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- How to Write an Abstract | Steps & Examples
How to Write an Abstract | Steps & Examples
Published on February 28, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 18, 2023 by Eoghan Ryan.
An abstract is a short summary of a longer work (such as a thesis , dissertation or research paper ). The abstract concisely reports the aims and outcomes of your research, so that readers know exactly what your paper is about.
Although the structure may vary slightly depending on your discipline, your abstract should describe the purpose of your work, the methods you’ve used, and the conclusions you’ve drawn.
One common way to structure your abstract is to use the IMRaD structure. This stands for:
Abstracts are usually around 100–300 words, but there’s often a strict word limit, so make sure to check the relevant requirements.
In a dissertation or thesis , include the abstract on a separate page, after the title page and acknowledgements but before the table of contents .
Table of contents
Abstract example, when to write an abstract, step 1: introduction, step 2: methods, step 3: results, step 4: discussion, tips for writing an abstract, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about abstracts.
Hover over the different parts of the abstract to see how it is constructed.
This paper examines the role of silent movies as a mode of shared experience in the US during the early twentieth century. At this time, high immigration rates resulted in a significant percentage of non-English-speaking citizens. These immigrants faced numerous economic and social obstacles, including exclusion from public entertainment and modes of discourse (newspapers, theater, radio).
Incorporating evidence from reviews, personal correspondence, and diaries, this study demonstrates that silent films were an affordable and inclusive source of entertainment. It argues for the accessible economic and representational nature of early cinema. These concerns are particularly evident in the low price of admission and in the democratic nature of the actors’ exaggerated gestures, which allowed the plots and action to be easily grasped by a diverse audience despite language barriers.
Keywords: silent movies, immigration, public discourse, entertainment, early cinema, language barriers.
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You will almost always have to include an abstract when:
- Completing a thesis or dissertation
- Submitting a research paper to an academic journal
- Writing a book or research proposal
- Applying for research grants
It’s easiest to write your abstract last, right before the proofreading stage, because it’s a summary of the work you’ve already done. Your abstract should:
- Be a self-contained text, not an excerpt from your paper
- Be fully understandable on its own
- Reflect the structure of your larger work
Start by clearly defining the purpose of your research. What practical or theoretical problem does the research respond to, or what research question did you aim to answer?
You can include some brief context on the social or academic relevance of your dissertation topic , but don’t go into detailed background information. If your abstract uses specialized terms that would be unfamiliar to the average academic reader or that have various different meanings, give a concise definition.
After identifying the problem, state the objective of your research. Use verbs like “investigate,” “test,” “analyze,” or “evaluate” to describe exactly what you set out to do.
This part of the abstract can be written in the present or past simple tense but should never refer to the future, as the research is already complete.
- This study will investigate the relationship between coffee consumption and productivity.
- This study investigates the relationship between coffee consumption and productivity.
Next, indicate the research methods that you used to answer your question. This part should be a straightforward description of what you did in one or two sentences. It is usually written in the past simple tense, as it refers to completed actions.
- Structured interviews will be conducted with 25 participants.
- Structured interviews were conducted with 25 participants.
Don’t evaluate validity or obstacles here — the goal is not to give an account of the methodology’s strengths and weaknesses, but to give the reader a quick insight into the overall approach and procedures you used.
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Next, summarize the main research results . This part of the abstract can be in the present or past simple tense.
- Our analysis has shown a strong correlation between coffee consumption and productivity.
- Our analysis shows a strong correlation between coffee consumption and productivity.
- Our analysis showed a strong correlation between coffee consumption and productivity.
Depending on how long and complex your research is, you may not be able to include all results here. Try to highlight only the most important findings that will allow the reader to understand your conclusions.
Finally, you should discuss the main conclusions of your research : what is your answer to the problem or question? The reader should finish with a clear understanding of the central point that your research has proved or argued. Conclusions are usually written in the present simple tense.
- We concluded that coffee consumption increases productivity.
- We conclude that coffee consumption increases productivity.
If there are important limitations to your research (for example, related to your sample size or methods), you should mention them briefly in the abstract. This allows the reader to accurately assess the credibility and generalizability of your research.
If your aim was to solve a practical problem, your discussion might include recommendations for implementation. If relevant, you can briefly make suggestions for further research.
If your paper will be published, you might have to add a list of keywords at the end of the abstract. These keywords should reference the most important elements of the research to help potential readers find your paper during their own literature searches.
Be aware that some publication manuals, such as APA Style , have specific formatting requirements for these keywords.
It can be a real challenge to condense your whole work into just a couple of hundred words, but the abstract will be the first (and sometimes only) part that people read, so it’s important to get it right. These strategies can help you get started.
Read other abstracts
The best way to learn the conventions of writing an abstract in your discipline is to read other people’s. You probably already read lots of journal article abstracts while conducting your literature review —try using them as a framework for structure and style.
You can also find lots of dissertation abstract examples in thesis and dissertation databases .
Not all abstracts will contain precisely the same elements. For longer works, you can write your abstract through a process of reverse outlining.
For each chapter or section, list keywords and draft one to two sentences that summarize the central point or argument. This will give you a framework of your abstract’s structure. Next, revise the sentences to make connections and show how the argument develops.
Write clearly and concisely
A good abstract is short but impactful, so make sure every word counts. Each sentence should clearly communicate one main point.
To keep your abstract or summary short and clear:
- Avoid passive sentences: Passive constructions are often unnecessarily long. You can easily make them shorter and clearer by using the active voice.
- Avoid long sentences: Substitute longer expressions for concise expressions or single words (e.g., “In order to” for “To”).
- Avoid obscure jargon: The abstract should be understandable to readers who are not familiar with your topic.
- Avoid repetition and filler words: Replace nouns with pronouns when possible and eliminate unnecessary words.
- Avoid detailed descriptions: An abstract is not expected to provide detailed definitions, background information, or discussions of other scholars’ work. Instead, include this information in the body of your thesis or paper.
If you’re struggling to edit down to the required length, you can get help from expert editors with Scribbr’s professional proofreading services or use the paraphrasing tool .
Check your formatting
If you are writing a thesis or dissertation or submitting to a journal, there are often specific formatting requirements for the abstract—make sure to check the guidelines and format your work correctly. For APA research papers you can follow the APA abstract format .
The word count is within the required length, or a maximum of one page.
The abstract appears after the title page and acknowledgements and before the table of contents .
I have clearly stated my research problem and objectives.
I have briefly described my methodology .
I have summarized the most important results .
I have stated my main conclusions .
I have mentioned any important limitations and recommendations.
The abstract can be understood by someone without prior knowledge of the topic.
You've written a great abstract! Use the other checklists to continue improving your thesis or dissertation.
If you want to know more about AI for academic writing, AI tools, or research bias, make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!
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An abstract is a concise summary of an academic text (such as a journal article or dissertation ). It serves two main purposes:
- To help potential readers determine the relevance of your paper for their own research.
- To communicate your key findings to those who don’t have time to read the whole paper.
Abstracts are often indexed along with keywords on academic databases, so they make your work more easily findable. Since the abstract is the first thing any reader sees, it’s important that it clearly and accurately summarizes the contents of your paper.
An abstract for a thesis or dissertation is usually around 200–300 words. There’s often a strict word limit, so make sure to check your university’s requirements.
The abstract is the very last thing you write. You should only write it after your research is complete, so that you can accurately summarize the entirety of your thesis , dissertation or research paper .
Avoid citing sources in your abstract . There are two reasons for this:
- The abstract should focus on your original research, not on the work of others.
- The abstract should be self-contained and fully understandable without reference to other sources.
There are some circumstances where you might need to mention other sources in an abstract: for example, if your research responds directly to another study or focuses on the work of a single theorist. In general, though, don’t include citations unless absolutely necessary.
The abstract appears on its own page in the thesis or dissertation , after the title page and acknowledgements but before the table of contents .
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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:
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What this handout is about
This handout provides definitions and examples of the two main types of abstracts: descriptive and informative. It also provides guidelines for constructing an abstract and general tips for you to keep in mind when drafting. Finally, it includes a few examples of abstracts broken down into their component parts.
What is an abstract?
An abstract is a self-contained, short, and powerful statement that describes a larger work. Components vary according to discipline. An abstract of a social science or scientific work may contain the scope, purpose, results, and contents of the work. An abstract of a humanities work may contain the thesis, background, and conclusion of the larger work. An abstract is not a review, nor does it evaluate the work being abstracted. While it contains key words found in the larger work, the abstract is an original document rather than an excerpted passage.
Why write an abstract?
You may write an abstract for various reasons. The two most important are selection and indexing. Abstracts allow readers who may be interested in a longer work to quickly decide whether it is worth their time to read it. Also, many online databases use abstracts to index larger works. Therefore, abstracts should contain keywords and phrases that allow for easy searching.
Say you are beginning a research project on how Brazilian newspapers helped Brazil’s ultra-liberal president Luiz Ignácio da Silva wrest power from the traditional, conservative power base. A good first place to start your research is to search Dissertation Abstracts International for all dissertations that deal with the interaction between newspapers and politics. “Newspapers and politics” returned 569 hits. A more selective search of “newspapers and Brazil” returned 22 hits. That is still a fair number of dissertations. Titles can sometimes help winnow the field, but many titles are not very descriptive. For example, one dissertation is titled “Rhetoric and Riot in Rio de Janeiro.” It is unclear from the title what this dissertation has to do with newspapers in Brazil. One option would be to download or order the entire dissertation on the chance that it might speak specifically to the topic. A better option is to read the abstract. In this case, the abstract reveals the main focus of the dissertation:
This dissertation examines the role of newspaper editors in the political turmoil and strife that characterized late First Empire Rio de Janeiro (1827-1831). Newspaper editors and their journals helped change the political culture of late First Empire Rio de Janeiro by involving the people in the discussion of state. This change in political culture is apparent in Emperor Pedro I’s gradual loss of control over the mechanisms of power. As the newspapers became more numerous and powerful, the Emperor lost his legitimacy in the eyes of the people. To explore the role of the newspapers in the political events of the late First Empire, this dissertation analyzes all available newspapers published in Rio de Janeiro from 1827 to 1831. Newspapers and their editors were leading forces in the effort to remove power from the hands of the ruling elite and place it under the control of the people. In the process, newspapers helped change how politics operated in the constitutional monarchy of Brazil.
From this abstract you now know that although the dissertation has nothing to do with modern Brazilian politics, it does cover the role of newspapers in changing traditional mechanisms of power. After reading the abstract, you can make an informed judgment about whether the dissertation would be worthwhile to read.
Besides selection, the other main purpose of the abstract is for indexing. Most article databases in the online catalog of the library enable you to search abstracts. This allows for quick retrieval by users and limits the extraneous items recalled by a “full-text” search. However, for an abstract to be useful in an online retrieval system, it must incorporate the key terms that a potential researcher would use to search. For example, if you search Dissertation Abstracts International using the keywords “France” “revolution” and “politics,” the search engine would search through all the abstracts in the database that included those three words. Without an abstract, the search engine would be forced to search titles, which, as we have seen, may not be fruitful, or else search the full text. It’s likely that a lot more than 60 dissertations have been written with those three words somewhere in the body of the entire work. By incorporating keywords into the abstract, the author emphasizes the central topics of the work and gives prospective readers enough information to make an informed judgment about the applicability of the work.
When do people write abstracts?
- when submitting articles to journals, especially online journals
- when applying for research grants
- when writing a book proposal
- when completing the Ph.D. dissertation or M.A. thesis
- when writing a proposal for a conference paper
- when writing a proposal for a book chapter
Most often, the author of the entire work (or prospective work) writes the abstract. However, there are professional abstracting services that hire writers to draft abstracts of other people’s work. In a work with multiple authors, the first author usually writes the abstract. Undergraduates are sometimes asked to draft abstracts of books/articles for classmates who have not read the larger work.
Types of abstracts
There are two types of abstracts: descriptive and informative. They have different aims, so as a consequence they have different components and styles. There is also a third type called critical, but it is rarely used. If you want to find out more about writing a critique or a review of a work, see the UNC Writing Center handout on writing a literature review . If you are unsure which type of abstract you should write, ask your instructor (if the abstract is for a class) or read other abstracts in your field or in the journal where you are submitting your article.
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 describes the work being abstracted. Some people consider it an outline of the work, rather than a summary. Descriptive abstracts are usually very short—100 words or less.
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 writer presents and explains all the main arguments and the important results and evidence in the complete article/paper/book. An informative abstract includes the information that can be found in a descriptive abstract (purpose, methods, scope) but 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 rarely more than 10% of the length of the entire work. In the case of a longer work, it may be much less.
Here are examples of a descriptive and an informative abstract of this handout on abstracts . Descriptive abstract:
The two most common abstract types—descriptive and informative—are described and examples of each are provided.
Abstracts present the essential elements of a longer work in a short and powerful statement. The purpose of an abstract is to provide prospective readers the opportunity to judge the relevance of the longer work to their projects. Abstracts also include the key terms found in the longer work and the purpose and methods of the research. Authors abstract various longer works, including book proposals, dissertations, and online journal articles. There are two main types of abstracts: descriptive and informative. A descriptive abstract briefly describes the longer work, while an informative abstract presents all the main arguments and important results. This handout provides examples of various types of abstracts and instructions on how to construct one.
Which type should I use?
Your best bet in this case is to ask your instructor or refer to the instructions provided by the publisher. You can also make a guess based on the length allowed; i.e., 100-120 words = descriptive; 250+ words = informative.
How do I write an abstract?
The format of your abstract will depend on the work being abstracted. An abstract of a scientific research paper will contain elements not found in an abstract of a literature article, and vice versa. However, all abstracts share several mandatory components, and there are also some optional parts that you can decide to include or not. When preparing to draft your abstract, keep the following key process elements in mind:
- Reason for writing: What is the importance of the research? Why would a reader be interested in the larger work?
- Problem: What problem does this work attempt to solve? What is the scope of the project? What is the main argument/thesis/claim?
- Methodology: An abstract of a scientific work may include specific models or approaches used in the larger study. Other abstracts may describe the types of evidence used in the research.
- Results: Again, an abstract of a scientific work may include specific data that indicates the results of the project. Other abstracts may discuss the findings in a more general way.
- Implications: What changes should be implemented as a result of the findings of the work? How does this work add to the body of knowledge on the topic?
(This list of elements is adapted with permission from Philip Koopman, “How to Write an Abstract.” )
All abstracts include:
- A full citation of the source, preceding the abstract.
- The most important information first.
- The same type and style of language found in the original, including technical language.
- Key words and phrases that quickly identify the content and focus of the work.
