Abstracts, Literature Reviews, and Annotated Bibliographies: Home
- Abstract Guides & Examples
- Literature Reviews
- Annotated Bibliographies & Examples
- Student Research
What is an Abstract?
An abstract is a summary of points (as of a writing) usually presented in skeletal form ; also : something that summarizes or concentrates the essentials of a larger thing or several things. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online)
An abstract is a brief summary of a research article, thesis, review, conference proceeding or any in-depth analysis of a particular subject or discipline, and is often used to help the reader quickly ascertain the paper's purpose. When used, an abstract always appears at the beginning of a manuscript, acting as the point-of-entry for any given scientific paper or patent application. Abstraction and indexing services are available for a number of academic disciplines, aimed at compiling a body of literature for that particular subject. (Wikipedia)
An abstract is a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of an article. It allows readers to survey the contents of an article quickly. Readers often decide on the basis of the abstract whether to read the entire article. A good abstract should be: ACCURATE --it should reflect the purpose and content of the manuscript. COHERENT --write in clear and concise language. Use the active rather than the passive voice (e.g., investigated instead of investigation of). CONCISE --be brief but make each sentence maximally informative, especially the lead sentence. Begin the abstract with the most important points. The abstract should be dense with information. ( Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association)
An abstract of a report of an empirical study should describe: (1) the problem under investigation (2) the participants with specific characteristics such as age, sex, ethnic group (3) essential features of the study method (4) basic findings (5) conclusions and implications or applications. An abstract for a literature review or meta-analysis should describe: (1) the problem or relations under investigation (2) study eligibility criteria (3) types of participants (4) main results, including the most important effect sizes, and any important moderators of these effect sizes (5) conclusions, including limitations (6) implications for theory, policy, and practice. An abstract for a theory-oriented paper should describe (1) how the theory or model works and the principles on which it is based and (2) what phenomena the theory or model accounts for and linkages to empirical results. An abstract for a methodological paper should describe (1) the general class of methods being discussed (2) the essential features of the proposed method (3) the range of application of the proposed method (4) in the case of statistical procedures, some of its essential features such as robustness or power efficiency. An abstract for a case study should describe (1) the subject and relevant characteristics of the individual, group, community, or organization presented (2) the nature of or solution to a problem illustrated by the case example (3) questions raised for additional research or theory.
- What is a Literature Review?
A literature review is a body of text that aims to review the critical points of current knowledge including substantive findings as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic. Literature reviews are secondary sources, and as such, do not report any new or original experimental work.Most often associated with academic-oriented literature, such as a thesis, a literature review usually precedes a research proposal and results section. Its ultimate goal is to bring the reader up to date with current literature on a topic and forms the basis for another goal, such as future research that may be needed in the area.A well-structured literature review is characterized by a logical flow of ideas; current and relevant references with consistent, appropriate referencing style; proper use of terminology; and an unbiased and comprehensive view of the previous research on the topic. (Wikipedia)
Literature Review: An extensive search of the information available on a topic which results in a list of references to books, periodicals, and other materials on the topic. ( Online Library Learning Center Glossary )
"... a literature review uses as its database reports of primary or original scholarship, and does not report new primary scholarship itself. The primary reports used in the literature may be verbal, but in the vast majority of cases reports are written documents. The types of scholarship may be empirical, theoretical, critical/analytic, or methodological in nature. Second a literature review seeks to describe, summarize, evaluate, clarify and/or integrate the content of primary reports."
Cooper, H. M. (1988), "The structure of knowledge synthesis", Knowledge in Society , Vol. 1, pp. 104-126
- Literature Review Guide
- Literature Review Tutorial
- Literature Review Defined
- Next: Abstract Guides & Examples >>
- Last Updated: Sep 21, 2022 9:57 PM
- URL: https://library.geneseo.edu/abstracts
Fraser Hall Library | SUNY Geneseo
Fraser Hall 203
Connect With Us!
Fraser Hall Library is the home of KnightScholar Services , which encourages the creation, access, curation, and preservation of scholarly, creative, and cultural works produced by the SUNY Geneseo community.
Fraser Hall Library is the home of the award winning IDS Project , a collaboration of over 100 libraries supporting and enhancing resource sharing.
Writing learning center (wlc).
Fraser Hall 208
How do I Write a Literature Review?: Home
- Step #1: Choosing a Topic
- Step #2: Finding Information
- Step #3: Evaluating Content
- Step #4: Synthesizing Content
- #5 Writing the Review
- Citing Your Sources
Defined: Research Terms
Below is a brief list of different types of research terms. Clicking on the name will take you to an entry in Credo Reference Online defining the term and describing them-
- Boolean Operator (or Connector Terms)
- Proximity Operator
- Subject or Subject Entry
- Thesaurus Strategy
- Wild Card (Use when you want to search all at once for different forms of a word. Ex. "sculpt*" -this will perform a search for all occurrences of the following words: sculpture, sculpted, sculptor, sculptural, sculpting, sculpts, etc. instead of just "sculpt").
What is a literature review?
A literature review is NOT an academic research paper, an annotated bibliography, or a report on original research. Unlike an academic research paper, the main focus of a literature review is not to develop a new argument. A literature review is an overview of a topic that shows the reader what research has been done on that subject. A literature review may build on an annotated bibliography, but it does more than just summarize each article; a literature review should compare and contrast the ideas each article contains, highlight interesting trends and inconsistencies within the research, and suggest future research that is needed on the topic.
- A literature review is a summary and analysis of research published on a specific topic.
- Literature reviews give a "snapshot" of individual articles and explain how each work has contributed to the field's understanding of the topic.
- The purpose of a literature review is to trace the history of research on a particular subject, evaluate that research, and identify aspects of the topic that are in need of further study.
A good literature review shows signs of synthesis and understanding of the topic. There should be strong evidence of analytical thinking as illustrated through the connections you make between the literature being reviewed. Think of it this way- a literature review is much more than a book review. It is a document where you present your sources and their overall relationship to your thesis statement.
Conversely, a poor literature review will simply list and identify the sources . In essence, it will appear to be a glorified annotated bibliography.
Steps to developing a literature review:
- Choose a topic
- Search for relevant articles
- Read and evaluate the articles
- Synthesize the literature
- Summarize and discuss the articles in your writing
- Identify gaps in the current research on your topic
Writing the Review
After you've completed all steps, it's time to write about your findings. The actual review generally has 5 components:
This guide offers tips & "best practices" on how to perform & write a literature review. Click on a tab to learn more about a specific step in the literature review process, and, as always, if you have any questions, feel free to meet with a librarian . We are here to help you with your research!!
New! Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Click below to find an answer to a question you might have.
