incomplete sentences
  • Jargon 
  • Lengthy background information, that’s what research paper is for, abstracts should be concise
  • New information that is not present in the research paper
  • Phrases like “current research shows” or “studies confirm”
  • References 
  • Slang 
  • Terms that reader might find confusing 
  • Unnecessary details that do not contribute to the overall intention of the abstract 

Writing the abstract

Now that you know what the abstract is, elements it should contain and what to avoid, you are ready to start writing. The first thing to bear in mind is that your abstract doesn’t need a certain “flow”. Keep in mind that abstract should be precise and concise, you don’t need to worry about making it seem bigger. Ideally, you should focus on introducing facts and making sure a reader will get the clear picture of the topic presented through your research paper. Follow these steps to create a strong, high-quality abstract. 

Step 1

Start writing the abstract only when you complete the research paper. By the time you finish the essay writing process, you will know what to use in abstract to perfectly describe your work. Choosing to write an abstract first is highly impractical, takes ages, and it doesn’t represent the research paper adequately. 

Step 2

For your objective and conclusion sections, you can use the most important information from introduction and conclusion section of the research paper. Rather than wasting your time on trying to figure out what to include, just use the important premises and summarize them into one-two sentences in the abstract. 

Step 3

While researching or carrying out surveys for your paper, write down everything you do. Use these notes to create methods sections for the abstract. This particular section just has to inform a reader about the process you implemented to find the answers from the objective. No need to introduce unnecessary information. 

Step 4

Make sure the abstract answers these questions: 
What is the purpose of this research?
How was the research conducted? How did I get my answers? 
What answers did I get? 
What do these results mean? 

Step 5

When the abstract is complete, read everything you have written from top to bottom. Then, eliminate all extra information in order to keep it as concise as possible. 

Step 6

Read the abstract thoroughly again. Make sure there is the consistency of information presented in the abstract and in the research paper. Basically, information included in both abstract and research paper shouldn’t be different. After all, the abstract is a summary or a short description of the research paper itself. This is why you shouldn’t introduce new details into abstract as well.

Step 7

Once you ensure the abstract contains only relevant information and describes the research paper concisely, read it again. This time, you should look for grammar and spelling mistakes, punctuation, sentence structures, and tense consistency. Never submit the abstract (and research paper or any other type of work) without proofreading and editing first. 

Step 8

At this point, your research paper and abstract are error-free, complete, and ready for you to send them to your professor or client. 

Don’t forget to…

  • Vary sentence structures to avoid choppiness. Don’t include too many long sentences one after another and avoid doing the same with short sentences as well. Mixture of longer and shorter sentences work the best
  • To avoid adding too many long sentences, just break them up into shorter structures
  • Use active voice whenever possible. Also, ask your professor whether it is okay to use passive voice when necessary. Every professor has his/her criteria, asking is a great way to avoid mistakes
  • Use past tense to describe the work you have already done
  • Read the abstract aloud or to someone else in order to make sure the content is readable and easy to understand 

Bottom line

The research paper is a common assignment in college education, and beyond. Writing these papers usually involves creating an abstract, a brief summary or description of the subject or argument you discussed throughout the paper. Abstracts are a major source of concern for many students, but they are incredibly easy to write when you’re familiar with the steps. As seen throughout this post, the ideal way to write an abstract is to keep it concise without pumping up word count with unnecessary information. If you don`t know what about you can write - look at different research paper topics! Now you’re ready to start writing the abstracts for research papers, good luck. Don't forget to see another guide about abstract research paper!

 

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