- Clear, concise, and powerful language.
Abstracts may include:
- The thesis of the work, usually in the first sentence.
- Background information that places the work in the larger body of literature.
- The same chronological structure as the original work.
How not to write an abstract:
- Do not refer extensively to other works.
- Do not add information not contained in the original work.
- Do not define terms.
If you are abstracting your own writing
When abstracting your own work, it may be difficult to condense a piece of writing that you have agonized over for weeks (or months, or even years) into a 250-word statement. There are some tricks that you could use to make it easier, however.
This technique is commonly used when you are having trouble organizing your own writing. The process involves writing down the main idea of each paragraph on a separate piece of paper– see our short video . For the purposes of writing an abstract, try grouping the main ideas of each section of the paper into a single sentence. Practice grouping ideas using webbing or color coding .
For a scientific paper, you may have sections titled Purpose, Methods, Results, and Discussion. Each one of these sections will be longer than one paragraph, but each is grouped around a central idea. Use reverse outlining to discover the central idea in each section and then distill these ideas into one statement.
Cut and paste:
To create a first draft of an abstract of your own work, you can read through the entire paper and cut and paste sentences that capture key passages. This technique is useful for social science research with findings that cannot be encapsulated by neat numbers or concrete results. A well-written humanities draft will have a clear and direct thesis statement and informative topic sentences for paragraphs or sections. Isolate these sentences in a separate document and work on revising them into a unified paragraph.
If you are abstracting someone else’s writing
When abstracting something you have not written, you cannot summarize key ideas just by cutting and pasting. Instead, you must determine what a prospective reader would want to know about the work. There are a few techniques that will help you in this process:
Identify key terms:
Search through the entire document for key terms that identify the purpose, scope, and methods of the work. Pay close attention to the Introduction (or Purpose) and the Conclusion (or Discussion). These sections should contain all the main ideas and key terms in the paper. When writing the abstract, be sure to incorporate the key terms.
Highlight key phrases and sentences:
Instead of cutting and pasting the actual words, try highlighting sentences or phrases that appear to be central to the work. Then, in a separate document, rewrite the sentences and phrases in your own words.
Don’t look back:
After reading the entire work, put it aside and write a paragraph about the work without referring to it. In the first draft, you may not remember all the key terms or the results, but you will remember what the main point of the work was. Remember not to include any information you did not get from the work being abstracted.
Revise, revise, revise
No matter what type of abstract you are writing, or whether you are abstracting your own work or someone else’s, the most important step in writing an abstract is to revise early and often. When revising, delete all extraneous words and incorporate meaningful and powerful words. The idea is to be as clear and complete as possible in the shortest possible amount of space. The Word Count feature of Microsoft Word can help you keep track of how long your abstract is and help you hit your target length.
Example 1: Humanities abstract
Kenneth Tait Andrews, “‘Freedom is a constant struggle’: The dynamics and consequences of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, 1960-1984” Ph.D. State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1997 DAI-A 59/02, p. 620, Aug 1998
This dissertation examines the impacts of social movements through a multi-layered study of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement from its peak in the early 1960s through the early 1980s. By examining this historically important case, I clarify the process by which movements transform social structures and the constraints movements face when they try to do so. The time period studied includes the expansion of voting rights and gains in black political power, the desegregation of public schools and the emergence of white-flight academies, and the rise and fall of federal anti-poverty programs. I use two major research strategies: (1) a quantitative analysis of county-level data and (2) three case studies. Data have been collected from archives, interviews, newspapers, and published reports. This dissertation challenges the argument that movements are inconsequential. Some view federal agencies, courts, political parties, or economic elites as the agents driving institutional change, but typically these groups acted in response to the leverage brought to bear by the civil rights movement. The Mississippi movement attempted to forge independent structures for sustaining challenges to local inequities and injustices. By propelling change in an array of local institutions, movement infrastructures had an enduring legacy in Mississippi.
Now let’s break down this abstract into its component parts to see how the author has distilled his entire dissertation into a ~200 word abstract.
What the dissertation does This dissertation examines the impacts of social movements through a multi-layered study of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement from its peak in the early 1960s through the early 1980s. By examining this historically important case, I clarify the process by which movements transform social structures and the constraints movements face when they try to do so.
How the dissertation does it The time period studied in this dissertation includes the expansion of voting rights and gains in black political power, the desegregation of public schools and the emergence of white-flight academies, and the rise and fall of federal anti-poverty programs. I use two major research strategies: (1) a quantitative analysis of county-level data and (2) three case studies.
What materials are used Data have been collected from archives, interviews, newspapers, and published reports.
Conclusion This dissertation challenges the argument that movements are inconsequential. Some view federal agencies, courts, political parties, or economic elites as the agents driving institutional change, but typically these groups acted in response to movement demands and the leverage brought to bear by the civil rights movement. The Mississippi movement attempted to forge independent structures for sustaining challenges to local inequities and injustices. By propelling change in an array of local institutions, movement infrastructures had an enduring legacy in Mississippi.
Keywords social movements Civil Rights Movement Mississippi voting rights desegregation
Example 2: Science Abstract
Luis Lehner, “Gravitational radiation from black hole spacetimes” Ph.D. University of Pittsburgh, 1998 DAI-B 59/06, p. 2797, Dec 1998
The problem of detecting gravitational radiation is receiving considerable attention with the construction of new detectors in the United States, Europe, and Japan. The theoretical modeling of the wave forms that would be produced in particular systems will expedite the search for and analysis of detected signals. The characteristic formulation of GR is implemented to obtain an algorithm capable of evolving black holes in 3D asymptotically flat spacetimes. Using compactification techniques, future null infinity is included in the evolved region, which enables the unambiguous calculation of the radiation produced by some compact source. A module to calculate the waveforms is constructed and included in the evolution algorithm. This code is shown to be second-order convergent and to handle highly non-linear spacetimes. In particular, we have shown that the code can handle spacetimes whose radiation is equivalent to a galaxy converting its whole mass into gravitational radiation in one second. We further use the characteristic formulation to treat the region close to the singularity in black hole spacetimes. The code carefully excises a region surrounding the singularity and accurately evolves generic black hole spacetimes with apparently unlimited stability.
This science abstract covers much of the same ground as the humanities one, but it asks slightly different questions.
Why do this study The problem of detecting gravitational radiation is receiving considerable attention with the construction of new detectors in the United States, Europe, and Japan. The theoretical modeling of the wave forms that would be produced in particular systems will expedite the search and analysis of the detected signals.
What the study does The characteristic formulation of GR is implemented to obtain an algorithm capable of evolving black holes in 3D asymptotically flat spacetimes. Using compactification techniques, future null infinity is included in the evolved region, which enables the unambiguous calculation of the radiation produced by some compact source. A module to calculate the waveforms is constructed and included in the evolution algorithm.
Results This code is shown to be second-order convergent and to handle highly non-linear spacetimes. In particular, we have shown that the code can handle spacetimes whose radiation is equivalent to a galaxy converting its whole mass into gravitational radiation in one second. We further use the characteristic formulation to treat the region close to the singularity in black hole spacetimes. The code carefully excises a region surrounding the singularity and accurately evolves generic black hole spacetimes with apparently unlimited stability.
Keywords gravitational radiation (GR) spacetimes black holes
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
Belcher, Wendy Laura. 2009. Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Press.
Kilborn, Judith. 1998. “Writing Abstracts.” LEO: Literacy Education Online. Last updated October 20, 1998. https://leo.stcloudstate.edu/bizwrite/abstracts.html .
Koopman, Philip. 1997. “How to Write an Abstract.” Carnegie Mellon University. October 1997. http://users.ece.cmu.edu/~koopman/essays/abstract.html .
Lancaster, F.W. 2003. Indexing And Abstracting in Theory and Practice , 3rd ed. London: Facet Publishing.
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13.1 Formatting a Research Paper
- Identify the major components of a research paper written using American Psychological Association (APA) style.
- Apply general APA style and formatting conventions in a research paper.
In this chapter, you will learn how to use APA style , the documentation and formatting style followed by the American Psychological Association, as well as MLA style , from the Modern Language Association. There are a few major formatting styles used in academic texts, including AMA, Chicago, and Turabian:
- AMA (American Medical Association) for medicine, health, and biological sciences
- APA (American Psychological Association) for education, psychology, and the social sciences
- Chicago—a common style used in everyday publications like magazines, newspapers, and books
- MLA (Modern Language Association) for English, literature, arts, and humanities
- Turabian—another common style designed for its universal application across all subjects and disciplines
While all the formatting and citation styles have their own use and applications, in this chapter we focus our attention on the two styles you are most likely to use in your academic studies: APA and MLA.
If you find that the rules of proper source documentation are difficult to keep straight, you are not alone. Writing a good research paper is, in and of itself, a major intellectual challenge. Having to follow detailed citation and formatting guidelines as well may seem like just one more task to add to an already-too-long list of requirements.
Following these guidelines, however, serves several important purposes. First, it signals to your readers that your paper should be taken seriously as a student’s contribution to a given academic or professional field; it is the literary equivalent of wearing a tailored suit to a job interview. Second, it shows that you respect other people’s work enough to give them proper credit for it. Finally, it helps your reader find additional materials if he or she wishes to learn more about your topic.
Furthermore, producing a letter-perfect APA-style paper need not be burdensome. Yes, it requires careful attention to detail. However, you can simplify the process if you keep these broad guidelines in mind:
- Work ahead whenever you can. Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” includes tips for keeping track of your sources early in the research process, which will save time later on.
- Get it right the first time. Apply APA guidelines as you write, so you will not have much to correct during the editing stage. Again, putting in a little extra time early on can save time later.
- Use the resources available to you. In addition to the guidelines provided in this chapter, you may wish to consult the APA website at http://www.apa.org or the Purdue University Online Writing lab at http://owl.english.purdue.edu , which regularly updates its online style guidelines.
General Formatting Guidelines
This chapter provides detailed guidelines for using the citation and formatting conventions developed by the American Psychological Association, or APA. Writers in disciplines as diverse as astrophysics, biology, psychology, and education follow APA style. The major components of a paper written in APA style are listed in the following box.
These are the major components of an APA-style paper:
Body, which includes the following:
- Headings and, if necessary, subheadings to organize the content
- In-text citations of research sources
- References page
All these components must be saved in one document, not as separate documents.
The title page of your paper includes the following information:
- Title of the paper
- Author’s name
- Name of the institution with which the author is affiliated
- Header at the top of the page with the paper title (in capital letters) and the page number (If the title is lengthy, you may use a shortened form of it in the header.)
List the first three elements in the order given in the previous list, centered about one third of the way down from the top of the page. Use the headers and footers tool of your word-processing program to add the header, with the title text at the left and the page number in the upper-right corner. Your title page should look like the following example.
The next page of your paper provides an abstract , or brief summary of your findings. An abstract does not need to be provided in every paper, but an abstract should be used in papers that include a hypothesis. A good abstract is concise—about one hundred fifty to two hundred fifty words—and is written in an objective, impersonal style. Your writing voice will not be as apparent here as in the body of your paper. When writing the abstract, take a just-the-facts approach, and summarize your research question and your findings in a few sentences.
In Chapter 12 “Writing a Research Paper” , you read a paper written by a student named Jorge, who researched the effectiveness of low-carbohydrate diets. Read Jorge’s abstract. Note how it sums up the major ideas in his paper without going into excessive detail.
Write an abstract summarizing your paper. Briefly introduce the topic, state your findings, and sum up what conclusions you can draw from your research. Use the word count feature of your word-processing program to make sure your abstract does not exceed one hundred fifty words.
Depending on your field of study, you may sometimes write research papers that present extensive primary research, such as your own experiment or survey. In your abstract, summarize your research question and your findings, and briefly indicate how your study relates to prior research in the field.
Margins, Pagination, and Headings
APA style requirements also address specific formatting concerns, such as margins, pagination, and heading styles, within the body of the paper. Review the following APA guidelines.
Use these general guidelines to format the paper:
- Set the top, bottom, and side margins of your paper at 1 inch.
- Use double-spaced text throughout your paper.
- Use a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, in a legible size (10- to 12-point).
- Use continuous pagination throughout the paper, including the title page and the references section. Page numbers appear flush right within your header.
- Section headings and subsection headings within the body of your paper use different types of formatting depending on the level of information you are presenting. Additional details from Jorge’s paper are provided.
Begin formatting the final draft of your paper according to APA guidelines. You may work with an existing document or set up a new document if you choose. Include the following:
- Your title page
- The abstract you created in Note 13.8 “Exercise 1”
- Correct headers and page numbers for your title page and abstract
APA style uses section headings to organize information, making it easy for the reader to follow the writer’s train of thought and to know immediately what major topics are covered. Depending on the length and complexity of the paper, its major sections may also be divided into subsections, sub-subsections, and so on. These smaller sections, in turn, use different heading styles to indicate different levels of information. In essence, you are using headings to create a hierarchy of information.
The following heading styles used in APA formatting are listed in order of greatest to least importance:
- Section headings use centered, boldface type. Headings use title case, with important words in the heading capitalized.
- Subsection headings use left-aligned, boldface type. Headings use title case.
- The third level uses left-aligned, indented, boldface type. Headings use a capital letter only for the first word, and they end in a period.
- The fourth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are boldfaced and italicized.
- The fifth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are italicized and not boldfaced.
Visually, the hierarchy of information is organized as indicated in Table 13.1 “Section Headings” .
Table 13.1 Section Headings
A college research paper may not use all the heading levels shown in Table 13.1 “Section Headings” , but you are likely to encounter them in academic journal articles that use APA style. For a brief paper, you may find that level 1 headings suffice. Longer or more complex papers may need level 2 headings or other lower-level headings to organize information clearly. Use your outline to craft your major section headings and determine whether any subtopics are substantial enough to require additional levels of headings.
Working with the document you developed in Note 13.11 “Exercise 2” , begin setting up the heading structure of the final draft of your research paper according to APA guidelines. Include your title and at least two to three major section headings, and follow the formatting guidelines provided above. If your major sections should be broken into subsections, add those headings as well. Use your outline to help you.
Because Jorge used only level 1 headings, his Exercise 3 would look like the following:
Throughout the body of your paper, include a citation whenever you quote or paraphrase material from your research sources. As you learned in Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” , the purpose of citations is twofold: to give credit to others for their ideas and to allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired. Your in-text citations provide basic information about your source; each source you cite will have a longer entry in the references section that provides more detailed information.
In-text citations must provide the name of the author or authors and the year the source was published. (When a given source does not list an individual author, you may provide the source title or the name of the organization that published the material instead.) When directly quoting a source, it is also required that you include the page number where the quote appears in your citation.