LIBRARY FAQS HERE
- Next: Step #1: Choosing a Topic >>
- Last Updated: Oct 20, 2021 3:04 PM
- URL: https://libguides.eastern.edu/literature_reviews
About the Library
- Collection Development
- Circulation Policies
- Mission Statement
- Staff Directory
Using the Library
- A to Z Journal List
- Library Catalog
- Research Guides
- Research Help
Warner Memorial Library
Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper
Definition and Purpose of Abstracts
An abstract is a short summary of your (published or unpublished) research paper, usually about a paragraph (c. 6-7 sentences, 150-250 words) long. A well-written abstract serves multiple purposes:
- an abstract lets readers get the gist or essence of your paper or article quickly, in order to decide whether to read the full paper;
- an abstract prepares readers to follow the detailed information, analyses, and arguments in your full paper;
- and, later, an abstract helps readers remember key points from your paper.
It’s also worth remembering that search engines and bibliographic databases use abstracts, as well as the title, to identify key terms for indexing your published paper. So what you include in your abstract and in your title are crucial for helping other researchers find your paper or article.
If you are writing an abstract for a course paper, your professor may give you specific guidelines for what to include and how to organize your abstract. Similarly, academic journals often have specific requirements for abstracts. So in addition to following the advice on this page, you should be sure to look for and follow any guidelines from the course or journal you’re writing for.
The Contents of an Abstract
Abstracts contain most of the following kinds of information in brief form. The body of your paper will, of course, develop and explain these ideas much more fully. As you will see in the samples below, the proportion of your abstract that you devote to each kind of information—and the sequence of that information—will vary, depending on the nature and genre of the paper that you are summarizing in your abstract. And in some cases, some of this information is implied, rather than stated explicitly. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association , which is widely used in the social sciences, gives specific guidelines for what to include in the abstract for different kinds of papers—for empirical studies, literature reviews or meta-analyses, theoretical papers, methodological papers, and case studies.
Here are the typical kinds of information found in most abstracts:
- the context or background information for your research; the general topic under study; the specific topic of your research
- the central questions or statement of the problem your research addresses
- what’s already known about this question, what previous research has done or shown
- the main reason(s) , the exigency, the rationale , the goals for your research—Why is it important to address these questions? Are you, for example, examining a new topic? Why is that topic worth examining? Are you filling a gap in previous research? Applying new methods to take a fresh look at existing ideas or data? Resolving a dispute within the literature in your field? . . .
- your research and/or analytical methods
- your main findings , results , or arguments
- the significance or implications of your findings or arguments.
Your abstract should be intelligible on its own, without a reader’s having to read your entire paper. And in an abstract, you usually do not cite references—most of your abstract will describe what you have studied in your research and what you have found and what you argue in your paper. In the body of your paper, you will cite the specific literature that informs your research.
When to Write Your Abstract
Although you might be tempted to write your abstract first because it will appear as the very first part of your paper, it’s a good idea to wait to write your abstract until after you’ve drafted your full paper, so that you know what you’re summarizing.
What follows are some sample abstracts in published papers or articles, all written by faculty at UW-Madison who come from a variety of disciplines. We have annotated these samples to help you see the work that these authors are doing within their abstracts.
Choosing Verb Tenses within Your Abstract
The social science sample (Sample 1) below uses the present tense to describe general facts and interpretations that have been and are currently true, including the prevailing explanation for the social phenomenon under study. That abstract also uses the present tense to describe the methods, the findings, the arguments, and the implications of the findings from their new research study. The authors use the past tense to describe previous research.
The humanities sample (Sample 2) below uses the past tense to describe completed events in the past (the texts created in the pulp fiction industry in the 1970s and 80s) and uses the present tense to describe what is happening in those texts, to explain the significance or meaning of those texts, and to describe the arguments presented in the article.
The science samples (Samples 3 and 4) below use the past tense to describe what previous research studies have done and the research the authors have conducted, the methods they have followed, and what they have found. In their rationale or justification for their research (what remains to be done), they use the present tense. They also use the present tense to introduce their study (in Sample 3, “Here we report . . .”) and to explain the significance of their study (In Sample 3, This reprogramming . . . “provides a scalable cell source for. . .”).
Sample Abstract 1
From the social sciences.
Reporting new findings about the reasons for increasing economic homogamy among spouses
Gonalons-Pons, Pilar, and Christine R. Schwartz. “Trends in Economic Homogamy: Changes in Assortative Mating or the Division of Labor in Marriage?” Demography , vol. 54, no. 3, 2017, pp. 985-1005.
Sample Abstract 2
From the humanities.
Analyzing underground pulp fiction publications in Tanzania, this article makes an argument about the cultural significance of those publications
Emily Callaci. “Street Textuality: Socialism, Masculinity, and Urban Belonging in Tanzania’s Pulp Fiction Publishing Industry, 1975-1985.” Comparative Studies in Society and History , vol. 59, no. 1, 2017, pp. 183-210.
Sample Abstract/Summary 3
From the sciences.
Reporting a new method for reprogramming adult mouse fibroblasts into induced cardiac progenitor cells
Lalit, Pratik A., Max R. Salick, Daryl O. Nelson, Jayne M. Squirrell, Christina M. Shafer, Neel G. Patel, Imaan Saeed, Eric G. Schmuck, Yogananda S. Markandeya, Rachel Wong, Martin R. Lea, Kevin W. Eliceiri, Timothy A. Hacker, Wendy C. Crone, Michael Kyba, Daniel J. Garry, Ron Stewart, James A. Thomson, Karen M. Downs, Gary E. Lyons, and Timothy J. Kamp. “Lineage Reprogramming of Fibroblasts into Proliferative Induced Cardiac Progenitor Cells by Defined Factors.” Cell Stem Cell , vol. 18, 2016, pp. 354-367.
Sample Abstract 4, a Structured Abstract
Reporting results about the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy in managing acute bacterial sinusitis, from a rigorously controlled study
Note: This journal requires authors to organize their abstract into four specific sections, with strict word limits. Because the headings for this structured abstract are self-explanatory, we have chosen not to add annotations to this sample abstract.
Wald, Ellen R., David Nash, and Jens Eickhoff. “Effectiveness of Amoxicillin/Clavulanate Potassium in the Treatment of Acute Bacterial Sinusitis in Children.” Pediatrics , vol. 124, no. 1, 2009, pp. 9-15.
“OBJECTIVE: The role of antibiotic therapy in managing acute bacterial sinusitis (ABS) in children is controversial. The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of high-dose amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate in the treatment of children diagnosed with ABS.
METHODS : This was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Children 1 to 10 years of age with a clinical presentation compatible with ABS were eligible for participation. Patients were stratified according to age (<6 or ≥6 years) and clinical severity and randomly assigned to receive either amoxicillin (90 mg/kg) with potassium clavulanate (6.4 mg/kg) or placebo. A symptom survey was performed on days 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 20, and 30. Patients were examined on day 14. Children’s conditions were rated as cured, improved, or failed according to scoring rules.
