Although some journals still publish abstracts that are written as free-flowing paragraphs, most journals require abstracts to conform to a formal structure within a word count of, usually, — words. The usual sections defined in a structured abstract are the Background, Methods, Results, and Conclusions; other headings with similar meanings may be used eg, Introduction in place of Background or Findings in place of Results. Some journals include additional sections, such as Objectives between Background and Methods and Limitations at the end of the abstract.
In the rest of this paper, issues related to the contents of each section will be examined in turn. This section should be the shortest part of the abstract and should very briefly outline the following information:. What is not known about the subject and hence what the study intended to examine or what the paper seeks to present. In most cases, the background can be framed in just 2—3 sentences, with each sentence describing a different aspect of the information referred to above; sometimes, even a single sentence may suffice.
The purpose of the background, as the word itself indicates, is to provide the reader with a background to the study, and hence to smoothly lead into a description of the methods employed in the investigation. Some authors publish papers the abstracts of which contain a lengthy background section. There are some situations, perhaps, where this may be justified.
Types of Abstracts
In most cases, however, a longer background section means that less space remains for the presentation of the results. This is unfortunate because the reader is interested in the paper because of its findings, and not because of its background. A wide variety of acceptably composed backgrounds is provided in Table 2 ; most of these have been adapted from actual papers.
Note that, in the interest of brevity, unnecessary content is avoided. The methods section is usually the second-longest section in the abstract. It should contain enough information to enable the reader to understand what was done, and how. Table 3 lists important questions to which the methods section should provide brief answers.
Questions regarding which information should ideally be available in the methods section of an abstract. Carelessly written methods sections lack information about important issues such as sample size, numbers of patients in different groups, doses of medications, and duration of the study. Readers have only to flip through the pages of a randomly selected journal to realize how common such carelessness is.
Table 4 presents examples of the contents of accept-ably written methods sections, modified from actual publications. The results section is the most important part of the abstract and nothing should compromise its range and quality. This is because readers who peruse an abstract do so to learn about the findings of the study.
The results section should therefore be the longest part of the abstract and should contain as much detail about the findings as the journal word count permits. Important information that the results should present is indicated in Table 5. Examples of acceptably written abstracts are presented in Table 6 ; one of these has been modified from an actual publication. This section should contain the most important take-home message of the study, expressed in a few precisely worded sentences.
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Usually, the finding highlighted here relates to the primary outcome measure; however, other important or unexpected findings should also be mentioned. It is also customary, but not essential, for the authors to express an opinion about the theoretical or practical implications of the findings, or the importance of their findings for the field. Thus, the conclusions may contain three elements:.
Despite its necessary brevity, this section has the most impact on the average reader because readers generally trust authors and take their assertions at face value. For this reason, the conclusions should also be scrupulously honest; and authors should not claim more than their data demonstrate. Hypothetical examples of the conclusions section of an abstract are presented in Table 7. Citation of references anywhere within an abstract is almost invariably inappropriate.
Other examples of unnecessary content in an abstract are listed in Table 8. It goes without saying that whatever is present in the abstract must also be present in the text. Likewise, whatever errors should not be made in the text should not appear in the abstract eg, mistaking association for causality. As already mentioned, the abstract is the only part of the paper that the vast majority of readers see.
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 words in length.
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. 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. 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. 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. Writing Center. University of Kansas; Abstract. Department of Biology. Bates College; Abstracts. The Abstract. University College Writing Centre.
Purdue University; Writing Abstracts. Appendices are very useful because they give you a place to dump raw data and calculations.
They must still be laid out correctly; the data must be relevant and referred to in the main report. If you have a lot of relevant photographs of sample sites and methods then they belong here. It is also useful to insert a Google map plan to show from where you took samples. Hopefully this will have given you a good oversight into writing that perfect report.
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How to write an abstract - A good example of an abstract: things to remember
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