This information may be included within the sentence or in a parenthetical reference at the end of the sentence, as in these examples.
Epstein (2010) points out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).
Here, the writer names the source author when introducing the quote and provides the publication date in parentheses after the author’s name. The page number appears in parentheses after the closing quotation marks and before the period that ends the sentence.
Addiction researchers caution that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (Epstein, 2010, p. 137).
Here, the writer provides a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence that includes the author’s name, the year of publication, and the page number separated by commas. Again, the parenthetical citation is placed after the closing quotation marks and before the period at the end of the sentence.
As noted in the book Junk Food, Junk Science (Epstein, 2010, p. 137), “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive.”
Here, the writer chose to mention the source title in the sentence (an optional piece of information to include) and followed the title with a parenthetical citation. Note that the parenthetical citation is placed before the comma that signals the end of the introductory phrase.
David Epstein’s book Junk Food, Junk Science (2010) pointed out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).
Another variation is to introduce the author and the source title in your sentence and include the publication date and page number in parentheses within the sentence or at the end of the sentence. As long as you have included the essential information, you can choose the option that works best for that particular sentence and source.
Citing a book with a single author is usually a straightforward task. Of course, your research may require that you cite many other types of sources, such as books or articles with more than one author or sources with no individual author listed. You may also need to cite sources available in both print and online and nonprint sources, such as websites and personal interviews. Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.2 “Citing and Referencing Techniques” and Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provide extensive guidelines for citing a variety of source types.
Writing at Work
APA is just one of several different styles with its own guidelines for documentation, formatting, and language usage. Depending on your field of interest, you may be exposed to additional styles, such as the following:
- MLA style. Determined by the Modern Languages Association and used for papers in literature, languages, and other disciplines in the humanities.
- Chicago style. Outlined in the Chicago Manual of Style and sometimes used for papers in the humanities and the sciences; many professional organizations use this style for publications as well.
- Associated Press (AP) style. Used by professional journalists.
The brief citations included in the body of your paper correspond to the more detailed citations provided at the end of the paper in the references section. In-text citations provide basic information—the author’s name, the publication date, and the page number if necessary—while the references section provides more extensive bibliographical information. Again, this information allows your reader to follow up on the sources you cited and do additional reading about the topic if desired.
The specific format of entries in the list of references varies slightly for different source types, but the entries generally include the following information:
- The name(s) of the author(s) or institution that wrote the source
- The year of publication and, where applicable, the exact date of publication
- The full title of the source
- For books, the city of publication
- For articles or essays, the name of the periodical or book in which the article or essay appears
- For magazine and journal articles, the volume number, issue number, and pages where the article appears
- For sources on the web, the URL where the source is located
The references page is double spaced and lists entries in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If an entry continues for more than one line, the second line and each subsequent line are indented five spaces. Review the following example. ( Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provides extensive guidelines for formatting reference entries for different types of sources.)
In APA style, book and article titles are formatted in sentence case, not title case. Sentence case means that only the first word is capitalized, along with any proper nouns.
- Following proper citation and formatting guidelines helps writers ensure that their work will be taken seriously, give proper credit to other authors for their work, and provide valuable information to readers.
- Working ahead and taking care to cite sources correctly the first time are ways writers can save time during the editing stage of writing a research paper.
- APA papers usually include an abstract that concisely summarizes the paper.
- APA papers use a specific headings structure to provide a clear hierarchy of information.
- In APA papers, in-text citations usually include the name(s) of the author(s) and the year of publication.
- In-text citations correspond to entries in the references section, which provide detailed bibliographical information about a source.
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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 .
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What is an abstract?
What is a "good" abstract, techniques to write an abstract, "abstract checklist" from: how to write a good scientific paper. chris a. mack. spie. 2018..
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There are as many kinds as abstracts as there are types of research papers. The classic abstract is usually a "Informative" abstract. This kind of abstract communicates compressed information and include the purpose, methods, and scope of the article. They are usually short (250 words or less) and allow the reader to decide whether they want to read the article.
The goal is to communicate:
- What was done?
- Why was it done?
- How was it done?
- What was found?
- What is the significance of the findings?
- Self contained. Uses 1 or more well developed paragraphs
- Uses introduction/body/conclusion structure
- Presents purpose, results, conclusions and recommendations in that order
- Adds no new information
- Is understandable to a wide audience
- Write the abstract last
- Reread the article looking specifically for the main parts: Purpose, methods, scope, results, conclusions, and recommendations
- Write a first rough draft without looking at the original article
- Edit your draft by correcting organization, improving transitions, dropping unnecessary information and words, and adding important information you left out
The abstract should be a concise (200 words or less), standalone summary of the paper, with 1–2 sentences on each of these topics:
- Background: What issues led to this work? What is the environment that makes this work interesting or important?
- Aim: What were the goals of this work? What gap is being filled?
- Approach: What went into trying to achieve the aims (e.g., experimental method, simulation approach, theoretical approach, combinations of these, etc.)? What was actually done?
- Results: What were the main results of the study (including numbers, if appropriate)?
- Conclusions: What were the main conclusions? Why are the results important? Where will they lead?
The abstract should be written for the audience of this journal: do not assume too much or too little background with the topic.
Ensure that all of the information found in the abstract also can be found in the body of the paper.
Ensure that the important information of the paper is found in the abstract.
Avoid: using the first paragraph of the introduction as an abstract; citations in the abstract; acronyms (but if used, spell them out); referring to figures or tables from the body of the paper; use of the first person; use of words like “new” or “novel,” or phrases like “in this paper,” “we report,” or “will be discussed.”
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How to Write an Abstract for a Research Paper | Examples
What is a research paper abstract?
Research paper abstracts summarize your study quickly and succinctly to journal editors and researchers and prompt them to read further. But with the ubiquity of online publication databases, writing a compelling abstract is even more important today than it was in the days of bound paper manuscripts.
Abstracts exist to “sell” your work, and they could thus be compared to the “executive summary” of a business resume: an official briefing on what is most important about your research. Or the “gist” of your research. With the majority of academic transactions being conducted online, this means that you have even less time to impress readers–and increased competition in terms of other abstracts out there to read.
The APCI (Academic Publishing and Conferences International) notes that there are 12 questions or “points” considered in the selection process for journals and conferences and stresses the importance of having an abstract that ticks all of these boxes. Because it is often the ONLY chance you have to convince readers to keep reading, it is important that you spend time and energy crafting an abstract that faithfully represents the central parts of your study and captivates your audience.
With that in mind, follow these suggestions when structuring and writing your abstract, and learn how exactly to put these ideas into a solid abstract that will captivate your target readers.
Before Writing Your Abstract
How long should an abstract be.
All abstracts are written with the same essential objective: to give a summary of your study. But there are two basic styles of abstract: descriptive and informative . Here is a brief delineation of the two:
Of the two types of abstracts, informative abstracts are much more common, and they are widely used for submission to journals and conferences. Informative abstracts apply to lengthier and more technical research and are common in the sciences, engineering, and psychology, while descriptive abstracts are more likely used in humanities and social science papers. The best method of determining which abstract type you need to use is to follow the instructions for journal submissions and to read as many other published articles in those journals as possible.
Research Abstract Guidelines and Requirements
As any article about research writing will tell you, authors must always closely follow the specific guidelines and requirements indicated in the Guide for Authors section of their target journal’s website. The same kind of adherence to conventions should be applied to journal publications, for consideration at a conference, and even when completing a class assignment.
Each publisher has particular demands when it comes to formatting and structure. Here are some common questions addressed in the journal guidelines:
- Is there a maximum or minimum word/character length?
- What are the style and formatting requirements?
- What is the appropriate abstract type?
- Are there any specific content or organization rules that apply?
There are of course other rules to consider when composing a research paper abstract. But if you follow the stated rules the first time you submit your manuscript, you can avoid your work being thrown in the “circular file” right off the bat.
Identify Your Target Readership
The main purpose of your abstract is to lead researchers to the full text of your research paper. In scientific journals, abstracts let readers decide whether the research discussed is relevant to their own interests or study. Abstracts also help readers understand your main argument quickly. Consider these questions as you write your abstract:
- Are other academics in your field the main target of your study?
- Will your study perhaps be useful to members of the general public?
- Do your study results include the wider implications presented in the abstract?
Outlining and Writing Your Abstract
What to include in an abstract.
Just as your research paper title should cover as much ground as possible in a few short words, your abstract must cover all parts of your study in order to fully explain your paper and research. Because it must accomplish this task in the space of only a few hundred words, it is important not to include ambiguous references or phrases that will confuse the reader or mislead them about the content and objectives of your research. Follow these dos and don’ts when it comes to what kind of writing to include:
- Avoid acronyms or abbreviations since these will need to be explained in order to make sense to the reader, which takes up valuable abstract space. Instead, explain these terms in the Introduction section of the main text.
- Only use references to people or other works if they are well-known. Otherwise, avoid referencing anything outside of your study in the abstract.
- Never include tables, figures, sources, or long quotations in your abstract; you will have plenty of time to present and refer to these in the body of your paper.
Use keywords in your abstract to focus your topic
A vital search tool is the research paper keywords section, which lists the most relevant terms directly underneath the abstract. Think of these keywords as the “tubes” that readers will seek and enter—via queries on databases and search engines—to ultimately land at their destination, which is your paper. Your abstract keywords should thus be words that are commonly used in searches but should also be highly relevant to your work and found in the text of your abstract. Include 5 to 10 important words or short phrases central to your research in both the abstract and the keywords section.
For example, if you are writing a paper on the prevalence of obesity among lower classes that crosses international boundaries, you should include terms like “obesity,” “prevalence,” “international,” “lower classes,” and “cross-cultural.” These are terms that should net a wide array of people interested in your topic of study. Look at our nine rules for choosing keywords for your research paper if you need more input on this.
Research Paper Abstract Structure
As mentioned above, the abstract (especially the informative abstract) acts as a surrogate or synopsis of your research paper, doing almost as much work as the thousands of words that follow it in the body of the main text. In the hard sciences and most social sciences, the abstract includes the following sections and organizational schema.
Each section is quite compact—only a single sentence or two, although there is room for expansion if one element or statement is particularly interesting or compelling. As the abstract is almost always one long paragraph, the individual sections should naturally merge into one another to create a holistic effect. Use the following as a checklist to ensure that you have included all of the necessary content in your abstract.
1) Identify your purpose and motivation
So your research is about rabies in Brazilian squirrels. Why is this important? You should start your abstract by explaining why people should care about this study—why is it significant to your field and perhaps to the wider world? And what is the exact purpose of your study; what are you trying to achieve? Start by answering the following questions:
- What made you decide to do this study or project?
- Why is this study important to your field or to the lay reader?
- Why should someone read your entire article?
In summary, the first section of your abstract should include the importance of the research and its impact on related research fields or on the wider scientific domain.
2) Explain the research problem you are addressing
Stating the research problem that your study addresses is the corollary to why your specific study is important and necessary. For instance, even if the issue of “rabies in Brazilian squirrels” is important, what is the problem—the “missing piece of the puzzle”—that your study helps resolve?
You can combine the problem with the motivation section, but from a perspective of organization and clarity, it is best to separate the two. Here are some precise questions to address:
- What is your research trying to better understand or what problem is it trying to solve?
- What is the scope of your study—does it try to explain something general or specific?
- What is your central claim or argument?
3) Discuss your research approach
Your specific study approach is detailed in the Methods and Materials section . You have already established the importance of the research, your motivation for studying this issue, and the specific problem your paper addresses. Now you need to discuss how you solved or made progress on this problem—how you conducted your research. If your study includes your own work or that of your team, describe that here. If in your paper you reviewed the work of others, explain this here. Did you use analytic models? A simulation? A double-blind study? A case study? You are basically showing the reader the internal engine of your research machine and how it functioned in the study. Be sure to:
- Detail your research—include methods/type of the study, your variables, and the extent of the work
- Briefly present evidence to support your claim
- Highlight your most important sources
4) Briefly summarize your results
Here you will give an overview of the outcome of your study. Avoid using too many vague qualitative terms (e.g, “very,” “small,” or “tremendous”) and try to use at least some quantitative terms (i.e., percentages, figures, numbers). Save your qualitative language for the conclusion statement. Answer questions like these:
- What did your study yield in concrete terms (e.g., trends, figures, correlation between phenomena)?
- How did your results compare to your hypothesis? Was the study successful?
- Where there any highly unexpected outcomes or were they all largely predicted?
5) State your conclusion
In the last section of your abstract, you will give a statement about the implications and limitations of the study . Be sure to connect this statement closely to your results and not the area of study in general. Are the results of this study going to shake up the scientific world? Will they impact how people see “Brazilian squirrels”? Or are the implications minor? Try not to boast about your study or present its impact as too far-reaching, as researchers and journals will tend to be skeptical of bold claims in scientific papers. Answer one of these questions:
- What are the exact effects of these results on my field? On the wider world?
- What other kind of study would yield further solutions to problems?
- What other information is needed to expand knowledge in this area?
After Completing the First Draft of Your Abstract
Revise your abstract.
The abstract, like any piece of academic writing, should be revised before being considered complete. Check it for grammatical and spelling errors and make sure it is formatted properly.
Get feedback from a peer
Getting a fresh set of eyes to review your abstract is a great way to find out whether you’ve summarized your research well. Find a reader who understands research papers but is not an expert in this field or is not affiliated with your study. Ask your reader to summarize what your study is about (including all key points of each section). This should tell you if you have communicated your key points clearly.
In addition to research peers, consider consulting with a professor or even a specialist or generalist writing center consultant about your abstract. Use any resource that helps you see your work from another perspective.
Consider getting professional editing and proofreading
While peer feedback is quite important to ensure the effectiveness of your abstract content, it may be a good idea to find an academic editor to fix mistakes in grammar, spelling, mechanics, style, or formatting. The presence of basic errors in the abstract may not affect your content, but it might dissuade someone from reading your entire study. Wordvice provides English editing services that both correct objective errors and enhance the readability and impact of your work.
Additional Abstract Rules and Guidelines
Write your abstract after completing your paper.
Although the abstract goes at the beginning of your manuscript, it does not merely introduce your research topic (that is the job of the title), but rather summarizes your entire paper. Writing the abstract last will ensure that it is complete and consistent with the findings and statements in your paper.
Keep your content in the correct order
Both questions and answers should be organized in a standard and familiar way to make the content easier for readers to absorb. Ideally, it should mimic the overall format of your essay and the classic “introduction,” “body,” and “conclusion” form, even if the parts are not neatly divided as such.