RESULTS: Two thousand one hundred thirty-five children with respiratory complaints were screened for enrollment; 139 (6.5%) had ABS. Fifty-eight patients were enrolled, and 56 were randomly assigned. The mean age was 6630 months. Fifty (89%) patients presented with persistent symptoms, and 6 (11%) presented with nonpersistent symptoms. In 24 (43%) children, the illness was classified as mild, whereas in the remaining 32 (57%) children it was severe. Of the 28 children who received the antibiotic, 14 (50%) were cured, 4 (14%) were improved, 4(14%) experienced treatment failure, and 6 (21%) withdrew. Of the 28children who received placebo, 4 (14%) were cured, 5 (18%) improved, and 19 (68%) experienced treatment failure. Children receiving the antibiotic were more likely to be cured (50% vs 14%) and less likely to have treatment failure (14% vs 68%) than children receiving the placebo.
CONCLUSIONS : ABS is a common complication of viral upper respiratory infections. Amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate results in significantly more cures and fewer failures than placebo, according to parental report of time to resolution.” (9)
Some Excellent Advice about Writing Abstracts for Basic Science Research Papers, by Professor Adriano Aguzzi from the Institute of Neuropathology at the University of Zurich:
Academic and Professional Writing
This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.
A Short Guide to Close Reading for Literary Analysis
Using Literary Quotations
Writing a Rhetorical Précis to Analyze Nonfiction Texts
Incorporating Interview Data
Planning and Writing a Grant Proposal: The Basics
Additional Resources for Grants and Proposal Writing
Job Materials and Application Essays
Writing Personal Statements for Ph.D. Programs
- Before you begin: useful tips for writing your essay
- Guided brainstorming exercises
- Get more help with your essay
- Frequently Asked Questions
Resume Writing Tips
CV Writing Tips
Proposals and Dissertations
Resources for Proposal Writers
Resources for Dissertators
Planning and Writing Research Papers
Quoting and Paraphrasing
Writing Annotated Bibliographies
Creating Poster Presentations
Advice for Students Writing Thank-You Notes to Donors
Reading for a Review
Writing a Review of Literature
Scientific Report Format
Sample Lab Assignment
Writing for the Web
Writing an Effective Blog Post
Writing for Social Media: A Guide for Academics
11.8 Writing an abstract
All full reviews must include an abstract of not more than 400 words. The abstract should be kept as brief as possible without sacrificing important content. Abstracts to Cochrane reviews are published in MEDLINE and the Science Citation Index, and are made freely available on the internet. It is therefore important that they can be read as stand-alone documents.
The abstract should summarize the key methods, results and conclusions of the review and should not contain any information that is not in the review. Links to other parts of the review (such as references, studies, tables and figures) may not be included in the abstract. A hypothetical example of an abstract is included in Box 11.8.a .
Abstracts should be targeted primarily at healthcare decision makers (clinicians, informed consumers and policy makers) rather than just to researchers. Terminology should be reasonably comprehensible to a general rather than a specialist healthcare audience. Abbreviations should be avoided, except where they are widely understood (for example, HIV). Where essential, other abbreviations should be spelt out (with the abbreviations in brackets) on first use. Names of drugs and interventions that can be understood internationally should be used wherever possible. Trade names should not be used.
The content under each heading in the abstract should be as follows:
Background: This should be one or two sentences to explain the context or elaborate on the purpose and rationale of the review. If this version of the review is an update of an earlier one, it is helpful to include a sentence such as “This is an update of a Cochrane review first published in YEAR, and previously updated in YEAR”.
Objectives: This should be a precise statement of the primary objective of the review, ideally in a single sentence, matching the Objectives in the main text of the review. Where possible the style should be of the form “To assess the effects of [intervention or comparison] for [health problem] for/in [types of people, disease or problem and setting if specified]”.
Search methods: This should list the sources and the dates of the last search, for each source, using the active form ‘We searched….’ or, if there is only one author, the passive form can be used, for example, ‘Database X, Y, Z were searched’. Search terms should not be listed here. If the CRG’s Specialized Register was used, this should be listed first in the form ‘Cochrane X Group Specialized Register’. The order for listing other databases should be the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, EMBASE, other databases. The date range of the search for each database should be given. For the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials this should be in the form ‘Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials ( The Cochrane Library 2007, Issue 1)’. For most other databases, such as MEDLINE, it should be in the form ‘MEDLINE (January 1966 to December 2006)’. Searching of bibliographies for relevant citations can be covered in a generic phrase ‘reference lists of articles’. If there were any constraints based on language or publication status, these should be listed. If individuals or organizations were contacted to locate studies this should be noted and it is preferable to use ‘We contacted pharmaceutical companies’ rather than a listing of all the pharmaceutical companies contacted. If journals were specifically handsearched for the review, this should be noted but handsearching to help build the Specialized Register of the CRG should not be listed.
Selection criteria: These should be given as ‘ [type of study] of [type of intervention or comparison] in [disease, problem or type of people]‘ . Outcomes should only be listed here if the review was restricted to specific outcomes.
Data collection and analysis: This should be restricted to how data were extracted and assessed, and not include details of what data were extracted. This section should cover whether data extraction and assessments of risk of bias were done by more than one person. If the authors contacted investigators to obtain missing information, this should be noted here. What steps, if any, were taken to identify adverse effects should be noted.
Main results: This section should begin with the total number of studies and participants included in the review, and brief details pertinent to the interpretation of the results (for example, the risk of bias in the studies overall or a comment on the comparability of the studies, if appropriate). It should address the primary objective and be restricted to the main qualitative and quantitative results (generally including not more than six key results). The outcomes included should be selected on the basis of which are most likely to help someone making a decision about whether or not to use a particular intervention. Adverse effects should be included if these are covered in the review. If necessary, the number of studies and participants contributing to the separate outcomes should be noted, along with concerns over quality of evidence specific to these outcomes. The results should be expressed narratively as well as quantitatively if the numerical results are not clear or intuitive (such as those from a standardized mean differences analysis). The summary statistics in the abstract should be the same as those selected as the defaults for the review, and should be presented in a standard way, such as ‘odds ratio 2.31 (95% confidence interval 1.13 to 3.45)’. Ideally, risks of events (percentage) or averages (for continuous data) should be reported for both comparison groups. If overall results are not calculated in the review, a qualitative assessment or a description of the range and pattern of the results can be given. However, ‘vote counts’ in which the numbers of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ studies are reported should be avoided.
