Writing a long research paper can be difficult. There are so many parts and often a lot of precise steps to follow. When someone asks what the paper is about, it can be tough to describe it in just a few words. This is where an abstract comes in.

Abstract Abstract

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    Abstracts provide readers with a short summary of a research paper, from the research concepts and process to the main findings. Writing an abstract can be difficult at first because the process requires writers to summarize their entire paper in under 300 words. Mastering the art of writing abstracts is important because it requires strong research and writing skills to sum up an entire paper completely and concisely.

    Abstract, Writing Example, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Writing abstracts is a critical skill for researchers.

    Abstract Definition

    An abstract helps someone understand your research.

    An abstract is a concise summary of a research paper.

    An abstract is a summary of a paper that authors include after the title page and before the introduction. When writing formal research papers, dissertations, and professional papers, writers need to create abstracts. In less than 300 words, an abstract informs readers of the research motive, the investigation, the findings, and their importance.

    The word abstract comes from Latin and means detached or pulled away. This might help you remember that an abstract is a condensed summary of a paper detached from the paper itself.

    Types of Abstracts

    There are several types of abstracts, which vary in length and content. These include informative abstracts, descriptive abstracts, critical abstracts, and highlight abstracts.

    Informative Abstracts and Their Characteristics

    The most common type of abstract writers and researchers use is the informative abstract. Informative abstracts are approximately 250 words in length, and they provide the reader with a summary of the main concepts of the research, the research methodology, conclusions, and recommendations based on the research.

    How to Write an Informative Abstract

    The informative abstract should be the last part of a researcher's paper. It is impossible to write a comprehensive abstract unless the researcher has already gone through the research process and reflected on the limitations and implications of the research findings. There are several vital pieces of information that writers need to include in an abstract:

    1. The purpose of the research. Writers should start their abstract by explaining the aims of their research. They should state the main topic and why they wanted to study it. This may include social or historical context, but not too much.

    2. The research question. Writers should state what research question or questions they asked about the main topic.

    3. The methodology. Writers should then explain how they went about conducting their research. They should briefly describe the procedures they used to perform research but not provide any analysis about the effectiveness of those procedures.

    4. Research findings. Writers should then briefly summarize what their research showed. This section should be a short summary of the main conclusions and not describe any nuances.

    5. Conclusions and recommendations. Writers should wrap up their abstract by stating the answer to their research question. They might also mention implications or the need for further research.


    Sometimes writers will include keywords at the bottom of an abstract. Writers typically include keywords when writing a paper for a professional publication, such as a scholarly journal. If writers choose to include keywords, they should identify the core concepts of their research that other researchers might search for and put those words in a list. For example, in the sample abstract below, the author's research question is about medical students. Thus, "medical school" and "academic performance" are listed as keywords. Abstracts typically have three to five keywords.

    Descriptive Abstracts and Their Characteristics

    Writers also commonly use descriptive abstracts. Descriptive abstracts are similar to informative abstracts in content but shorter in length. They are typically about 100 words and include only the main focus of the study, not the conclusion and recommendations.

    Critical Abstracts and Their Characteristics

    Critical abstracts are much longer than descriptive and informative abstracts. They tend to be around 450 words long and include a lot of analysis, such as points about a study's validity or reliability. Critical abstracts are often used in social science research.

    Highlight Abstracts and Their Characteristics

    Highlight abstracts are uncommon. Their purpose is to hook the reader's attention, not inform the reader about the paper with a useful summary. Highlight abstracts emphasize what is unique about the research, such as important conclusions or results.

    Abstract Example

    The following is an example of what an informative abstract looks like.

    Abstract, example of an abstract, StudySmarterMost abstracts look visually similar to this example, StudySmarter.

    The default tense for academic writing is the present simple, and the simple past tense is the next appropriate tense. Therefore, writers should always write their abstracts in the present simple or simple past tense. They should not write their abstracts in the future tense because that implies that they have not done the research yet. For instance, note how this abstract states: "This study examines" in the present simple tense. If academic writers do not use the present simple or simple past tense, they should use the present perfect tense, which is used to discuss things that have just happened. For instance, the following sentence uses the present perfect: "I have already read that article."

    The Importance of Abstracts

    Abstracts are also important because they tell readers how the paper they are about to read will be organized. Reading long academic papers with complex methodologies can often be confusing. The paper's abstract can serve as a frame of reference for readers, as they can refer back to it to understand the researcher's main aims and process.

    Reading other researchers' abstracts can be a useful way to quickly identify the information in a source for one's own research. For instance, imagine a writer is tasked with crafting a literature review that is an overview of all recent and relevant literature in a specific field. This can be an overwhelming task, especially if the field has a lot of research. Reading abstracts of potential sources can help speed up the research process because it tells researchers exactly what others have asked and found on a topic. To use an abstract to identify relevant research, writers should ask:

    • Is this paper's research question relevant to the question that I am asking?

    • Does the methodology of this study align with the types of studies I'm interested in?

    • Do the findings of this study provide valuable insight into this field?

    Abstract, Papers, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Abstracts can save researchers time when they have a lot of papers to review.

    If the answers to all of the above questions were yes, then the research is likely worth reading in full to identify if it can contribute to one's research process. If the answer to one or more of these questions is "no," a researcher can move on and look for other relevant studies.

    Abstract - Key Takeaways

    • An abstract is a concise summary of a research paper.
    • The four main types of abstracts are informative, descriptive, critical, and highlight.
    • An informative abstract is the most common and should include the purpose of research, the research question(s), the methodology, the findings, and the implications.
    • An informative abstract should be approximately 150-250 words.
    • Reading abstracts can help researchers identify relevant research for their own work.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Abstract

    What is the meaning of abstract?

    An abstract is a concise summary of a research paper. 

    What is the importance of an abstract?

    An abstract is important because it introduces a reader to the main concepts and design of a research paper. 

    What are the types of abstracts?

    The types of abstracts are: informative abstracts, descriptive abstracts, critical abstracts, and highlight abstracts. 

    What are the characteristics of an abstract?

    Abstracts typically include the main ideas of the research, the research question, the research methodology, major findings, and conclusions.

    How long is an abstract?

    Informative abstracts are about 150-250 words. They should not be more than 300 words. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    An abstract is a concise summary of a(n) _____. 

    True or False? Abstracts can be written in the future tense. 

    Where does the word "abstract" come from? 

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