Write the abstract from scratch
Because the abstract is a self-contained piece of writing viewed separately from the body of the paper, you should write it separately as well. Never copy and paste direct quotes from the paper and avoid paraphrasing sentences in the paper. Using new vocabulary and phrases will keep your abstract interesting and free of redundancies while conserving space.
Don’t include too many details in the abstract
Again, the density of your abstract makes it incompatible with including specific points other than possibly names or locations. You can make references to terms, but do not explain or define them in the abstract. Try to strike a balance between being specific to your study and presenting a relatively broad overview of your work.
If you think your abstract is fine now but you need input on abstract writing or require English editing services (including paper editing ), then head over to the Wordvice academic resources page, where you will find many more articles, for example on writing the Results , Methods , and Discussion sections of your manuscript, on choosing a title for your paper , or on how to finalize your journal submission with a strong cover letter .
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How to Write a Scientific Abstract
Nair Hospital Dental College, Mumbai, India
Scientific publications are an important source of information and knowledge in Academics, Research and development. When articles are submitted for publication, the 1st part that comes across and causes an impact on the minds of the readers is the abstract. It is a concise summary of the paper and must convey the right message. It is a quick overview of the entire paper and giving a gist of the paper and also gives us and insight into whether the paper fulfills the expectations of the reader.
Abstracts are significant parts of academic assignments and research papers. The abstract is written at the end and by this time, the author has a clear picture regarding the findings and conclusions and hence the right message can be put forward.
Types of Scientific Abstracts [ 1 ]
- Non structured
This type of abstract is usually very short (50–100 words). Most descriptive abstracts have certain key parts in common. They are:
□ Particular interest/focus of paper
□ Overview of contents (not always included)
These abstracts are inconvenient in that, by not including a detailed presentation of the results, it is necessary to have access to the complete article ; they may present the results via a phrase synthesizing them, without contributing numerical or statistical data. Ultimately, these guide readers on the nature of the contents of the article, but it is necessary to read the whole manuscript to know further details [ 1 ].
From these abstracts, you must get the essence of what your report is about, usually in about 200 words. Most informative abstracts also have key parts in common. Each of these parts might consist of 1–2 sentences. The parts include:
□ Aim or purpose of research
□ Method used
The abstracts provide accurate data on the contents of the work, especially on the results section. Informative abstracts are short scientific productions, since they follow the IMRaD structure [ 2 ] and can in fact replace the whole text, because readers extract from these the most valuable information and in many instances it is not necessary to read the complete text.
Recommendations by the CONSORT [ 3 ] declaration, in its adaptation for abstracts, offer a guide for the elaboration of an abstract of a clinical trial in structured and informative manner, using up to 400 words and briefly including the Title, Methods (participants, interventions, objective, outcomes, randomization, blind tests), Results (number of randomizations, recruitment, number of analyses, outcome, important adverse effects), and Conclusions, registry of the clinical trial and conflict of interests.
A structured abstract has a paragraph for each section: Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, and Conclusion (it may even include paragraphs for the objectives or other sections). This type of presentation is often required for informative abstracts. The CONSORT [ 3 ] declaration suggests the presentation of clinical trials with structured abstracts . Structuring an abstract permits its informative development
A semi-structured abstract is written in only one paragraph, where each sentence corresponds to a section . All the sections of the article are present as in the structured abstract [ 1 ].
When the abstract does not present divisions between each section , and it may not even present any of them, it is a non-structured abstract. The sentences are included in a sole paragraph. This type of presentation is ideal for descriptive abstracts [ 1 ].
Key Steps to Plan Writing an Abstract [ 4 ]
- Introduction—what is the topic?
- Statement of purpose?
- Summarize why have other studies not tackled similar research questions?
- How has the research question been tackled?
- How was the research done?
- What is the key impact of the research?
Errors in the Creation of an Abstract [ 1 ]
- The abstract of an article should contribute to readers the most relevant aspects of each part of the whole manuscript, maintaining a balance between excessive detail and a vague contribution of information.
- The abstract should be written by adequately selecting the words and sentences to accomplish coherent, clear, and concise contents.
- A common defect is including adequate information like abbreviations, excessive acronyms, bibliographic references, or figures.
- The length of an abstract will be determined by the instructions to authors by each journal; an excessively lengthy abstract is the most frequent error.
- Sections should maintain coherence and order and that the conclusions must be substantiated by the results revealed and respond to the objectives proposed.
- Frequently, abstracts have poorly defined objectives, excessive numerical data and statistical results, and conclusions not based on results presented.
In short, a good abstract is one that:
- Is coherent and concise
- Covers all the essential academic elements of the full-length paper
- Contains no information not included in the paper;
- Is written in plain English and is understandable to a wider audience and discipline-specific audience;
- Uses passive structures in order to report on findings
- Uses the language of the original paper, in a more simplified form
- Usually does not include any referencing; and
- In publications such as journals, it is found at the beginning of the text, but in academic assignments, it is placed on a separate preliminary page.
A good abstract usually ensures a good article, but a bad abstract often points towards an undesirable article. Scientific abstracts are a challenge to write and for the success of our publications, careful and planned writing of the abstract is absolutely essential.
- How to Write An Abstract For Research Papers: Tips & Examples
In many ways, an abstract is like a trailer of a movie or the synopsis of your favorite book. Its job is to whet the reader’s appetite by sharing important information about your work. After reading a well-written abstract, one should have enough interest to explore the full research thesis.
So how do you write an interesting abstract that captures the core of your study? First, you need to understand your research objectives and match them with the key results of your study. In this article, we will share some tips for writing an effective abstract, plus samples you can learn from.
What is an Abstract in Research Writing?
In simple terms, an abstract is a concise write-up that gives an overview of your systematic investigation. According to Grammarly, it is a self-contained summary of a larger work, and it serves as a preview of the bigger document.
It usually appears at the beginning of your thesis or research paper and helps the reader to have an overview of your work without going into great detail. This means that when someone reads your abstract, it should give them a clear idea of the purpose of your systematic investigation, your problem statement, key results, and any gaps requiring further investigation.
So how long should your abstract be to capture all of these details? The reality is you don’t need a lot of words to capture key pieces of information in your abstract. Typically, 6–7 sentences made up of 150–250 words should be just right.
Read: Writing Research Proposals: Tips, Examples & Mistakes
What are the Characteristics of a Good Abstract?
- A good abstract clearly states the aims and objectives of the research.
- It outlines the research methodology for data gathering , processing and analysis.
- A good abstract summarizes specific research results.
- It states the key conclusions of the systematic investigation.
- It is brief yet straight to the point.
- A good abstract is unified and coherent.
- It is easy to understand and devoid of technical jargon.
- It is written in an unbiased and objective manner.
What is the Purpose of an Abstract?
Every abstract has two major purposes. First, it communicates the relevance of your systematic investigation to readers. After reading your abstract, people can determine how relevant your study is to their primary or secondary research purpose.
The second purpose of an abstract is to communicate your key findings to those who don’t have time to read the whole paper. Research papers typically run into tens of pages so it takes time to read and digest them. To help readers grasp the core ideas in a systematic investigation, it pays to have a well-written abstract that outlines important information concerning your study.
In all, your abstract should accurately outline the most important information in your research. Many times, it determines whether people would go ahead to read your dissertation. Abstracts are often indexed along with keywords on academic databases, so they make your thesis easily findable.
Learn About: How to Write a Problem Statement for your Research
What are the Sections of an Abstract?
You already know the key pieces of information that your abstract should communicate. These details are broken into six important sections of the abstract which are:
- The Introduction or Background
- Research Methodology
- Aims and Objectives
Let’s discuss them in detail.
- The Introduction or Background
The introduction or background is the shortest part of your abstract and usually consists of 2–3 sentences. In fact, some researchers write a single sentence as the introduction of their abstract. The whole idea here is to take the reader through the important events leading to your research.
Understandably, this information may appear difficult to convey in a few sentences. To help out, consider answering these two questions in the background to your study :
- What is already known about the subject, related to the paper in question?
- What is not known about the subject (this is the focus of your study)?
As much as possible, ensure that your abstract’s introduction doesn’t eat into the word count for the other key information.
- Research Methodology
This is the section where you spell out any theories and methods adopted for your study. Ideally, you should cover what has been done and how you went about it to achieve the results of your systematic investigation. It is usually the second-longest section in the abstract.
In the research methodology section, you should also state the type of research you embarked on; that is, qualitative research or quantitative research —this will inform your research methods too. If you’ve conducted quantitative research, your abstract should contain information like the sample size, data collection methods , sampling technique, and duration of your experiment.
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In the end, readers are most interested in the results you’ve achieved with your study. This means you should take time to outline every relevant outcome and show how they affect your research population . Typically, the results section should be the longest one in your abstract and nothing should compromise its range and quality.
An important thing you should do here is spelled out facts and figures about research outcomes. Instead of a vague statement like, “we noticed that response rates differed greatly between high-income and low-income respondents”, try this: “The response rate was higher in high-income respondents than in their low-income counterparts (59% vs 30%, respectively; P
Like the introduction, your conclusion should contain a few sentences that wrap up your abstract. Most researchers express a theoretical opinion about the implications of their study, here.
Your conclusion should contain three important elements:
- The primary take-home message
- The additional findings of importance
- The perspective
Although the conclusion of your abstract should be short, it has a great impact on how readers perceive your study. So, take advantage of this section to reiterate the core message in your systematic investigation. Also, make sure any statements here reflect the true outcomes and methods of your research.
Chances are you must have faced certain challenges in the course of your research—it could be at the data collection phase or during sampling . Whatever these challenges are, it pays to let your readers know about them, and the impact they had on your study.
For example, if you had to switch to convenience sampling or snowball sampling due to difficulties in contacting well-suited research participants, you should include this in your abstract. Also, a lack of previous studies in the research area could pose a limitation on your study. Research limitations provide an opportunity to make suggestions for further research.
Research aims and objectives speak to what you want to achieve with your study. Typically, research aims focus on a project’s long-term outcomes while the objectives focus on the immediate, short-term outcome of the investigation. You may summarize both using a single paragraph comprising a few sentences.
Stating your aims and objectives will give readers a clear idea of the scope, depth, and direction that your research will ultimately take. Readers would measure your research outcomes against stated aims and objectives to know if you achieved the purpose of your study.
Use For Free: Research Form Templates
Abstract Writing Styles and General Guidelines
Now that you know the different sections plus information that your abstract should contain, let’s look at how to write an abstract for your research paper.
A common question that comes up is, should I write my abstract first or last? It’s best to write your abstract after you’ve finished working on the research because you have full information to present to your readers. However, you can always create a draft at the beginning of your systematic investigation and fill in the gaps later.
Does writing an abstract seem like a herculean task? Here are a few tips to help out.
1. Always create a framework for your abstract
Before you start writing, take time to develop a detailed outline for your abstract. Break it into sections and sketch the main and supporting points for each section. You can list keywords plus 1–2 sentences that capture your core messaging.
2. Read Other Abstracts
Abstracts are one of the most common research documents, and thousands of them have been written in time past. So, before writing yours, try to study a couple of samples from others. You can find lots of dissertation abstract examples in thesis and dissertation databases.
3. Steer Clear of Jargon As Much As Possible
While writing your abstract, emphasize clarity over style. This means you should communicate in simple terms and avoid unnecessary filler words and ambiguous sentences. Remember, your abstract should be understandable to readers who are not familiar with your topic.
4. Focus on Your Research
It goes without saying that your abstract should be solely focused on your research and what you’ve discovered. It’s not the time to cite primary and secondary data sources unless this is absolutely necessary.
This doesn’t mean you should ignore the scholarly background of your work. You might include a sentence or two summarizing the scholarly background to show the relevance of your work to a broader debate, but there’s no need to mention specific publications.
Going further, here are some abstract writing guidelines from the University of Bergen:
- An abstract briefly explains the salient aspects of the content.
- Abstracts should be accurate and succinct, self-contained, and readable.
- The abstract should paraphrase and summarise rather than quote from the paper.
- Abstracts should relate only to the paper to be presented/assessed.
Types of Abstracts with Examples
According to the University of Adelaide, there are two major types of abstracts written for research purposes. First, we have informative abstracts and descriptive abstracts.
1. Informative Abstract
An informative abstract is the more common type of abstract written for academic research. It highlights the most important aspects of your systematic investigation without going into unnecessary or irrelevant details that the reader might not find useful.
The length varies according to discipline, but an informative abstract is rarely more than 10% of the length of the entire work. In the case of longer work, it may be much less.
In any informative abstract, you’d touch on information like the purpose, method, scope, results, and conclusion of your study. By now, you’re thinking, “this is the type of abstract we’ve been discussing all along”, and you wouldn’t be far from the truth.
Advantages of Informative Abstracts
- These abstracts save time for both the researcher and the readers.
- It’s easy to refer to these abstracts as secondary research sources.
Disadvantages of Informative Abstracts
- These types of abstracts lack personality.
Example of an Informative Abstract
- Sample Informative Abstract Based on Experimental Work From Colorado State University
- Sample Informative Abstract Based on Non-experimental Work From Colorado State University
2. Descriptive Abstract
A descriptive abstract reads like a synopsis and focuses on enticing the reader with interesting information. They don’t care as much for data and details, and instead read more like overviews that don’t give too much away.
You’d find descriptive abstracts in artistic criticism pieces and entertainment research as opposed to scientific investigations. This type of abstract makes no judgments about the work, nor does it provide results or conclusions of the research. They are usually written in 100 words or less.
Advantages of Descriptive Abstracts
- It gives a very brief overview of the research paper.
- It is easier to write descriptive abstracts compared to informational abstracts.
Disadvantages of Descriptive Abstracts
- They are suitable for scientific research.
- Descriptive abstracts might omit relevant information that deepens your knowledge of the systematic investigation.
Example of Descriptive Abstracts
- Sample Descriptive Abstract From Colorado State University
FAQs About Writing Abstracts in Research Papers
1. How Long Should an Abstract Be?
A typical abstract should be about six sentences long or less than 150 words. Most universities have specific word count requirements that fall within 150–300 words.
2. How Do You Start an Abstract Sentence?
There are several ways to start your abstract. Consider the following methods:
- State a problem or uncertainty
- Make a general statement with the present research action.
- State the purpose or objective of your research
- State a real-world phenomena or a standard practice.
3. Should you cite in an abstract?
While you can refer to information from specific research papers, there’s no need to cite sources in your abstract. Your abstract should focus on your original research, not on the work of others.
4. What should not be included in an abstract?
An abstract shouldn’t have numeric references, bibliographies, sections, or even footnotes.