Authors’ conclusions: The primary purpose of the review should be to present information, rather than to offer advice or recommendations. The Authors’ conclusions should be succinct and drawn directly from the findings of the review so that they directly and obviously reflect the main results. Assumptions should generally not be made about practice circumstances, values, preferences, tradeoffs; and the giving of advice or recommendations should generally be avoided. Any important limitations of data and analyses should be noted. Important conclusions about the implications for research should be included if these are not obvious.
An official website of the United States government
The .gov means it’s official. Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.
The site is secure. The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.
- Account settings
- Advanced Search
- Journal List
- Bull Med Libr Assoc
- v.88(4); 2000 Oct
Clarifying the abstracts of systematic literature reviews *
1 Department of Psychology Keele University Staffordshire United Kingdom
2 † Author's address for correspondence: James Hartley, B.A., Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Keele University, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG, United Kingdom; email, [email protected]
Background: There is a small body of research on improving the clarity of abstracts in general that is relevant to improving the clarity of abstracts of systematic reviews.
Objectives: To summarize this earlier research and indicate its implications for writing the abstracts of systematic reviews.
Method: Literature review with commentary on three main features affecting the clarity of abstracts: their language, structure, and typographical presentation.
Conclusions: The abstracts of systematic reviews should be easier to read than the abstracts of medical research articles, as they are targeted at a wider audience. The aims, methods, results, and conclusions of systematic reviews need to be presented in a consistent way to help search and retrieval. The typographic detailing of the abstracts (type-sizes, spacing, and weights) should be planned to help, rather than confuse, the reader.
Several books and review papers have been published over the last twenty-five years about improving the clarity of the abstracts of articles in scientific journals, including several recent studies [ 1–5 ]. Three main areas of importance have been discussed:
- the language, or the readability, of an abstract;
- the sequence of information, or the structure, of an abstract; and
- the typography, or the presentation, of an abstract.
This paper considers the implications of the findings from research in each of these overlapping areas to the more specific area of writing abstracts for what are called “systematic reviews.” Such reviews in medical journals typically use standard procedures for assessing the evidence obtained from separate studies for and against the effectiveness of a particular treatment. The term “systematic” implies that the authors have used a standard approach to minimizing biases and random errors and that the methods chosen for the approach will be documented in the materials and methods sections of the review. Examples of such reviews may be found in Chalmers's and Altman's text [ 6 ] and in papers published in medical journals, particularly Evidence-Based Medicine. Figure 1 provides a fictitious example of an abstract for such a paper.
“Before” and “after” examples designed to show how differences in typography and wording can enhance the clarity of an abstract. Abstract courtesy of Philippa Middleton.
THE LANGUAGE OF THE TEXT
Research on the readability of conventional journal abstracts suggests that they are not easy to read. Studies in this area typically use the Flesch Reading Ease (R.E.) scores as their measure of text difficulty [ 7 ]. This measure, developed in the 1940s, is based upon the somewhat over simple idea that the difficulty of text is a function of the length of the sentences in the text and the length of the words within these sentences. The original Flesch formula is that R.E. = 206.835 − 0.846w − 1.015s (where w = the average number of syllables in 100 words and s = the average number of words per sentence). The scores normally range from 0 to 100, and the lower the score the more difficult the text is to read; Table 1 gives typical examples. Today, Flesch R.E. scores accompany most computerized spell checkers, and this removes the difficulties of hand calculation; although different programs give slightly different results [ 8, 9 ].
Table 1 The interpretation of Flesch scores
Table 2 summarizes the Flesch scores obtained for numerous journal abstracts in seven studies. The low scores shown here support the notion that journal abstracts are difficult to read. With medical journals, in particular, this difficulty may stem partly from complex medical terminology. Readability scores such as these are widely quoted, even though there is considerable debate about their validity, largely because they ignore the readers' prior knowledge and motivation [ 10, 11 ].
Table 2 Flesch Reading Ease scores reported in previous research on abstracts in journal articles
A second cause of difficulty in understanding text is that, although the wording may be simple and the sentences short, the concepts being described may not be understood by the reader. Thus, for example, although the sentence “God is grace” is extremely readable (in terms of the Flesch), it is not easy to explain what it actually means! In systematic reviews, to be more specific, the statistical concepts of the confidence interval and the adjusted odds ratio ( Figure 1 ) may be well understood by medical researchers, but they will not be understood by all readers.
A third cause of difficulty in prose lies in the scientific nature of the text that emphasizes the use of the third person, together with the passive rather than the active tense. Graetz writes of journal abstracts:
The abstract is characterized by the use of the past tense, the third person, passive, and the non-use of negatives…. It is written in tightly worded sentences, which avoid repetition, meaningless expressions, superlatives, adjectives, illustrations, preliminaries, descriptive details, examples, footnotes. In short it eliminates the redundancy which the skilled reader counts on finding in written language and which usually facilitates comprehension. [ 12 ]
In systematic reviews, it is easy to find sentences like “Trial eligibility and quality were assessed” that would be more readable if they were written as “We assessed the eligibility and the quality of the trials.” Furthermore, there are often short telegrammatic communications, some of which contain no verbs. Figure 1 provides an example (under the subheading “Selection criteria”).
There are, of course, numerous guidelines on how to write clear abstracts and more readable medical text [ 13–16 ] but, at present, there are few such guidelines for writing the abstracts of systematic reviews. Mulrow, Thacker, and Pugh [ 17 ] provide an excellent early example, and there are now regularly updated guidelines in the Cochrane Handbook [ 18 ].
Nonetheless, even when such guidelines are followed, evaluating the clarity of medical text is not easy. But some methods of doing so may be adapted from the more traditional literature on text evaluation. Schriver, for example, describes three different methods of text evaluation—text-based, expert-based, and reader-based methods [ 19 ]:
- Text-based methods are ones that can be used without recourse to experts or to readers. Such methods include computer-based readability formulae (such as the Flesch measure described above) and computer-based measures of style and grammar.
- Expert-based methods are ones that use experts to make assessments of the effectiveness of a piece of text. Medical experts may be asked, for example, to judge the suitability of the information contained in a patient information leaflet.
- Reader-based methods are ones that involve actual readers in making assessments of the suitability of the text, for themselves and for others. Patients, for example, may be asked to comment on medical leaflets or be tested on how much they can recall from them.
Although all three methods of evaluation are useful, especially in combination, this writer particularly recommends reader-based methods for evaluating the readability of abstracts in systematic reviews. This recommendation is because the readers of such systematic reviews are likely to be quite disparate in their aims, needs, and even in the languages that they speak. As the 1999 Cochrane Handbook put it:
Abstracts should be made as readable as possible without compromising scientific integrity. They should primarily be targeted to health care decision makers (clinicians, consumers, and policy makers) rather than just researchers. Terminology should be reasonably comprehensible to a general rather than a specialist medical audience [emphasis added]. [ 20 ]
Expert-based measures on their own may be misleading. For instance, there is evidence to suggest that the concerns of professionals are different from those of other personnel [ 21 ]. Wilson et al. [ 22 ], for instance, report wide differences between the responses of general practitioners (GPs) and patients in the United Kingdom in responses to questions concerning the content and usefulness of several patient information leaflets. Table 3 shows some of their replies.
