How To Write an Abstract for a Scientific Paper

2 Ways To Write an Abstract

An abstract is a brief summary of your scientific research. There are two main forms you can use to write an abstract.
An abstract is a brief summary of your scientific research. There are two main forms you can use to write an abstract. Chttps://chemistryadmin.about.com/api/binary?site=chemistry&url=http%3A%2F%2F0.tqn.com%2Fd%2Fchemistry%2F1%2F0%2FC%2Fe%2F2%2FGettyImages-551797887.jpg&session_site=chemistryultura RM Exclusive/Matt Lincoln, Getty Images

If you're preparing a research paper or grant proposal, you'll need to know how to write an abstract. Here's a look at what an abstract is and how to write one.

What Is an Abstract?

An abstract is a concise summary of an experiment or research project. It should be brief -- typically under 200 words. The purpose of the abstract is to summarize the research paper by stating the purpose of the research, the experimental method, the findings, and the conclusions.

How To Write an Abstract

The format you'll use for the abstract depends on its purpose. If you're writing for a specific publication or a class assignment, you'll probably need to follow specific guidelines. If there isn't a required format, you'll need to choose from one of two possible types of abstracts.

Informational Abstracts

An informational abstract is a type of abstract used to communicate an experiment or lab report.

  • An informational abstract is like a mini-paper. Its length ranges from a paragraph to 1-2 pages, depending on the scope of the report. Aim for less than 10% the length of the full report.
  • Summarize all aspects of the report, including purpose, method, results, conclusions, and recommendations. There are no graphs, charts, tables, or images in an abstract. Similarly, an abstract does not include a bibliography or references.
  • Highlight important discoveries or anomalies. It's okay if the experiment did not go as planned and necessary to state the outcome in the abstract.

    Here is a good format to follow, in order, when writing an informational abstract. Each section is a sentence or two long:

    1. Motivation or Purpose: State why the subject is important or why anyone should care about the experiment and its results.
    2. Problem: State the hypothesis of the experiment or describe the problem you are trying to solve.
    1. Method: How did you test the hypothesis or try to solve the problem?
    2. Results: What was the outcome of the study? Did you support or reject a hypothesis? Did you solve a problem? How close were the results to what you expected? State specific numbers.
    3. Conclusions: What is the significance of your findings? Do the results lead to an increase in knowledge, solution that may be applied to other problems, etc.?

    Need examples? The abstracts at PubMed.gov (National Institutes of Health database) are informational abstracts. A random example is this abstract on the effect of coffee consumption on Acute Coronary Syndrome.

    Descriptive Abstracts

    A descriptive abstract is an extremely brief description of the contents of a report. Its purpose is to tell the reader what to expect from the full paper.

    • A descriptive abstract is very short, typically less than 100 words.
    • Tells the reader what the report contains, but doesn't go into detail.
    • It briefly summarizes the purpose and experimental method, but not the results or conclusions. Basically, say why and how the study was made, but don't go into findings. 

    Need an example? Here's a descriptive abstract from a paper actually written about how to write a scientific abstract for a conference.

    Tips for Writing a Good Abstract

    • Write the paper before writing the abstract. You might be tempted to start with the abstract, since it comes between the title page and the paper, but it's much easier to summarize a paper or report after it has been completed.
    • Write in third person. Replace phrases like "I found" or "we examined" with phrases like "it was determined" or "this paper provides" or "the investigators found".
    • Write the abstract and then pare it down to meet the word limit. In some cases, a long abstract will result in automatic rejection for publication or a grade!
    • Think of keywords and phrases a person looking for your work might use or enter into a search engine. Include those words in your abstract. Even if the paper won't be published, this is a good habit to develop.
    • All information in the abstract must be covered in the body of the paper. Don't put a fact in the abstract that isn't described in the report.
    • Proof-read the abstract for typos, spelling mistakes, and punctuation errors.
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    Your Citation
    Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "How To Write an Abstract for a Scientific Paper." ThoughtCo, Aug. 31, 2015, thoughtco.com/writing-an-abstract-for-a-scientific-paper-609106. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2015, August 31). How To Write an Abstract for a Scientific Paper. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/writing-an-abstract-for-a-scientific-paper-609106 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "How To Write an Abstract for a Scientific Paper." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/writing-an-abstract-for-a-scientific-paper-609106 (accessed December 15, 2017).