5. Which tense is used in writing an abstract?
An abstract should be written in the third-person present tense. Use the simple past tense when describing your methodology and specific findings from your study.
Writing an abstract might appear challenging but with these steps, you should get it right. The easiest approach to writing a good abstract is centering it on key information including your research problem and objectives, methodology, and key results.
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Summing It All Up: The Abstract
Table of Contents (Guide To Publication)
Part iii: communicating with journal editors: submission, acceptance, revision and rejection – chapter 6, 6.2.2 summing it all up: the abstract.
While covering letters are required less often with today’s online submission procedures than they once were, the need for an abstract when submitting an academic or scientific article is more common, even in disciplines that once would not have used such an initial summary of the paper to follow. So in most cases it’s best to plan on including an abstract from the beginning, regardless of your subject and field, and to recognise that a good abstract, like a good covering letter or a good introduction, requires a lot of consideration and you will likely need to return to it and make adjustments a few times before it’s finished. It’s useful to draft your abstract early in the writing process, as it can help you focus on the essential elements of your research and results as you work on your paper, but your abstract will certainly need to be edited and rewritten once your paper is finished, and probably again after you’ve had a colleague or other qualified reader look it over for you, which is highly recommended in the case of an abstract. As with your title, it’s virtually impossible to put too much time and effort into improving and polishing your abstract because it is often amidst the abstract that an editor is either won or lost, and the situation is similar after publication, when readers often decide whether to read your entire paper or not on the basis of the abstract they find through an online (or other kind of) search. So the abstract of a paper can be the most important part of an article, for good or ill.
An academic or scientific abstract should summarise the contents of the paper it precedes briefly and comprehensively. It should not contain information that isn’t present in the paper and it should report, not evaluate, what can be found in the paper. Like the title, the abstract needs to be precise, concise and as engaging as possible, but it also needs to be densely packed with information. Word limits for abstracts set by journals usually range between 100 and 300 words, with 150-250 the most common length, and those limits should be strictly observed despite how much must be accomplished in that short space. A carefully prepared abstract will situate your research in both its physical and intellectual contexts; it will inform the reader about the problem(s) or concept(s) you’re investigating, any participants in your study and the essential features of the methodology used; and it will report the basic findings, implications and conclusions of your study. Each abstract will therefore also be unique, so exactly what should or should not be included in an abstract varies from author to author and paper to paper.
Some style manuals and journal guidelines will provide detailed instructions on the kind of information that should be included in your abstract. The APA Manual , for example, gives sound practical advice as well as outlining the expectations of abstracts for a variety of different kinds of paper such as empirical studies, literature reviews, theory-oriented papers and case studies. An APA abstract is a single paragraph, but in many journal guidelines detailed advice on the content of abstracts will come in the form of instructions for a structured abstract – that is, an abstract divided into short sections or paragraphs, usually with individual headings such as Background, Methods, Participants, Results, Conclusion and the like, often in bold or italic font. The headings can differ from journal to journal and also according to the type of paper, so be sure to check the guidelines carefully and to identify correctly what type of paper you’ve written before finalising the structure and layout of your abstract. Some journals will even specify the length of each section of the abstract, but in most cases the balance of information will be yours to determine, and even in a completely structured abstract you will need to decide which concepts, methods and results to include. This decision should be based not just on what you think most important about your research and the article it’s generated but also what you think the journal editor will find most appropriate and engaging for his or her readers.
It is crucial, of course, that your abstract is well written in grammatically correct, properly punctuated and complete English sentences. Every sentence should bear the maximum amount of information and meaning possible, with minimal use of minor words, and each main word should be chosen with great care, primarily for its denotations, of course, but also for its potential connotations: it should be precise and informative, and if it manages to nuance matters in a way that seems appropriate to your results and the journal’s interests, that’s a good thing, too. Your first sentence in particular is crucial to gaining the interest and confidence of your reader: it needs to be polished to perfection in both content and style so that it reads smoothly and clearly communicates important points about your work. As a general rule, avoid references in an abstract unless essential; use abbreviations only if they’re absolutely necessary (and not at all if the guidelines prevent it) and clearly define each one (other than those for common measures) that you do have to use; and beware of too much specialised terminology and jargon – some will perhaps be necessary to explain your methods and results, but while you want your readers to know that you’re aware of the correct terms and how to use them, you don’t want to confuse or lose readers who are, necessarily, not yet familiar with the content of your paper. What you do want is for them, and especially that all-important editor, to read on, so everything about your abstract should encourage that possibility.
PRS Tip : Abstracts can often require a lot of attention during and after proofreading, especially if you’re not a native speaker of English and find yourself struggling to condense the contents of your paper into carefully structured sentences that express your ideas with precision. If you have to rewrite your abstract to a significant degree after having your paper read by a PRS proofreader (or any other careful, critical reader), you may want to send it back for a second read. You can always send just the abstract and/or any other particularly problematic part of your paper, and request the same proofreader to double-check your revisions or a different one if you’d like a second opinion. It’s a good way to reduce the cost of final proofreading while buying peace of mind before submitting your work.
This article is part of a book called Guide to Academic and Scientific Publication: How To Get Your Writing Published in Scholarly Journals . It provides practical advice on planning, preparing and submitting articles for publication in scholarly journals.
Whether you are looking for information on designing an academic or scientific article, constructing a scholarly argument, targeting the right journal, following journal guidelines with precision, providing accurate and complete references, writing correct and elegant scholarly English, communicating with journal editors or revising your paper in light of that communication, you will find guidance, tips and examples in this manual.
This book is focusing on sound scholarly principles and practices as well as the expectations and requirements of academic and scientific journals, this guide is suitable for use in a wide variety of disciplines, including Economics, Engineering, the Humanities, Law, Management, Mathematics, Medicine and the Social, Physical and Biological Sciences .
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Research Paper Guide
How To Write An Abstract
How to Write an Abstract - A Step by Step Guide
Published on: Dec 17, 2017
Last updated on: Mar 16, 2023
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Abstracts have played a critical role in describing the research study to journal editors and researchers. It is the most important part of any research paper that gives readers an overview of your paper and what to expect.
However, writing a convincing abstract is much more important today than it was before. It is important to spend time and energy on it because this is how potential readers decide if they want to read your work.
An abstract must also include the key information, e.g., summary, results, observations, and trends. Such elements will allow the audience to examine your work easily.
Read this guide to master the art of how to write an abstract. Also, learn to come up with unique ideas for captivating readers.
What is an Abstract?
An abstract is a short summary of your research. It tells the readers what the central point of your paper is and also describes the aims and outcomes.
A strong abstract further allows the audience to decide whether he wants to continue with your paper or not. It is an essential part of a research paper and a thesis, and no paper is considered complete without it.
It is about 150 to 250 words long and must be written after completing the paper. Moreover, this section comes after the title page and acknowledgments but before the table of content.
Types of an Abstract
There are four main types of abstract given below:
- Critical Abstract - This type of abstract allows the reader to critically evaluate the paper for analyzing its reliability. It is about 400-500 words in length.
- Descriptive Abstract - It usually states the type of information found in the research work in less than 100 words.
- Informative Abstract - Like the descriptive abstract, it also mentions the information along with the results, conclusion, and recommendation. The length of the abstract is no more than 300 words.
- Highlight Abstract - It is written to provide the complete picture of the research study to attract readers.
How to Write an Abstract?
Professors usually require students to include an abstract in the research paper. However, this section is often overlooked by the students. Thus, papers with weak abstracts are likely to be rejected by the reviewers.
Follow the important steps given below to write a good abstract.
Check Out the Instructions
Every research paper comes with a set of instructions. These instructions serve as guidelines that all students must follow when writing an abstract. So before starting a research paper , check out the instructions mentioned by your teacher.
These guidelines may include:
- The type of abstract to write about
- A proper structure or pattern to follow
- Any specific organization rules to apply
- The required word count
- Style and formatting requirements
Following these instructions will engage the readers to move forward with your paper.
Write the Research Paper First
It is better to write the abstract at the end of your paper. This section presents the important points of your work briefly. Thus, you cannot know these key points before you finish writing the body of your paper.
Add the Background of the Research Study
Add some background information on your research topic into the abstract. Avoid adding irrelevant and lengthy details and keep the information brief, concise, and focused on the main research question.
Only choose the facts that are related to your study. It will help you explain the significance of the expected outcome of your research.
Describe the Research Problem and Objectives
Start your abstract by clearly describing the purpose and objectives of your research. Explain its significance to the people and society and discuss which research question(s) do you aim to answer.
For this, use words such as evaluate, analyze, and investigate. Moreover, this section can be written in simple past or present tense but can never be in the future.
Answer the following questions while stating your research problem:
- Why are you conducting this research?
- How will the study contribute to the field?
- Why should the audience read the full paper?
- What is the main problem that your research is trying to solve?
- What is the scope of the study, i.e., specific or general?
- What is the major argument?
Mention the Research Methods
Every research work follows a specific methodology. An abstract will discuss the research methods that you have used to answer the research question.
It consists of 1 to 2 sentences that are usually written in the past tense. Do not try to explain everything in it. Rather, be concise and brief.
The main goal here is to give an overall idea of the approaches, procedures, and sources you have used. It can be qualitative, quantitative, case study, etc. Simply state your reasons for choosing a particular method and why it benefits your research.
Discuss the Previous Researches
Some abstracts discuss the relevant and previous researches on the chosen topic. After identifying them, make sure to mention that there is a unique perspective in your research. But it should not be too long and detailed. Just a brief overview of how your research is different from others.
An abstract is considered as a mini version of the research. Thus, add enough information to keep the reader engaged.
Summarize Findings and Results
Summarize the major findings and results of your study in this section. Write in simple past and present tense and avoid using vague qualitative terms.
Also, identify the contribution of your study in concrete terms, i.e., percentage, trends, figures, etc. Similarly, also compare the methods and results with the hypothesis by stating whether the study was successful or not.
State Your Conclusion
State the conclusion of your research in the last section of the abstract. It must explain the answer to your research question and problem.
Mention research limitations related to the sample size or the methodology. It will enable the audience to understand the credibility of the research and the circumstances in which it has been carried out.
A writer can also make suggestions and recommendations for future research and a call to action in this section. Make sure your results add value to the respective field of knowledge.
Use Keywords to Attract the Audience
Add a list of keywords at the end of your abstract to attract the audience. These should be the most common and relevant terms.
By referencing such keywords with your research, potential readers can find your paper easily during their searches. Thus, include 5 to 10 short words that are central to your research study.
Remember, the Publication Manuals of the American Psychological (APA) style has some specific requirements for formatting these keywords.
Read Some Abstract Samples
Learning through examples is the best and fastest way of learning anything. Before writing your paper’s abstract, read some online samples related to different subjects. These disciplines may include science, social sciences, and humanities.
Reading samples while writing a literature review gives a good idea of the type of abstract that each subject should have.
Here is a document that contains sample abstracts of different subjects.
Make a Rough Draft First
Make a rough draft of your abstract. At this stage, do not think of the word limit or the type of content you are using. Just focus on the main theme of your paper and write down everything that crosses your mind.
However, avoid adding the following elements in the abstract.
- Lengthy background details
- Unnecessary phrases, adverbs, and adjectives
- Repetitive information
- Acronyms or abbreviations
- References to other research work
- Incomplete sentences
- Ellipticals or jargon language
- Citations to others work
- Any type of image, table, or illustration
- Definitions of the keywords and terms
After writing, review and revise it thoroughly. Remove everything that gives away too many details. Make sure it is concise and just give a hint of the information included in the main sections.
Proofread Before Submission
No writing process is complete without the final and detailed proofreading. Once you are done writing the abstract, proofread and edit it carefully.
Many students try to avoid this part and submit the paper without proper proofreading. As a result, they end up with low grades.
Also, read the rest of the paper and double-check the results section before handing it over to your teacher. Refer to the below-given document to get a detailed idea of writing an abstract for a research paper.
Writing Research Abstracts
Tips to Write an Abstract for a Research Paper
Here are some useful tips for you to write an effective abstract for a paper.
- Write the abstract by using a reverse outlining process. Start with making a list of keywords. Write the sentences that summarize the central argument, and then revise them to get a clear framework of your abstract.
- Read other sample abstracts to get a better idea of the style and structure.
- Write clearly and concisely by avoiding unnecessary words and jargon language. Make sure that each sentence should present one major argument. It will make it easy for readers to understand the topic.
- Present the original contributions of your research instead of discussing other’s work.
Abstract Page Template and Examples
The following are the abstract examples and a template. Read them if you want to know more.
Research Paper in APA Format
Research Paper in MLA Format
Adaptability and Evolution of Life - Abstract Example
View Scientific Research Paper Abstract Here
Writing an abstract is not hard. It requires proper structure and detail. But, it is something that you can do with practice and hard work.
This guide will help you write a perfect abstract for your paper if you follow it closely. But, not everyone has the talent to create a good abstract. So they might take help from a writing service to make one for their research work.
MyPerfectWords.com is the best option if you need help with your academic assignments. Simply order a well-written abstract from our expert and professional writers now.
So contact our top essay writer service now!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between an abstract and an introduction.
The difference between an abstract and an introduction is that the abstract summarizes your entire study. In contrast, the introduction includes only some elements of what is in an abstract.
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How to Write an Abstract for a Research Paper
Published 20 August 2021
The abstract is the most important part of any research paper. It’s a summary that gives an overview of what your research is about and why it matters and how it contributes to knowledge, but it also needs to grab readers’ attention and make them want to read the whole thing. An abstract is an autonomous, brief, and intense declaration that describes the work with enormous scope. Its components differ by the discipline of the project. You have to give a concise view of your massive project in the abstract. In this blog post, we’ll discuss its meaning, types, and how to write an abstract for a research paper.
Looking For Custom Research Topics & Ideas
What is an abstract.
An abstract is a succinct summary of a research paper that gives its main ideas and often includes details on how the study was conducted. If you’re conducting research, the abstract will summarize your study and will provide key information such as the problem being addressed, what methodology to be used in your study, how many subjects are enrolled, and what you expect to find in terms of results.
An abstract is the most essential element of every research work either it is a thesis, dissertation, or any other. The abstract gives a concise view or a brief description of a larger project. It is a powerful, short, and independent declaration that describes the enormous scope of your paper.
What to Include in an abstract for a research paper?
Students have to take care of some basic mistakes, which students mostly do while writing an abstract on paper. You should not draw any sketch, diagram, flow charts, and pie charts in your abstract. As of now, at this point, it must be very clear in your mind that abstract is the descriptive information of your project, which you write in a summarized form.
- Your abstract should include all the contents of the project, along with its scope.