Table 3 Differences between general practitioners (GPs) and patients in their views about particular patient information leaflets
THE STRUCTURE OF THE TEXT
In recent times, particularly in the medical field, there has been great interest in the use of so-called “structured abstracts”—abstracts that typically contain subheadings, such as “background,” “aims,” “methods,” “results,” and “conclusions.” Indeed, the early rise in the use of such abstracts was phenomenal [ 23 ], and it has no doubt continued to be so up to the present day. Evaluation studies have shown that structured abstracts are more effective than traditional ones, particularly in the sense that they contain more information [ 24–31 ]. However, a caveat here is that some authors still omit important information, and some still include information in the abstract that does not match exactly what is said in the article [ 32–35 ].
Additional research has shown that structured abstracts are sometimes easier to read and to search than are traditional ones [ 36, 37 ], but others have questioned this conclusion [ 38, 39 ]. Nonetheless, in general, both authors and readers apparently prefer structured to traditional abstracts [ 40–42 ]. The main features of structured abstracts that lead to these findings are that:
- the texts are opened-up and clearly subdivided into their component parts, which helps the reader perceive their structure;
- the abstracts sequence their information in a consistent order under consistent subheadings, which facilitates search and retrieval; and
- the writing under these subheadings ensures that authors do not miss out anything important.
Nonetheless, there are some difficulties—and these difficulties become more apparent after considering the structured abstracts of systematic reviews. First of all, the typographic practice of denoting the subheadings varies from journal to journal [ 43, 44 ]. Second, and of more relevance here, there is a range of subheadings used both within and among journals [ 45, 46 ], which militates against rapid retrieval. Table 4 shows an example of these variations by listing the subheadings used in the abstracts in just one volume of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Finally, it appears that some authors omit important subheadings or present them in a different order (e.g., reporting the conclusions before the results) [ 47 ].
Table 4 Different numbers of subheadings used in abstracts in the same volume of the Journal of the American Medical Association
The implications of these difficulties are that a decision needs to be made, based upon appropriate evaluation studies, about what are the key subheadings that can be used consistently in systematic reviews. The journal Evidence-Based Medicine, for example, uses the following six subheadings: “Question(s),” “Data sources,” “Study selection,” “Data extraction,” “Main results,” and “Conclusions,” but the Cochrane Handbook [ 48 ] recommends another seven: “Background,” “Objectives,” “Search strategy,” “Selection criteria,” “Data collection and analysis,” “Main results,” and “Reviewers' conclusions.” Presumably, these different sets of subheadings have developed over time with experience. For example, “Objective(s)” initially preceded “Question(s)” in Evidence-Based Medicine. In the future, refining these subheadings further may be possible by using appropriate typographic cueing, to separate important from minor subheadings, such as those headings used in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It will be essential, however, to use consistent terminology throughout the literature to aid both the creation of and retrieval from the abstracts of systematic reviews. Editors may consult their readers and their authors for possible solutions to this problem.
THE TYPOGRAPHIC SETTING FOR ABSTRACTS OF SYSTEMATIC REVIEWS
Early research on the typographic setting of structured abstracts in scientific articles suggests that the subheadings should be printed in bold capital letters with a line space above each subheading [ 49 ]. But this research has been done with structured abstracts that only have four subheadings. However, the abstracts of systematic reviews are likely to have more than four-subheadings—indeed, as noted above, six or seven seem typical. Also, some of these subheadings may be more important than others.
Generally speaking, there are two ways of clarifying the structure in typography. One is to vary the typography, the other to vary the spacing [ 50, 51 ]. In terms of typography, not overdoing is best; there is no need to use two cues when one will do. Thus, it may be appropriate to use bold lettering for the main subheadings and italic lettering for the less important ones, without adding the additional cues of capital letters or underlining. Also, as the subheadings appear as the first word on a line, placing a line space above them enhances their effectiveness, so there is no need to indent the subheadings as well. The abstracts published in the Cochrane Library follow this procedure.
Finally in this section, it should be noted that it is easier to read an abstract:
- that is set in the same type-size (or larger) than the body of the text of the review, unlike many journal abstracts, [ 52 ];
- that does not use “fancy'” typography or indeed bold or italic for its substantive text [ 53 ]; and
- that is set in “unjustified text,” with equal word spacing and a ragged right-hand margin, rather than in “justified text,” with unequal word spacing and straight left- and right-hand margins. This is particularly the case if the abstract is being read on screen [ 54 ].
The research reviewed above suggests that, in presenting the abstracts to systematic reviews, attention needs to be paid to their language, their structure, and their typographic design. Figure 1 shows a “before and after” example for a fictitious abstract for a systematic review. The purpose of this example is to encapsulate the argument of this paper and to show how changes in wording and typography can enhance the clarity of an abstract for a systematic review.
The author is indebted to Iain Chalmers, Philippa Middleton, Mark Starr, and anonymous referees for assistance in the preparation of this paper.
* Based on invited presentation at the VIIth Cochrane Colloquium, Rome, Italy, October 1999.
