Writing Tips: How To Write an Abstract
How To Write an Abstract/Prospectus
vs. Research Proposal (Plan) or Prospectus
abstract usually acts as a summary of work already
completed and is used by prospective readers to decide whether or not to read
the entire text. Abstracts are
usually found immediately preceding a research document (such as a thesis or
dissertation), and/or in professional journals and abstract indexes (both online
and in hard copy). An abstract should represent as much as is possible the
quantitative and qualitative information in the document, and also reflect its
reasoning. Social science disciplines that use APA (American Psychological Association)
style require abstracts to precede the larger paper (see the most recent edition
of the APA style guide, Section 1.07, for more information), whereas humanities
disciplines often do not require abstracts.
Conference abstracts are used to propose
paper topics/panel sessions at professional conferences in your disciplines
and require slightly different rhetorical methods (see summary on conference
research proposal (plan) or prospectus
usually acts as the first step in producing a thesis/dissertation or a major
research project. Its intent is
to convince a supervisor or academic committee that your topic and approach
are sound, so that you can gain approval to proceed with the actual research
and also often so you can gain funding for that research.
As well as indicating your plan of action, a prospectus or academic proposal
should show your theoretical positioning and your relationship to past work
in your research area.
is important that you spend some time thinking and drafting your prospectus/research
proposal or abstract since the quality of
these documents is often solely responsible for whether or not your paper is
accepted to a conference, whether or not your research project is approved,
and/or whether or not you receive funding for a research project. Your
abstract or prospectus/research proposal is literally a "first impression"
to your reader/audience, one that you want to make positively. Thus, you
should consider writing more than one draft and beginning your drafting process
early; a Writing Center visit, is, of course, always advisable!
an informative abstract answers these questions in 100-250 words:
If your paper is about a new method or
apparatus, the last two questions might be changed to:
points to keep in mind while writing abstracts:
drafting your abstract: look over your subject to see what disciplinary
assumptions are challenged; question the significance of your ideas; emphasize
the important results and address limitations in a realistic manner.
abstract will nearly always be read along with the title, so do not repeat
or rephrase your title. It will likely be read without the rest of the
document, however, so make it complete enough to stand on its own.
readers expect you to summarize your conclusions in an abstract, as well as
your purposes, methods and main findings. Emphasize the different
points of your study in proportion to the emphasis they receive in the body
of the document.
NOT refer in the abstract to information that is not in the document.
This is very important and is a little like "truth in advertising."
You do not want to give your reader the impression that your study covers
information it does not actually contain.
using the first person "I" or "we." In addition,
whenever possible, choose active verbs instead of passive ones (ex:
use "the study tested" instead of "it was tested by
the study" or "I tested in the study").
if possible, using trade names, acronyms, abbreviations or symbols in your
abstract. You would have to explain these names which would take up
non-evaluative language in your abstract; report instead of comment
upon your findings.
key words from the document to help indexers more accurately index your
document for future research.
your readers/audience into your topic. Or, in other words, be
sensitive to the needs and knowledge of your audience. What might
seem perfectly obvious to you after working on a longer writing or
research project will often be brand-new to your audience.
procrastinate! It is best to write the abstract immediately after
you finish your project while the ideas are still fresh in your
hint: Some writing instructors and experienced writers
suggest writing an abstract for all of your writing projects since
it makes you focus on what is important in your paper/project. It
also provides a powerful way of reevaluating your logic and in defining
your purpose. An abstract can be extremely helpful in your writing process
if you are stuck or blocked.
a well written abstract often can ensure wide publication since many computerized
databases and printed indexes reprint abstracts so scholars can keep up with
each other's work, and associations and corporations often publish abstracts
in given fields and mail them to appropriate researchers and scholars, etc.
Thus, if you want to ensure that your work has an impact on your field, you
should work as hard as possible in presenting a precise and engaging abstract.
conference abstract is an abstract that you submit
for consideration to present a paper at a professional conference. It
is usually much longer than a summary abstract and functions independently from
the paper it is based on (since the conference review committee will see it
and not your actual paper). Thus, your primary audience for the conference
abstract is the conference review committee. The conference participants --
to whom you will actually deliver your paper -- are your secondary audience.
In addition to impressing the conference reviewing committee, your purpose in
writing a conference abstract is to create a "research space" from
which to write/present and to appeal to as large an audience as possible.
Proposal (Plan) or Prospectus
academic research proposal or prospectus is expected to contain these elements:
rationale for the choice of topic, showing
why it is important or useful within the concerns of the discipline in
which you are writing. It is sensible also to indicate the
limitations of your aims. In other words, don't promise what you can't possibly deliver.
review of existing published work ("the
literature") that relates to a topic. Here you need to tell how
your proposed work will build on existing studies and yet explore new
outline of your intended approach or
methodology (with comparisons to existing published work), perhaps
including costs, resources needed, and a timeline of when you hope to get
disciplines have different ways of organizing a research proposal or prospectus.
As such, it is wise to ask within your department what the standard guidelines
are in organizing your research proposal/prospectus. Research proposals/prospectuses
are often longer than abstracts (up to 500 words). Often it is helpful
to begin with a research question that you would
like to investigate/attempt to answer.
general tips in putting together a research proposal/prospectus include:
with why your idea is worth doing (its contribution
to the field), then fill in how you will address
your idea (the technicalities about the topic and method)
enough detail to establish the feasibility of your proposal, but not so
much as to bore your reader.
Show your ability to deal with possible problems or changes in focus
(which will often happen in a longer research project or thesis/dissertation).
confidence and eagerness by using the first person "I," as well
as using active verbs, concise style and positive phrasing.
other tips to get you started
closely at departmental specifications (about timing, scope, length, readers, etc.).
Remember, standards for abstracts, research proposals (plans) or
prospectuses vary widely from discipline to discipline, journal to journal,
conference to conference, and rhetorical situation to rhetorical situation.
- Ask other
students (undergraduate as well as graduate) in your department about their experiences with this type of writing; look at past
abstracts, research proposals (plans) and prospectuses for examples.
- Try out
your ideas with as wide an audience as possible, especially with your supervisor
and/or committee members (informal discussions, drafts, preliminary meetings,
presentations at colloquia, etc.). Or,
of course, use the services of the Writing Center as an additional audience!
- ***Show why your
research idea is interesting within your research field by discussion of
what other scholars/writers have done and not done with your topic in your
that you can carry out your project by sketching your methodology.
- Limit your promises/scope:
exclude topics and methods that you will not address and outline
those that you will use.
your reader's interest early by using active language and enthusiasm in your
confuse verb tenses: use present
tense to describe results with continuing applicability or conclusions drawn;
use the past tense to describe specific variables manipulated or tests applied;
and future tense to project research and predict findings.
Avoid "boilerplate sentences" which take up room and provide no real
information (ex: "Policy implications
are discussed" or "It is concluded that," etc.).
- ALWAYS USE FULL SENTENCES and avoid negatives like "cannot," "never," etc.
Avoid abbreviations, jargon, symbols and other language shortcuts that might
lead to confusion.
all, don't procrastinate!!! Delay
just isolates you and drains your energies.