The Definition of Abstract Composition

Manuela Schewe-Behnisch/EyeEm/Getty Images

An abstract is a brief overview of the key points of an article, report, or proposal.

Positioned at the head of a paper, the abstract is usually "the first thing that individuals read and, as such, decide whether to continue reading. It is also what is most accessed by search engines and researchers conducting their own literature reviews" (Dan W. Butin, The Education Dissertation, 2010).

See Observations, below.


From the Latin, "away" + "draw"


  • "A good quality abstract should accurately reflect the purpose and content of your project. . . . It is very important to note that an abstract should never contain information that is not included in the body of your project itself."
  • "A good abstract will tell you what the key issue that's addressed is, it'll give you an idea of the methods that have been used and the conclusions that have been arrived at. So that abstract ought to tell someone whether it's worth them spending part of their life reading this paper."
  • Problem, Solution, Benefit
    "Each proposal you write will focus on unique ideas. Therefore, the content of your abstracts will differ. Nonetheless, abstracts should focus on the following: (a) the problem necessitating your proposal, (b) your suggested solution, and (c) the benefits derived when your proposed suggestions are implemented..."
  • Descriptive Abstracts and Informative Abstracts
    "Depending on the kind of information they contain, abstracts are often classified as descriptive or informative. A descriptive abstract summarizes the purpose, scope, and methods used to arrive at the reported findings. It is a slightly expanded table of contents in sentence and paragraph form. A descriptive abstract need not be longer than several sentences. An informative abstract is an expanded version of the descriptive abstract. In addition to information about the purpose, scope, and research methods used, the informative abstract summarizes the results, conclusions, and any recommendations. The informative abstract retains the tone and essential scope of the report, omitting its details."
  • Characteristics of an Effective Informative Abstract
    "[A]n informative abstract is not an introduction to the topic, and it should not be seen as an introduction to the report..." "Given this, we advocate that a good abstract should (1) give a high-level presentation of the area studied, (2) reason about the importance and why it is an interesting area worthy to be studied, (3) present a high-level description of the approach, and (4) summarise the contribution. An informative abstract should summarise all the major sections of the report, the key concepts, contributions, and conclusions. A typical abstract is about 250-500 words. This is not more than 10-20 sentences, so you will obviously have to choose your words very carefully to cover so much information in such a condensed format."
  • Heading Abstracts
    "When writing the abstract, examine every word carefully. If you can tell your story in 100 words, do not use 200. . . . [T]he use of clear, significant words will impress the editors and reviewers (not to mention readers), whereas the use of abstruse, verbose constructions might well contribute to a check in the 'reject' box on the review form."



Also Known As

synopsis, executive summary


Jennifer Evans, Your Psychology Project: The Essential Guide. Sage, 2007

David Gilborn, quoted by Pat Thomson and Barbara Kamler in Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for Getting Published. Routledge, 2013

Sharon J. Gerson and Steven M. Gerson, Technical Writing: Process and Product. Pearson, 2003

Gerald J. Alred, Charles T. Brusaw, and Walter E. Oliu, Handbook of Technical Writing. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2006

M. Berndtsson, et al., Thesis Projects: A Guide for Students in Computer Science and Information Systems, 2nd ed. Springer-Verlag, 2008

Robert Day and Barbara Gastel, How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, 7th ed. Cambridge University Press, 2012