- Berkenkotter C, Huckin TN. Genre knowledge in disciplinary communication . Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. 1995 [ Google Scholar ]
- Hartley J. Three ways to improve the clarity of journal abstracts . Brit J Educ Psychol . 1994 Jun. 64 ( 2 ):331–43. [ Google Scholar ]
- Swales JM. Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings . Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. 1990 [ Google Scholar ]
- Swales JM, Feak C. Academic writing for graduate students . Michigan: University of Michigan Press. 1994 [ Google Scholar ]
- Anonymous. A proposal for more informative abstracts in clinical articles. Ad Hoc Working Group for Critical Appraisal of the Medical Literature . Ann Intern Med . 1987 Apr. 106 ( 4 ):598–604. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
- Chalmers I, Altman DG. eds. . Systematic reviews . London, U.K.: British Medical Journal Publishing Group. 1995 [ Google Scholar ]
- Flesch R. A new readability yardstick . J Appl Psychol . 1948 Jun. 32 :221–3. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
- Mailloux SL, Johnson ME, Fisher DG, and Pettibone TJ. How reliable is computerized assessment of readability? Computers and Nursing . 1995 Sep–Oct. 13 ( 5 ):221–5. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
- Sydes M, Hartley J. A thorn in the Flesch: observations on the unreliability of computer-based readability formulae . British Journal of Educational Technology . 1997 Apr. 28 ( 2 ):143–5. [ Google Scholar ]
- Davison A, Green G. eds. . Linguistic complexity and text comprehension: readability issues reconsidered . Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. 1988 [ Google Scholar ]
- Hartley J. Designing instructional text . 3d ed. East Brunswick, NJ: Nichols. 1994 [ Google Scholar ]
- Graetz N. Teaching EFL students to extract structural information from abstracts . In: Ulijn JM, Pugh AK, eds. Reading for professional purposes. Leuven, Belgium: ACCO. 1985 125. [ Google Scholar ]
- National Information Standards Organization. An American national standard: guidelines for abstracts . Bethesda, MD: NISO Press. 1997 [ Google Scholar ]
- Hall GM. How to write a paper . London, U.K.: BMJ Pub Group. 1994 [ Google Scholar ]
- Hartley J. What does it say? text design, medical information and older readers . In Park DC, Morrell RW, Shifren K, eds. Processing of medical information in aging patients. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. 1999 233–47. [ Google Scholar ]
- Matthews JR. Successful scientific writing: a step-by-step guide for biological and medical scientists . 2d ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. 2000 [ Google Scholar ]
- Mulrow CD, Thacker SB, and Pugh JA. A proposal for more informative abstracts of review articles . Ann Intern Med . 1988 Apr: 108 ( 4 ):613–5. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
- Clarke M, Oxman AD. eds. . Cochrane reviewers' handbook 4.0 [updated July 1999] . In: The Cochrane Library, issue 2 [database on CDROM]. The Cochrane Collaboration. Oxford, U.K.: Update Software. 2000 [ Google Scholar ]
- Schriver KA. Evaluating text quality: the continuum from text-focused to reader-focused methods . IEEE Trans Prof Comm . 1989 Dec. 32 ( 4 ):238–55. [ Google Scholar ]
- Berry DC, Michas IC, Gillie T, and Forster M. What do patients want to know about their medicines, and what do doctors want to tell them? a comparative study . Psychol and Health . 1997. 12 ( 4 ):467–80. [ Google Scholar ]
- Wilson R, Kenny T, Clark J, Moseley D, Newton L, Newton D, and Purves I. Ensuring the readability and efficacy of patient information leaflets . Newcastle, U.K.: Sowerby Health Centre for Health Informatics, Newcastle University. Prodigy Publication. 1998 no. 30. [ Google Scholar ]
- Harbourt AM, Knecht LS, and Humphreys BL. Structured abstracts in MEDLINE 1989–91 . Bull Med Libr Assoc . 1995 Apr. 83 ( 2 ):190–5. [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
- Hartley J. Applying ergonomics to Applied Ergonomics: using structured abstracts . Appl Ergonom . 1999 Dec. 30 ( 6 ):535–41. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
- Hartley J, Benjamin M. An evaluation of structured abstracts in journals published by the British Psychological Society . Brit J Educ Psychol . 1998 Sep. 68 ( 3 ):443–56. [ Google Scholar ]
- Haynes RB. More informative abstracts: current status and evaluation . J Clin Epidemiol . 1993 Jul. 46 ( 7 ):595–7. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
- McIntosh N, Duc G, and Sedin G. Structure improves content and peer review of abstracts submitted to scientific meetings . European Science Editing . 1999 Jun. 25 ( 2 ):43–7. [ Google Scholar ]
- Scherer RW, Crawley B. Reporting of randomized clinical trial descriptors and the use of structured abstracts . JAMA . 1998 July 15. 280 ( 3 ):269–72. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
- Taddio A, Pain T, Fassos FF, Boon H, Ilersich AL, and Einarson TR. Quality of nonstructured and structured abstracts of original research articles in the British Medical Journal, the Canadian Medical Association Journal and the Journal of the American Medical Association . Can Med Assoc J . 1994 May 15. 150 ( 10 ):1611–5. [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
- Tenopir C, Jacso P. Quality of abstracts . Online . 1993 May. 17 ( 3 ):44–55. [ Google Scholar ]
- Froom P, Froom J. Deficiencies in structured medical abstracts . J Clin Epidemiol . 1993 Jul. 46 ( 7 ):591–4. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
- Pitkin RM, Branagan MA. Can the accuracy of abstracts be improved by providing specific instructions? a randomized controlled trial . JAMA . 1998 Jul 15. 280 ( 3 ):267–9. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
- Pitkin RM, Branagan MA, and Burmeister L. Accuracy of data in abstracts of published research articles . JAMA . 1999 Mar 24–31. 281 ( 12 ):1110–1. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
- Hartley J.. Are structured abstracts more/less accurate than traditional ones? a study in the psychological literature. Journal of Information Science. 2000; 26 (4) [ Google Scholar ]
- Hartley J, Sydes M.. Are structured abstracts easier to read than traditional ones? J Res Reading. 1997; 20 (2):122–36. [ Google Scholar ]
- Hartley J, Sydes M, Blurton A.. Obtaining information accurately and quickly: are structured abstracts more efficient? J Info Sc. 1996; 22 (5):349–56. [ Google Scholar ]
- Booth A, O'Rourke AJ.. The value of structured abstracts in information retrieval from MEDLINE. Health Libr Rev. 1997; 14 (3):157–66. [ Google Scholar ]
- O'Rourke AJ. Structured abstracts in information retrieval from biomedical databases: a literature survey . Health Informatics J . 1997 Jan. 3 ( 1 ):17–20. [ Google Scholar ]
- Hartley J, Sydes M.. Which layout do you prefer? an analysis of readers' preferences for different typographic layouts of structured abstracts. J Info Sci. 1996; 22 (1):27–37. [ Google Scholar ]
- Hartley J. Typographic settings for structured abstracts . J Technical Writing and Communication . 2001 in press. [ Google Scholar ]
- Dronberger GB, Kowitz GT.. Abstract readability as a factor in information systems. J Am Soc Inf Sci. 1975; 26 :108–11. [ Google Scholar ]
- Roberts JC, Fletcher CH, and Fletcher SW. Effects of peer review and editing on the readability of articles published in Annals of Internal Medicine . JAMA . 1994 Jul 13. 272 ( 2 ):119–21. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
- Writing Center
- Walden University
- Academic Guides
- Writing for Publication
Writing for Publication: Abstracts
- Cover Letters
- Webpage Feedback
- Formatting and Editing
- Choosing an Audience
- Conference Proposals & Presentations
An abstract is "a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of the paper" (American Psychological Association [APA], 2020, p. 38). This summary is intended to share the topic, argument, and conclusions of a research study or course paper, similar to the text on the back cover of a book. When submitting your work for publication, an abstract is often the first piece of your writing a reviewer will encounter. An abstract may not be required for course papers.