- It should also describe your finding, methodologies, objectives, and conclusion.
- Commonly searched keywords are also be added in your abstract, but they must be very relevant to your topic. Sometimes students just add keywords that do not have any link with their topic. This irritates the reader and left a bad impression on the mind of the reader.
The motive for writing an abstract is just for the readers so that they can know the objective of your topic. It should be very clear in the mind of the students that you have only to write a summary of the project. An abstract is just a description of your project. It should contain information about what you actually covered in your project and not elaborating your topic and project’s content.
For your clear understanding, let me take an example if you are writing an abstract on dowry. In this, you will write about your survey research , investigation, and conclusion. You are not going to write why people give dowry, what dowry is, and other things related to it.
Read Also: Problem Statement In Research Paper
Types of Abstracts
As there are many types of abstract, so it becomes challenging for the students to choose the appropriate one for their project. The type of abstract that you are going to write will directly depend on the type of research work you are undertaking. So a complete knowledge of the types of abstract is beneficial for college students. And this would also help them to choose the correct one for their work.
So, here is an explained description of the types of the abstract. This would help you to choose the correct abstract for your project.
There are four types of abstract, as follows:
Informative abstract, critical abstract, highlight abstract.
Now, in the further part of this section, we are going to give you complete information regarding each of the abstracts. This would help you to differentiate between the different types of abstract. And also help college students to choose the correct abstract for their project wisely. It would resolve the confusion of students about types of abstracts.
A descriptive abstract is an outline of work. It may include the purpose, methods, and scope of research being summarized but does not make judgments about it or provide results/conclusions from the study.
In this type of intellectual, you are going to describe your summarized data. In this, you are not comparing it with other pages of your work. As the name itself suggests that you only have to describe the summary. Comparing this with other papers of your research is not part of a descriptive abstract.
After choosing the type of abstract, you must be very clear in your mind about what to write in it. If you do not take care of the rules and main points of each abstract, then it would completely change the type of abstract.
The informative abstract is a summary of the paper that includes background information, research methods, and scope. The author should also include their conclusions in an informative abstract as well as important recommendations for future research so readers are better informed about the topic.
An informative abstract is the most common type of abstract being used by researchers. In this, students are going to describe the main arguments and the essential points of your project. The students explain the focused aspects of work and highlight them.
While focusing the mind of readers towards the main points, there are also some other points, which you can add on. You can write the conclusion of your project and the recommendation given by the authors.
A critical abstract is a summary of the main findings and information in an article. It also provides a judgment or comment on whether this research can be considered valid, reliable, complete, etc., as well as comparing it to other works that have been done on the same subject.
In this abstract students are going to describe the main points, information, and findings. Along with this, they also add the comment and their judgment regarding the study’s completeness and validity of the research .
In summary, critical abstract includes focusing on the main point along with comments and judgments of your study’s reliability. With all this, you compare it to other papers of your works. Evaluation of your research is also done in this type of abstract.
It is rarely used in academic works. An abstract is written to attract the readers’ minds towards your work. It must be very precise and attractive so that it can easily catch the reader’s attention. As the name suggests, it must include the highly important points which you must want to highlight in your work.
There is not so much explanation regarding the highlight abstract; it just covers your highlighted aspects. The main aim of the student, who is writing this type of abstract, is that they just want the reader’s attention towards their research work. The college student must keep it in their mind, that it is rarely used in their academic work.
Elements of An Abstract For Research Paper –
Although there are many types of abstract, there is one thing that is common for all kinds of abstract. So there will not be any big issue if one could not remember the differentiating point between all types of abstracts. Apart from differentiating features, if students only remember these elements, then this would solve their problem to a maximum level.
After knowing the elements of the abstract, college students can write an effective abstract, even if they do not remember the different types of abstracts. There are some differentiating features among each type of abstract, but on the other hand, there is also one common point among them. So it is crucial for students to remember these points at least.
All abstract must be present with 4 types of elements to the reader:
These are the common elements that are present among all of them. Before going to tell you about the writing skills for an abstract, you must know entirely about the aspects of the abstract.
This section accounts for the first few sentences of the abstract. It aware the readers about the research you carried out in your work. An objective gives an account to the reader about the problem and issues you have been explored in the research work. It also includes the solution you studied for the issue. Along with all this, the writer also explains his inspiration for the project. But it must be kept in mind that it should not be too long and takes only a few sentences of the abstract.
After you complete your objective, it’s time to move on to the next part of the abstract, i.e. methods. That means in this section of the abstract; you are going to write about the research methodology you used in your research works. You will write the steps of the methods, that are being used by you in finding the solution to the issue. And the steps of the process vary with your research topic.
- For the humanity project, you write the methods for the framework of your research.
- In relation to the service project, the student will write the outline of services performed and processes followed by you.
So we can say that, regardless of the subject and field, in this part of the abstract you will write the methods you used to reach the final solution, result, and conclusion.
In this, you will write the final outcome of your research work. It is self-explanatory to write the definitive answer to your work in this part. If the result is not completed yet, then you can add the theories regarding the probable outcome. The length of the result must be much specified; you must not write additional points in this part. Students must write the main points so that the outcome is clear to the reader and the length is not too long.
It is the last among the four elements of the abstract. Like in other paperwork, the conclusion is written in just a or two-sentence length where you would be summarized what you have written above in your project. In the abstract, the student will summarize the result in conclusion. While writing the conclusion, one question must be in your mind i.e. “what is the value of these results?”. This question will help you to write the conclusion of the abstract correctly.
Note:- A brief introduction of not more than 2-3 sentences , is added before the objective. But this is only in the case of most extensive research works. In the majority of research work, we skip the introduction and directly start our abstract with the objective. Writing an introduction section before the objective, just acts as a brief description for the reader about what is being written in the objective.
So by knowing the elements of the abstract, students are clear about the format and sequence being used for writing it. It would help them to write an effective abstract and in a sequential manner. Elements must be present in every abstract.
Common Mistakes during Abstract writing
The most common mistake students do while writing the abstract is that they write it in the same way as they write their whole project. The style of writing the abstract is different from the rest of the paperwork. There are many points you should keep in mind while writing an abstract.
There are some points, i.e. elements, that must be included in your abstract, but on the other hand, some points must be avoided. The points, which are mentioned below must be avoided while writing an abstract:-
- Informal language and the idioms
- Symbols or abbreviations
- Figures, illustrations, images, graphs, or tables
- Unfinished phrases
- It should be comparatively brief; the word amount should not be pumped up
- Extended background information for which research paper is concerned, it should be brief
- New data which is not included in the study article
- Phrases such as “present research show” or “confirm studies.”
- Terms that may be confusing to readers
- Unnecessary details which do not add to the abstract’s general purpose
Steps that make your abstract writing perfect
At this stage, you are clear with the definition of abstract, along with its type and elements of abstract. Now it’s time to know how to write an effective abstract. One should be very clear in his mind that their abstract will be understandable, convenient to read, and attractive to the reader. For an effective abstract, length is a very important factor. Your abstract should not be too long, and on the other side, it must contain all the essential points of your project.
Ideally, in the abstract, you attract the reader’s mind towards the main objective of your project. And your topic would be evident in their minds through your abstract. So, one must focus on writing a useful abstract for a research paper. Your abstract will define the interest of the readers towards your research work.
Following steps that students must keep in their minds for writing an abstract:-
Step 1. Complete your research work
Firstly, complete your whole research work. Once you are done with your research work, then you are very much clear about what to write in your abstract. Above mentioned points, along with these steps, must be kept in your mind for writing an abstract.
After finishing your entire research work, it would automatically be apparent in your mind what would be going to write in your abstract. And you will describe your project in your abstract, in a very précised and concise manner. One should follow each step for good results.
Step 2. Make a list of essential points
Do not waste much time thinking about what to write and which point to write and how to conclude everything in just 2 or 3 sentences. Just read out your introduction and conclusion thoroughly. Then figure the essential points that you think you should add to your abstract. And write them out in your abstract. You have just to summarize your objective and conclusion in the abstract. It is for the objective and outcome part of the abstract.
Step 3. Include methods and materials
College students must make rough notes of what they have done while completing their research work. The Research methodology or technique they used for the solution must be written on these rough notes. These notes further help them to write their method part of the abstract without any unnecessary headache and tension.
Once you write all the methods and techniques you have used for your work, it would be immensely more comfortable for you to write them in the abstract. As the method section, only include the process and methods. If you are writing illogical and unrelated points in this section would not attract the reader’s mind at all. Do not write unnecessary information; just write down the methods used by use to reach the outcome.
Step 4. Answer the questions related to research
The following questions answers must be present in your abstract. These are must-answer questions that the reader would be going to seek in your abstract. They are:-
The primary purpose of your research work? Why is it necessary to carry out the research on your topic? The process you follow to reach the final outcome? What did these results mean to you? And what answers do readers get from your project? How did you reach the final conclusion? How will readers get the answer to their questions?
Answers to all these questions must be written in your abstract. After knowing the answers to all these questions in your abstract, the reader will feel satisfied, and he will further want to read your whole project with great interest.
Step 5. Exclude irrelevant information
As at this level of this handout, it is very much apparent in your mind that the length of the abstract would not be too long. So for a precise length of your abstract, read it from top to bottom with concentration. Then eliminate the points you think are not as relevant and is only increasing the length of your abstract. Do this 2 or 3 times to remove the extra points you have written in your abstract. It will make you’re abstract shorter in length and more descriptive. As more precise and descriptive, your abstract will be, would be going to attract the readers and increase the interest of the readers in your research work.
Step 6. Review the abstract
It is a significant step, as students are very less aware of it and sometimes just skip this step. In this step, you are again going to read your abstract thoroughly. This time you are not going to exclude any extra points and check the consistency of information. In this step, you are going to review your grammar mistakes, spelling mistakes, sentence structure, and symbols and abbreviations (if used).
Students must keep in their mind that, never submit their work of any type without performing this step. Because nowadays, students are too much active on social media, so it becomes prevalent for them to use short forms and symbols. Using short forms or symbols and grammar and spelling mistakes in your paperwork leaves a wrong impression on the reader’s mind. So always perform this step for both your research work and abstract.
Now, after all your hard work and efforts, your paper works along with the abstract is ready. The abstract is error-free, informative, descriptive, concise, precise, and complete. Now your summary is prepared along with your research work to submit to your professor.
Get professional help For Abstract writing from My Research Topics
Even though it seems natural to write an abstract, in actual it isn’t. To get an informative abstract for a research paper, college students can also take the help of experts. Professional academic writers of My Research Topics are available round the clock (24*7) to serve their clients. Our pocket-friendly services for the students help them invariant subjects.
Students can freely ask the experts for help if they are not satisfied with their service. Our all experts are highly qualified and efficient enough in their work to deliver their service even before the more stringent deadline. If for any reason, the student is not able to complete his work and is left with much less time, then also you can hire the experts and submit quality work to your professors.
We never compromise with the quality of our service and treat every client with unique and best possible content by doing proper research to collect the data. You can quickly free yourself from the stress of incomplete work. And amaze your supervisors with the best idea and content for any of your academic paper writing.
From the abstract only, your readers should be able to understand the basic concepts of every aspect of your research work. It is so that they can decide whether the paper will serve its purpose or not. Hence you should try to keep your abstract as attractive and readable as you can.
Try to cover every possible aspect, along with the thesis statement in your abstract in a concise manner by keeping in mind the type of your readers. You can also check some sample abstracts for paper presentations if you are facing any kind of trouble.
Read Also: Discourse Analysis Research Methodology – Meaning, Uses and Procedure
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This paper is in the following e-collection/theme issue:
Published on 28.9.2023 in Vol 25 (2023)
Experiences of Using Digital Mindfulness-Based Interventions: Rapid Scoping Review and Thematic Synthesis
Authors of this article:
- Emma Louise Osborne 1 , BA, MRES ;
- Ben Ainsworth 1, 2 , PhD ;
- Nic Hooper 3 , PhD ;
- Melissa Jayne Atkinson 1 , PhD
1 Department of Psychology, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom
2 School of Psychology, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom
3 School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
Emma Louise Osborne, BA, MRES
Department of Psychology
University of Bath
Bath, BA2 7AY
Phone: 44 383843 ext 01225
Email: [email protected]
Background: Digital mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) are a promising approach to deliver accessible and scalable mindfulness training and have been shown to improve a range of health outcomes. However, the success of digital MBIs is reliant on adequate engagement, which remains a crucial challenge. Understanding people’s experiences of using digital MBIs and identifying the core factors that facilitate or act as barriers to engagement is essential to inform intervention development and maximize engagement and outcomes.
Objective: This study aims to systematically map the literature on people’s experiences of using digital MBIs that target psychosocial variables (eg, anxiety, depression, distress, and well-being) and identify key barriers to and facilitators of engagement.
Methods: We conducted a scoping review to synthesize empirical qualitative research on people’s experiences of using digital MBIs. We adopted a streamlined approach to ensure that the evidence could be incorporated into the early stages of intervention development. The search strategy identified articles with at least one keyword related to mindfulness, digital, user experience, and psychosocial variables in their title or abstract. Inclusion criteria specified that articles must have a qualitative component, report on participants’ experiences of using a digital MBI designed to improve psychosocial variables, and have a sample age range that at least partially overlapped with 16 to 35 years. Qualitative data on user experience were charted and analyzed using inductive thematic synthesis to generate understandings that go beyond the content of the original studies. We used the Quality of Reporting Tool to critically appraise the included sources of evidence.
Results: The search identified 510 studies, 22 (4.3%) of which met the inclusion criteria. Overall, the samples were approximately 78% female and 79% White; participants were aged between 16 and 69 years; and the most used measures in intervention studies were mindfulness, psychological flexibility, and variables related to mental health (including depression, anxiety, stress, and well-being). All studies were judged to be adequately reported. We identified 3 themes characterizing barriers to and facilitators of engagement: responses to own practice (ie, negative reactions to one’s own practice are common and can deplete motivation), making mindfulness a habit (ie, creating a consistent training routine is essential yet challenging), and leaning on others (ie, those engaging depend on someone else for support).
Conclusions: The themes identified in this review provide crucial insights as to why people frequently stop engaging with digital MBIs. Researchers and developers should consider using person-based coparticipatory methods to improve acceptability of and engagement with digital MBIs, increase their effectiveness, and support their translation to real-world use. Such strategies must be grounded in relevant literature and meet the priorities and needs of the individuals who will use the interventions.