Read on for more tips on making a good first impression with a successful abstract.
An abstract is a single paragraph preceded by the heading " Abstract ," centered and in bold font. The abstract does not begin with an indented line. APA (2020) recommends that abstracts should generally be less than 250 words, though many journals have their own word limits; it is always a good idea to check journal-specific requirements before submitting. The Writing Center's APA templates are great resources for visual examples of abstracts.
Abstracts use the present tense to describe currently applicable results (e.g., "Results indicate...") and the past tense to describe research steps (e.g., "The survey measured..."), and they do not typically include citations.
Key terms are sometimes included at the end of the abstract and should be chosen by considering the words or phrases that a reader might use to search for your article.
An abstract should include information such as
- The problem or central argument of your article
- A brief exposition of research design, methods, and procedures.
- A brief summary of your findings
- A brief summary of the implications of the research on practice and theory
It is also appropriate, depending on the type of article you are writing, to include information such as:
- Participant number and type
- Study eligibility criteria
- Limitations of your study
- Implications of your study's conclusions or areas for additional research
Your abstract should avoid unnecessary wordiness and focus on quickly and concisely summarizing the major points of your work. An abstract is not an introduction; you are not trying to capture the reader's attention with timeliness or to orient the reader to the entire background of your study. When readers finish reading your abstract, they should have a strong sense of your article's purpose, approach, and conclusions. The Walden Office of Research and Doctoral Services has additional tutorial material on abstracts .
Clinical or Empirical Study Abstract Exemplar
In the following abstract, the article's problem is stated in red , the approach and design are in blue , and the results are in green .
End-stage renal disease (ESRD) patients have a high cardiovascular mortality rate. Precise estimates of the prevalence, risk factors and prognosis of different manifestations of cardiac disease are unavailable. In this study a prospective cohort of 433 ESRD patients was followed from the start of ESRD therapy for a mean of 41 months. Baseline clinical assessment and echocardiography were performed on all patients. The major outcome measure was death while on dialysis therapy. Clinical manifestations of cardiovascular disease were highly prevalent at the start of ESRD therapy: 14% had coronary artery disease, 19% angina pectoris, 31% cardiac failure, 7% dysrhythmia and 8% peripheral vascular disease. On echocardiography 15% had systolic dysfunction, 32% left ventricular dilatation and 74% left ventricular hypertrophy. The overall median survival time was 50 months. Age, diabetes mellitus, cardiac failure, peripheral vascular disease and systolic dysfunction independently predicted death in all time frames. Coronary artery disease was associated with a worse prognosis in patients with cardiac failure at baseline. High left ventricular cavity volume and mass index were independently associated with death after two years. The independent associations of the different echocardiographic abnormalities were: systolic dysfunction--older age and coronary artery disease; left ventricular dilatation--male gender, anemia, hypocalcemia and hyperphosphatemia; left ventricular hypertrophy--older age, female gender, wide arterial pulse pressure, low blood urea and hypoalbuminemia. We conclude that clinical and echocardiographic cardiovascular disease are already present in a very high proportion of patients starting ESRD therapy and are independent mortality factors.
Foley, R. N., Parfrey, P. S., Harnett, J. D., Kent, G. M., Martin, C. J., Murray, D. C., & Barre, P. E. (1995). Clinical and echocardiographic disease in patients starting end-stage renal disease therapy. Kidney International , 47 , 186–192. https://doi.org/10.1038/ki.1995.22
Literature Review Abstract Exemplar
In the following abstract, the purpose and scope of the literature review are in red , the specific span of topics is in blue , and the implications for further research are in green .
This paper provides a review of research into the relationships between psychological types, as measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and managerial attributes, behaviors and effectiveness. The literature review includes an examination of the psychometric properties of the MBTI and the contributions and limitations of research on psychological types. Next, key findings are discussed and used to advance propositions that relate psychological type to diverse topics such as risk tolerance, problem solving, information systems design, conflict management and leadership. We conclude with a research agenda that advocates: (a) the exploration of potential psychometric refinements of the MBTI, (b) more rigorous research designs, and (c) a broadening of the scope of managerial research into type.
Gardner, W. L., & Martinko, M. J. (1996). Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to study managers: A literature review and research agenda. Journal of Management, 22 (1), 45–83. https://doi.org/10.1177/014920639602200103
Didn't find what you need? Search our website or email us .
Read our website accessibility and accommodation statement .
- Previous Page: Cover Letters
- Next Page: Formatting and Editing
- Student Wellness and Disability Services
- Academic Residencies
- Academic Skills
- Career Planning and Development
- Customer Care Team
- Field Experience
- Military Services
- Student Success Advising
- Writing Skills
Centers and Offices
- Center for Social Change
- Office of Degree Acceleration
- Office of Student Affairs
- Office of Research and Doctoral Services
- CAEX Courses and Workshops
- Doctoral Writing Assessment
- Form & Style Review
- Quick Answers
- Walden Bookstore
- Walden Catalog & Student Handbook
- Student Safety/Title IX
- Legal & Consumer Information
- Website Terms and Conditions
- State Authorization
- Net Price Calculator
- Contact Walden
Walden University is a member of Adtalem Global Education, Inc. www.adtalem.com Walden University is certified to operate by SCHEV © 2023 Walden University LLC. All rights reserved.
- USC Libraries
- Research Guides
Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper
- 3. The Abstract
- Purpose of Guide
- Design Flaws to Avoid
- Independent and Dependent Variables
- Glossary of Research Terms
- Reading Research Effectively
- Narrowing a Topic Idea
- Broadening a Topic Idea
- Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
- Academic Writing Style
- Choosing a Title
- Making an Outline
- Paragraph Development
- Research Process Video Series
- Executive Summary
- The C.A.R.S. Model
- Background Information
- The Research Problem/Question
- Theoretical Framework
- Citation Tracking
- Content Alert Services
- Evaluating Sources
- Primary Sources
- Secondary Sources
- Tiertiary Sources
- Scholarly vs. Popular Publications
- Qualitative Methods
- Quantitative Methods
- Using Non-Textual Elements
- Limitations of the Study
- Common Grammar Mistakes
- Writing Concisely
- Avoiding Plagiarism
- Footnotes or Endnotes?
- Further Readings
An abstract summarizes, usually in one paragraph of 300 words or less, the major aspects of the entire paper in a prescribed sequence that includes: 1) the overall purpose of the study and the research problem(s) you investigated; 2) the basic design of the study; 3) major findings or trends found as a result of your analysis; and, 4) a brief summary of your interpretations and conclusions.