Mindfulness involves (1) attentional monitoring of present-moment experience (eg, thoughts, feelings, and sensations) and (2) orientation toward this experience with acceptance and nonjudgment [ 1 ]. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) aim to train these skills and have been shown to improve a range of psychological and physical health outcomes in both clinical and nonclinical populations. For example, there is evidence from meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials suggesting that MBIs can reduce depression and anxiety or stress in young people [ 2 ], lower pain intensity in patients with chronic pain [ 3 ], and reduce symptoms of posttraumatic stress in people with and without a diagnosis [ 4 ].
Despite such efficacy, there are numerous challenges in accessing and delivering MBIs, including geographical, logistical, and financial constraints as well as a lack of trained mindfulness teachers [ 5 , 6 ]. For example, MBIs are typically face-to-face, multisession, and facilitated by expert interventionists, such as the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) course that is traditionally delivered by dedicated instructors in 8 weekly 2-hour group training sessions [ 7 ]. The translation of MBIs into digital formats has the potential to overcome these constraints, and it is encouraging that early evaluations of digital MBIs report beneficial effects that are comparable with those found in traditional in-person programs [ 8 , 9 ].
However, unfortunately, the success of digital MBIs is reliant on adequate engagement, which remains a crucial challenge. Engagement refers to the investment of energy in an activity and includes physical (ie, actual performance, which researchers often rely on when examining engagement using objective behavioral metrics [ 10 ]), affective (ie, affective reactions), and cognitive (ie, selective attention) elements [ 11 ]. For example, reviews of digital MBIs have found that between 8% and 52% to 60% of participants do not complete all sessions [ 9 , 12 ]. Although low engagement is a common issue in digital mental health interventions generally [ 13 ]—for example, the pooled completion rate from studies of apps for depressive symptoms is 52% [ 14 ]—it is particularly important in mindfulness training as regular practice is essential to develop mindfulness skills. Time spent practicing mindfulness at home is related to increases in levels of mindfulness and, in turn, improvements in psychological functioning [ 15 ]. Similarly, those who report high levels of engagement with digital MBIs report greater improvement in outcomes than those who do not [ 12 ].
Given that the success of digital MBIs is related to engagement and engagement tends to be low with digital MBIs, understanding the factors that facilitate or act as barriers to engagement with these interventions is crucial to promote engagement and opportunities to benefit. Past research has suggested that there is a range of factors that influence adherence to digital MBIs [ 5 ], including accessibility (eg, across devices and populations with different needs), tailoring (eg, of content to individual needs), and difficulty (eg, sustaining attention). In one study, after engaging with a digital MBI, students with no meditation experience reported that the top 3 obstacles to practice from a checklist of common challenges were meditation feeling like “just another task,” “feeling distracted,” and “feeling sleepy” [ 16 ]. However, the use of closed-response questions in such research potentially prohibits the development of a detailed understanding that is grounded in people’s own perspectives regarding aspects that help them engage and hinder them from engaging [ 17 ].
A more detailed approach using inductive qualitative analysis examined factors that hindered or facilitated the engagement of 16 health care professionals who participated in a self-help MBI (participants could choose a printed book or a web-based program) [ 18 ]. The results indicated that longer practices, arising negative thoughts, and self-criticism were key hindrances, and shorter practices, motivation to reduce stress, and feelings of control over thoughts were key facilitators. However, over half of the participants opted for the book-based intervention in this study, and themes identified from engaging with the web-based and book-based MBIs were combined. Although the authors reported that themes were comparable across intervention types, it is possible that barriers and facilitators specific to the web-based version were obscured by those common to both. Therefore, it is unclear whether these themes would apply to typical digital MBIs as well as to other populations (eg, groups who are vulnerable to or experiencing clinical-level concerns or for whom initial engagement is lower).
Although some studies have reported on factors that can influence engagement with digital MBIs, they rarely build a deep understanding of users’ experiences or do so systematically. User-centered design approaches (such as the person-based approach [ 19 ]) emphasize that understanding how people use digital MBIs and identifying core barriers to and facilitators of engagement are important first steps in intervention development, which suggest key design objectives to ensure interventions are relevant, acceptable, and engaging to target users before significant investment is made in evaluation and implementation [ 20 ]. This is particularly important in the context of digital mindfulness interventions as, unlike most digital health interventions, engagement with the digital content is designed to facilitate completion of a concurrent nondigital target behavior that is metacognitive in nature (eg, an experiential mindfulness exercise) [ 11 ]. As factors influencing engagement vary across different target behaviors, clear guidance is needed to understand which are directly relevant to and most prominent in digital MBIs specifically.
This review aimed to synthesize qualitative evidence on individuals’ experiences of using digital MBIs targeting psychosocial variables (eg, anxiety, depression, distress, and well-being) to identify key barriers to and facilitators of engagement. We chose to perform a rapid scoping review of qualitative data as (1) factors influencing the effects of interventions are often rooted in variations in attitudes, opinions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and, therefore, best explored through qualitative study [ 21 ]; (2) qualitative evidence is necessary to understand engagement in its entirety (ie, its physical, cognitive, and affective components [ 11 ]); and (3) it ensures that existing evidence can be incorporated into the early stages of intervention development and implementation [ 22 , 23 ]. The knowledge generated from this review will inform the evaluation and development of new and existing digital MBIs, helping them overcome some of the challenges that individuals face when engaging with these interventions.
We adhere to the Enhancing Transparency in Reporting the Synthesis of Qualitative Research guidelines [ 24 ] in reporting this review, and the review itself was guided by the Cochrane Rapid Reviews Methods recommendations [ 25 ] and PRISMA-ScR (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses Extension for Scoping Reviews; Multimedia Appendix 1 [ 26 ]). We developed and preregistered an a priori protocol that specified the review questions (What are the key barriers to and facilitators of engagement with digital MBIs targeting psychosocial variables? How have interventions addressed and used these barriers and facilitators in the past, and in what ways could interventions address and use them in future?); participants, intervention, comparison, outcome, and study design; electronic database; search strategy; inclusion and exclusion criteria; and data charting form [ 27 ].
Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria
The inclusion and exclusion criteria were developed to identify qualitative explorations of individuals’ perspectives and experiences of using digital MBIs designed to improve psychosocial variables ( Textbox 1 ). We excluded studies that did not refer to a digital web-based intervention (eg, a biofeedback headband and device based on vapor, light, and sound, both designed to support mindful breathing) and studies of interventions in which mindfulness was not the main component (eg, an intervention composed of 3 evidence-based techniques: cognitive behavioral coaching, motivational interviewing, and mindfulness). We specified that sample age ranges must at least partially overlap with 16 to 35 years as this is the target age group for our own intervention development. We defined digital MBIs as those delivered via the web by the technology itself (eg, hardware and electronic devices, software, and websites) rather than by health care professionals remotely [ 28 ]. Human support (eg, answering questions; providing feedback; and offering coaching, orientation, or check-in sessions) was permitted where the support was considered supplementary to the delivery of content, and we reported on the presence and format of such support in each included study. We focused on peer-reviewed papers as they would have received some initial quality assessment. Nonreporting bias [ 29 ] was minimized in this review as its focus was on generating themes related to engagement rather than estimating effects (ie, we did not extract quantitative results and included studies with no reported quantitative outcomes).
Inclusion and exclusion criteria for the selected articles.
- Type of publication: peer-reviewed empirical article (ie, original research based on observation or experiment)
- Language: published in English
- Study design: qualitative or mixed methods study or an intervention study with a qualitative component (including free text from questionnaire surveys); may report on a full-scale or pilot-scale project
- Phenomena of interest: any information on experiences of using a digital web-based mindfulness-based intervention (an intervention—research or commercially available—in which mindfulness is the main component) designed to improve psychosocial variables (ie, not interventions that solely target physiological variables); if an intervention study, must use psychosocial outcome or process measures
- Participants: sample age range at least partially overlapping with 16-35 years
- Type of publication: not peer-reviewed or a review article (ie, does not contain original research)
- Language: not published in English
- Study design: does not include a qualitative component (including free text from questionnaire surveys)
- Phenomena of interest: does not include any information on experiences of using a digital web-based mindfulness-based intervention (an intervention in which mindfulness is the main component) or is an intervention study that does not use psychosocial outcome or process measures
- Participants: sample age range is entirely <16 years and/or >35 years
In consultation with an information specialist (psychology librarian who has extensive training in implementing structured database searches), we developed a comprehensive search strategy to identify articles with at least one keyword related to mindfulness, digital, user experience, and psychosocial variables in its title or abstract ( Textbox 2 ). Keywords for psychosocial variables were derived from models of disordered eating [ 30 ] (ie, specific focus for our own intervention development), with added terms to broaden the search for all psychosocial variables (eg, affect, mood, distress, and well-being).
Keywords (in the title or abstract) used during the search.
- mindfu* AND internet OR online OR digital OR web OR e-health OR ehealth OR telemonit* OR computer* OR technolog* OR telecommunication* OR “tele communication*” OR multimedia OR pc OR website OR www OR “cell* phone” OR mobile OR smartphone OR “smart phone” OR electronic OR mhealth OR m-health OR telemedicine OR “tele medicine” OR “text messag*” OR email* OR telehealth OR “tele health” OR teletherap* OR “tele therap*” AND qualitative OR interview* OR “focus group*” OR experience* OR view* OR perspective* OR feedback OR ethnograp* OR “ethno grap*” OR thematic OR theme* OR “mixed methods” OR mixedmethod* OR “mixed method*” OR usability OR acceptab* OR feasib* OR thinkaloud OR “think aloud” OR open-ended OR semi-structured OR person-based OR “user cent*” OR participatory OR “human cent*” AND anxiet* OR depressi* OR affect* OR dysphori* OR mood OR emotion* OR distress OR wellbeing OR well-being OR negative OR “permissive thoughts” OR “maladaptive cognitions” OR “cognitive rigidity” OR interoceptive OR intero-ceptive OR acceptance OR self-esteem OR body* OR weight OR shape OR appearance OR eating OR diet* OR thin OR pressure* OR media OR perfectio* OR ineffectiveness OR self-efficacy OR selfefficacy OR self-concept OR selfconcept OR self-awareness OR selfawareness OR interpersonal OR inter-personal
We uploaded the search results to Covidence (Veritas Health Innovation), a web-based systematic review software, to streamline the screening process. Consistent with guidance from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality [ 31 ], we started with a pilot phase to calibrate and test the eligibility criteria. In total, 2 researchers independently screened a random selection of 50 studies (10% of the records) and then met to resolve discrepancies ( Multimedia Appendix 2 [ 32 ]). The first author screened the remaining titles and abstracts. All potentially eligible records were obtained as full-text articles. We requested full texts via our institution’s interlibrary loan service if they were unavailable on the web. The first author screened the full texts for inclusion in consultation with the wider research team, and the research team verified the final list of included articles.
We used a pilot-tested form to record study characteristics and qualitative data on user experience ( Multimedia Appendix 3 ). In total, 2 researchers independently charted data from a full text using a template adapted from the example evidence table for qualitative studies developed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence [ 33 ] and then met to discuss inconsistencies and improvements ( Multimedia Appendix 4 [ 33 ]). The first author charted the remaining data. Our inclusive approach included qualitative data from any study type, such as qualitative data from qualitative studies (ie, studies that used a qualitative method of data collection and analysis), narrative data from qualitative components of mixed methods studies, and free text from questionnaire surveys as various types of qualitative evidence can enrich a synthesis [ 23 ]. In this study, charted qualitative data included quotations from participants and themes, theories, and interpretations generated by the studies’ authors. They were presented as narratives or summarized in tables and located in the Abstract , Results , and Discussion sections. We charted all qualitative data related to user experience as verbatim quotations. Multimedia Appendix 5 [ 34 , 35 ] provides a 17-page excerpt from our extensive data charting table.
We used the Quality of Reporting Tool [ 36 ] to critically appraise the included sources of evidence. The reporting of each study was appraised using 4 criteria: study design and research question, participant selection, data collection, and analysis. We assessed all qualitative studies overall (ie, as a whole) and all remaining papers (ie, mixed methods studies or questionnaire surveys) both overall and considering only qualitative data on user experience (ie, data included in our qualitative evidence synthesis). After pilot-testing the tool with 2 reviewers, a single reviewer categorized studies as “adequately reported” (satisfied at least 2 criteria) or “inadequately reported” (satisfied 1 or no criteria), and the first author verified all judgments and supporting evidence. These criteria have been used in other validated tools (eg, they represent items 3, 4, 5, and 8 from the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme qualitative checklist [ 37 ]) and in a review of barriers to and facilitators of engagement with digital mental health interventions [ 13 ].
As recommended in the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions [ 23 ], we thematically synthesized charted qualitative data [ 38 ]. Thematic synthesis offers a clear and accessible inductive approach to produce descriptive themes that can evolve beyond the content of the primary studies into more in-depth analytic themes. The first author imported all charted qualitative data verbatim into the NVivo qualitative data analysis software (QSR International) and freely coded the data line by line according to their meaning and content using words directly from the data where possible. As qualitative evidence syntheses have received criticism for decontextualizing the findings of individual studies [ 38 ], the first author read all the charted data (including study aims, methods, and samples) before coding each study’s findings to preserve its original context and ensure that its findings could be fully understood without misinterpretation [ 39 ]. The first author then grouped similar codes into “descriptive themes” to summarize their meaning while keeping close to the original findings of the included studies. This was an iterative process that distilled users’ perspectives and experiences of using digital MBIs down to their key parts. In the next stage, the wider research team met to discuss the descriptive themes and develop “analytical themes,” which go beyond the findings of the primary studies by interpreting the key messages underlying the descriptive themes and using them to answer the review questions. We generated more abstract and analytical themes through an iterative process of inferring barriers, facilitators, and implications for intervention development from the descriptive themes and making changes to them where necessary. Multimedia Appendix 6 [ 23 , 38 , 39 ] provides more details about the analysis, including a 4-page excerpt from our list of codes, a full list of descriptive themes, and a comprehensive example of how we generated the analytical themes.
We took several steps to accelerate the review process so that evidence could be quickly incorporated into the initial phase of intervention planning [ 40 ]. First, we limited the inclusion criteria to English-language publications [ 25 ]. Second, we restricted the search to PsycINFO as an efficient way to achieve a manageable amount of relevant data (ie, by using a specialist database for psychological interventions [ 41 ] to retrieve studies most suitable for answering our review questions). This was necessary given that (1) too much data because of a large number of included studies can undermine qualitative evidence syntheses and (2) other methods of limiting the number of included studies are time and resource intensive (eg, purposive sampling [ 42 ]). Qualitative evidence syntheses aim to understand the phenomenon of interest in a context rather than aggregate data from large representative samples of studies to achieve statistical generalizability [ 42 ]; therefore, we do not anticipate this affecting the findings of this review. Third, one reviewer performed the full screening and data charting. We minimized the potential for increased errors and lower reproducibility because of this by piloting forms, estimating interrater reliability, and consulting with the wider research team. Multimedia Appendix 7 [ 25 , 38 , 40 - 46 ] provides more details on our streamlined approach.