Writing an Abstract. The Writing Center. Clarion University, 2009; Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper. The Writing Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Importance of a Good Abstract
Sometimes your professor will ask you to include an abstract, or general summary of your work, with your research paper. The abstract allows you to elaborate upon each major aspect of the paper and helps readers decide whether they want to read the rest of the paper. Therefore, enough key information [e.g., summary results, observations, trends, etc.] must be included to make the abstract useful to someone who may want to examine your work.
How do you know when you have enough information in your abstract? A simple rule-of-thumb is to imagine that you are another researcher doing a similar study. Then ask yourself: if your abstract was the only part of the paper you could access, would you be happy with the amount of information presented there? Does it tell the whole story about your study? If the answer is "no" then the abstract likely needs to be revised.
How to Write a Research Abstract. Office of Undergraduate Research. University of Kentucky; Staiger, David L. “What Today’s Students Need to Know about Writing Abstracts.” International Journal of Business Communication January 3 (1966): 29-33; Swales, John M. and Christine B. Feak. Abstracts and the Writing of Abstracts . Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2009.
Structure and Writing Style
I. Types of Abstracts
To begin, you need to determine which type of abstract you should include with your paper. There are four general types.
Critical Abstract A critical abstract provides, in addition to describing main findings and information, a judgment or comment about the study’s validity, reliability, or completeness. The researcher evaluates the paper and often compares it with other works on the same subject. Critical abstracts are generally 400-500 words in length due to the additional interpretive commentary. These types of abstracts are used infrequently.
Descriptive Abstract A descriptive abstract indicates the type of information found in the work. It makes no judgments about the work, nor does it provide results or conclusions of the research. It does incorporate key words found in the text and may include the purpose, methods, and scope of the research. Essentially, the descriptive abstract only describes the work being summarized. Some researchers consider it an outline of the work, rather than a summary. Descriptive abstracts are usually very short, 100 words or less. Informative Abstract The majority of abstracts are informative. While they still do not critique or evaluate a work, they do more than describe it. A good informative abstract acts as a surrogate for the work itself. That is, the researcher presents and explains all the main arguments and the important results and evidence in the paper. An informative abstract includes the information that can be found in a descriptive abstract [purpose, methods, scope] but it also includes the results and conclusions of the research and the recommendations of the author. The length varies according to discipline, but an informative abstract is usually no more than 300 words in length.
Highlight Abstract A highlight abstract is specifically written to attract the reader’s attention to the study. No pretense is made of there being either a balanced or complete picture of the paper and, in fact, incomplete and leading remarks may be used to spark the reader’s interest. In that a highlight abstract cannot stand independent of its associated article, it is not a true abstract and, therefore, rarely used in academic writing.
II. Writing Style
Use the active voice when possible , but note that much of your abstract may require passive sentence constructions. Regardless, write your abstract using concise, but complete, sentences. Get to the point quickly and always use the past tense because you are reporting on a study that has been completed.
Abstracts should be formatted as a single paragraph in a block format and with no paragraph indentations. In most cases, the abstract page immediately follows the title page. Do not number the page. Rules set forth in writing manual vary but, in general, you should center the word "Abstract" at the top of the page with double spacing between the heading and the abstract. The final sentences of an abstract concisely summarize your study’s conclusions, implications, or applications to practice and, if appropriate, can be followed by a statement about the need for additional research revealed from the findings.
Composing Your Abstract
Although it is the first section of your paper, the abstract should be written last since it will summarize the contents of your entire paper. A good strategy to begin composing your abstract is to take whole sentences or key phrases from each section of the paper and put them in a sequence that summarizes the contents. Then revise or add connecting phrases or words to make the narrative flow clearly and smoothly. Note that statistical findings should be reported parenthetically [i.e., written in parentheses].
Before handing in your final paper, check to make sure that the information in the abstract completely agrees with what you have written in the paper. Think of the abstract as a sequential set of complete sentences describing the most crucial information using the fewest necessary words. The abstract SHOULD NOT contain:
- A catchy introductory phrase, provocative quote, or other device to grab the reader's attention,
- Lengthy background or contextual information,
- Redundant phrases, unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, and repetitive information;
- Acronyms or abbreviations,
- References to other literature [say something like, "current research shows that..." or "studies have indicated..."],
- Using ellipticals [i.e., ending with "..."] or incomplete sentences,
- Jargon or terms that may be confusing to the reader,
- Citations to other works, and
- Any sort of image, illustration, figure, or table, or references to them.
Abstract. Writing Center. University of Kansas; Abstract. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College; Abstracts. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Borko, Harold and Seymour Chatman. "Criteria for Acceptable Abstracts: A Survey of Abstracters' Instructions." American Documentation 14 (April 1963): 149-160; Abstracts. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Hartley, James and Lucy Betts. "Common Weaknesses in Traditional Abstracts in hte Social Sciences." Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 60 (October 2009): 2010-2018; Procter, Margaret. The Abstract. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Riordan, Laura. “Mastering the Art of Abstracts.” The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 115 (January 2015 ): 41-47; Writing Report Abstracts. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Abstracts. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Koltay, Tibor. Abstracts and Abstracting: A Genre and Set of Skills for the Twenty-First Century . Oxford, UK: 2010; Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper. The Writing Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Never Cite Just the Abstract!
Citing to just a journal article's abstract does not confirm for the reader that you have conducted a thorough or reliable review of the literature. If the full-text is not available, go to the USC Libraries main page and enter the title of the article [NOT the title of the journal]. If the Libraries have a subscription to the journal, the article should appear with a link to the full-text or to the journal publisher page where you can get the article. If the article does not appear, try searching Google Scholar using the link on the USC Libraries main page. If you still can't find the article after doing this, contact a librarian or you can request it from our free i nterlibrary loan and document delivery service .
- << Previous: Research Process Video Series
- Next: Executive Summary >>
- Last Updated: Feb 16, 2023 1:36 PM
- URL: https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide
How to Write an Abstract for a Literature Review · First, briefly state the research topic and questions. · Then, using the primary studies in the literature you
An abstract is a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of an article. It allows readers to survey the contents of an article quickly.
A contextual sentence about your motivation behind your research topic · Your thesis statement · A descriptive statement about the types of
The Contents of an Abstract · the context or background information for your research; the general topic under study; the specific topic of your research · the
The abstract should summarize the key methods, results and conclusions of the review and should not contain any information that is not in the review. Links to
Abstracts of scientific papers are sometimes poorly written, often lack important information, and occasionally convey a biased picture.
Conclusions: The abstracts of systematic reviews should be easier to read than the abstracts of medical research articles, as they are targeted at a wider
An abstract is "a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of the paper" (American Psychological Association [APA], 2020, p. 38).
An abstract helps readers decide if they should read the whole article. Readers first read abstracts to know if an article interests them or is
Citing to just a journal article's abstract does not confirm for the reader that you have conducted a thorough or reliable review of the