The searches identified 530 unique records. Of these 530 records, 82 (15.5%) were included in the full-text review and 22 (4.2%) were included in the qualitative synthesis ( Figure 1 ). We performed the first search on September 13, 2021, and reran the search on November 30, 2021, before analysis ( Multimedia Appendix 8 [ 35 , 47 - 51 ]).
Detailed characteristics of the included studies are presented in Table 1 . An overview of these characteristics is provided in the following sections.
a Country of institutional affiliation of the first author.
b Data collection and analysis methods for data included in the qualitative evidence synthesis.
c MMA: mobile mindfulness app.
d Self-completion questionnaire with open-response categories.
e MBCT: mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
f eMBCT: internet-based mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
g MBSR: mindfulness-based stress reduction.
h ACT: acceptance and commitment therapy.
i MBI: mindfulness-based intervention.
j PTSD: posttraumatic stress disorder.
k UPLIFT: Using Practice and Learning to Increase Favorable Thoughts.
Year and Country
The 22 studies were published between 2010 and 2022, with most (n=17, 77%) published from 2017 onward. The studies were primarily from the United States (11/22, 50%), Europe (6/22, 27%), and Australia (4/22, 18%). Multimedia Appendix 9 contains details on the years and countries.
The target population included students (2/22, 9%); young adults (4/22, 18%); individuals with no meditation experience (2/22, 9%); relatives or significant others of a person with mental illness (3/22, 14%); 9-1-1 telecommunicators (1/22, 5%); and individuals with symptoms, a diagnosis, or a history of a psychological disorder or another health concern (10/22, 45%). Some studies (6/22, 27%) had samples with a combination of these characteristics. Overall, the samples were approximately 78% female and 79% White, and participants were aged between 16 and 69 years. Using data from 86% (19/22) of studies that reported or from which we could calculate the mean sample age, the weighted average was 26.4 (weighted SD 8.8) years.
The digital interventions tested included mindfulness-based stress reduction or mindfulness-based stress reduction tailored to families living with mental illness (5/22, 23%); MBCT or MBCT tailored to patients with cancer, the perinatal period, or people with epilepsy (4/22, 18%); acceptance and commitment therapy (3/22, 14%); commercially available mindfulness programs (2/22, 9%); and other mindfulness-based programs (8/22, 36%). Additional support to facilitate intervention completion was included in all but one study (21/22, 95%). This ranged from automated reminders and nonclinical (ie, purely technical) assistance to orientation calls and coaching. At least 86% (19/22) of the studies included human (vs automated) support, and at least 55% (12/22) of the studies included support that went beyond purely technical or administrative assistance (eg, clinical or psychologically active guidance).
In the intervention studies, the most commonly used outcome and process measures were mindfulness; psychological flexibility; and variables related to mental health, including depression, anxiety, stress, and well-being.
Most studies used in-depth interviews (12/22, 55%) or self-completion questionnaires with open-response categories (12/22, 55%) to collect data, whereas other studies (3/22, 14%) used focus groups. The studies primarily used thematic analysis (10/22, 45%) to analyze the data, but other methods included content analysis (6/22, 27%), descriptive or inferential statistics (4/22, 18%), and grounded theory (2/22, 9%).
All studies were assessed as adequately reported ( Multimedia Appendix 10 [ 16 , 34 , 35 , 47 , 48 , 52 - 68 ]), including qualitative studies (8/22, 36%) and mixed methods studies or questionnaire surveys when evaluated both as a whole and with respect to qualitative data on user experience only (14/22, 64%). Overall, each study reported on the study design and questions, participant selection, data collection, and analysis. When we evaluated mixed methods studies or questionnaire surveys considering only data included in our qualitative evidence synthesis, 32% (7/22) of the studies did not provide details of the analysis method (eg, the authors reviewed open responses for common themes without reference to or full description of the method), and 5% (1/22) of the studies did not describe data collection sufficiently.
We identified three themes: (1) responses to own practice , (2) making mindfulness a habit , and (3) leaning on others . Each theme is outlined in the following sections using illustrative quotes.
Responses to Own Practice
A predominant theme was that negative reactions to one’s own application of mindfulness during digital MBIs are common and can discourage continued efforts. Participants reported not being able to practice at times, either because they could not find time to practice or because they experienced distractions that interrupted their practice. When participants experienced difficulties in scheduling time to practice, they also expressed feelings of guilt, resentment, and self-criticism, which depleted their motivation and led them to view practice as another stressful demand:
I am finding it is almost causing more stress trying to find the time to get practice in and to do the weekly lessons. [Participant [ 58 ]]
[I felt] a little critical of self, felt like I couldn’t do it all, and it was my fault somehow, and this is too much to ask with your daily life, and resentful. [Participant [ 53 ]]
Similarly, participants felt frustrated by disturbances originating from their environment (eg, shared spaces and noise levels) and internal experience (eg, negative emotions, life problems, and daily plans):
With project deadlines in parallel it is hard to choose a time for meditation, very angry at myself. [Participant [ 60 ]]
At times, there were too many interruptions that I would get frustrated. [Participant [ 58 ]]
In addition to not being able to practice at times, participants’ preoccupation with “doing it right” also fueled negative reactions to their practice, which reduced motivation and expectations of benefit. There was a repeated idea that there is a right way to practice, and this was often expressed in the form of insecurity about practicing properly. Participants reported not knowing what was expected of them or what should happen during practice, feeling puzzled and confused by the effects they experienced and questioning the accuracy of their training (eg, when they fell asleep, whether brief practices “count” or they had “permission” to do a briefer practice when short of time, or whether they were in the correct position):
I always want to do things right, and I wasn’t sure about how I did the meditation exercises in the beginning. Is this the way I am supposed to do this? [Participant [ 55 ]]
When I listen, I have a feeling that I do not quite understand what should happen during the meditation. [Participant [ 60 ]]
Not knowing exactly what was expected in terms of program structure and training dose (despite information), and lack of adherence towards the recommended dose sometimes induced a sense of insecurity as to whether one was doing the training properly and actually benefiting from it or taking it seriously enough. This could deplete motivation. [Author] [Participant [ 65 ]]
I’m worried whether I am doing the practices correctly. [Participant [ 56 ]]
It’s really good to have that permission, so to say. I did do the 3-minute breathing space a few times, but I guess I was thinking that wasn’t really doing the homework because it is so brief. It’s good to know that “counts.” [Participant [ 56 ]]
This led to the desire for feedback on whether participants had performed training properly and an additional brief “overview” tutorial to aid memory in instances of insecurity [ 65 ].
Making Mindfulness a Habit
Another prominent notion was that establishing a consistent training routine is not only an essential part of digital MBIs but also one that requires resolution, perseverance, and self-discipline. Participants recognized that being successful in creating a routine and integrating mindfulness into their lives made regular practice easier and that regular practice was important when learning a new skill such as mindfulness:
It was difficult in that you had to carve out the time really consistently, but it was also really valuable. I don’t think the program would be as effective if you weren’t being asked to do it daily. What I understand is you’re trying to develop a habit. [Participant [ 53 ]]
To manage the issue of dwindling enthusiasm, the participants made two suggestions. First, it was important to practise more to make it become a natural habit. [...] setting aside time each day for lying down and practising the exercises before sleep and even during the daytime whenever possible, no matter how short the exercise was, could help them build up their perseverance. [Author [ 68 ]]
However, seeing the value of making mindfulness a habit was not enough to meet the responsibility. Participants reported needing to persist and grapple with the effortful task of making practice a scheduled activity, which involved frequent adjustments to their plans, priorities, and commitments:
You just have to make time for it like you make time for anything else you want to do. You just have to work for it if this is something that you want. [Participant [ 62 ]]
It’s a question of discipline /.../ I think one should pinpoint that it’s strenuous and that one has to be ready to struggle with it because one believes in it. [Participant [ 64 ]]
As the participants began to accommodate the daily use of the app into their already busy personal, academic, and professional schedules, they encountered the challenges of establishing a new habit. For the participants, this was not a straightforward process, but rather involved several adjustments in their schedules, priorities, obligations. [Author [ 62 ]]
In addition to having self-discipline and an inner resolution, identifying a designated space to practice or connecting practice with an existing routine activity, such as brushing teeth or taking medication, helped participants get into the habit:
I made it important to always do it like in the same place in my apartment and like around the same time. I just have a chair in my living room, and I always did it in that chair. So yeah, it was always the same chair. The same with the lighting, it would be the same lights which were turned on. Like every day, the situation was pretty much always the same. However, there are lots of distractions in my life, so that’s why I am still basically kind of baking it [meditation routine] into like a scheduled activity. [Participant [ 61 ]]
To make home practice engagement more likely three interviewees suggested asking participants to practice at the same time every day perhaps “pegging it” to a routine activity (e.g., after brushing their teeth in the morning) [...] Another suggested drawing a parallel with the ritual and regularity of “when you’re on a medication” when describing the approach to practice. [Author [ 35 ]]
Participants also highlighted the need for personalization (ie, the provision of content that is tailored to the needs and preferences of individual users) to motivate individuals to embed mindfulness into their lives. For example, some participants preferred shorter practices as they were more attainable with respect to remaining attentive (ie, minimizing interruptions and loss of focus), scheduling (ie, easier to make time for and integrate into daily life), and avoiding adverse experiences (ie, boredom, impatience, and discomfort from sitting still), whereas others preferred longer sessions that allowed time for the mind to slow down and for participants to concentrate better. Such contradictory preferences extended to several aspects of the intervention (eg, the amount of narration during guided meditations, format of content delivery, degree of variation in subject matter, and frequency of reminders), and participants appreciated when they were considered:
I liked that there was a variety of practices to try. Different things work for different people and that was taken into account. [Participant [ 58 ]]
Qualitative data revealed vast individual differences in the preferences for meditation. Voice instructions appeared helpful to some and disturbing to others; the same meditation sessions were experienced as being too short or too long; some participants enjoyed the soft background sounds of nature while others said they would have preferred some background music; some individuals were frustrated by the silent pauses that others appreciated and enjoyed; some were uncomfortable with the same themes and practices found to be particularly helpful by other participants. All of this [...] suggests that “one-size-fits-all” online interventions might be less engaging and less effective than those tailored to individual preferences. [Author [ 60 ]]
Leaning on Others
A core idea expressed in various ways throughout the data set was that those engaging with digital MBIs depend on someone else—whether a therapist, researcher, significant other, or another participant—for support and encouragement and that this improved engagement. An aspect of this idea was that receiving any form of communication from the digital MBI (eg, automated reminders; messages of encouragement; or personalized feedback via email, SMS text message, or phone call) was helpful in reminding and motivating participants to practice without feeling intrusive:
A consistent message from all interviewees was that any form of feedback or communication from the programme was likely to improve retention. In addition to forms of feedback already mentioned, email (even if automated and using a “no-reply” address), and text message reminders, were thought to be likely to be helpful without being intrusive. [Author [ 35 ]]
I enjoyed the reminders that the app sends you—I really found that helpful because otherwise, I would not have remembered to do it. [Participant [ 62 ]]
Similarly, having a program “support person” was considered essential. Many valued the existence of an individual (eg, instructor, coach, therapist, or member of the research team) with whom they could discuss program concepts and from whom they could receive technical or administrative support. Participants felt that it was reassuring to know someone was available if needed, whether via phone, email, or an “Ask a Question” or “Help” function:
All participants saw the value of having a support person available who was only a phone call or email away. Some participants mentioned more frequent interactions with the support person and even those who did not use the support reported that it was an important asset of the program. [Author [ 53 ]]
Many endorsed that it was “essential” to have a coach and helpful to know that one was available if needed. [Author [ 56 ]]
Another main expression of this theme was not feeling part of a community, which led participants to feel alone or that they lacked a connection or sense of belonging with other users. This in turn motivated requests for a “community component” (eg, web-based forums, message boards, or group [video or phone] chats) so that participants could discuss their intervention experiences, clarify content, and share challenges with other users. This was particularly desired by participants with a shared lived experience so that they could interact, connect, and identify with others (eg, perinatal women, individuals with epilepsy, or patients with cancer). Although most of the included studies (16/22, 73%) were of interventions that did not have a community component, this component was also highly valued by participants for whom it was present (6/22, 27%):
I think this would be a lot better if there was a Web-based group...I felt alone out here. I would have been engaged more. [Participant [ 53 ]]
All interviewees agreed that an online forum, which enabled discussion about their programme experiences, was highly desirable and was likely to boost retention significantly through: clarifying aspects of the teaching; sharing and overcoming difficulties with practice; and encouraging participants to remain engaged and complete home practice sessions. [Author [ 35 ]]
The majority expressed [...] a desire for a community function component of the program that would allow them to interact with other perinatal women who were using MMB [Mindful Mood Balance program]. [Author [ 56 ]]
A final dimension captured the tendency of participants to engage in creative ways to seek support from others when none or not enough was provided by the program. Participants reported sharing the program with significant others, such as family members, friends, and spouses, to help encourage their consistent and continued practice:
I’m talking to my husband about how he can help me protect some time on the weekends to do the longer practices. [Participant [ 56 ]]
My kids actually started to look forward to it, so they would actually ask to do it. That helped me kind of stay on track. [Participant [ 62 ]]
Some participants were open with their training, sharing their experiences with the patient and family members and occasionally doing some of the exercises together. [Author [ 65 ]]
By reaching out to others in their lives, participants were able to orchestrate their own social environment to support their engagement with the program. This self-made way of forging a helpful foundation for practice not only highlights the impact that someone else can have on people’s engagement with digital MBIs but also indicates that people are not reliant on a mindfulness teacher to feel supported.
This review identified, critically appraised, and synthesized qualitative data from 22 original studies of people’s experiences using a digital MBI to identify factors that facilitate or act as barriers to their engagement with the intervention. Three overarching themes appeared to influence engagement: (1) responses to own practice , (2) making mindfulness a habit , and (3) leaning on others . Together, these themes provide crucial insights as to why people frequently stop engaging with digital MBIs. The following discussion elaborates on these areas and offers some recommendations for researchers and developers to guide intervention design and evaluation, thereby improving acceptability and engagement with digital MBIs, increasing their effectiveness, and supporting their translation to real-world use.
The first theme emphasized how adverse reactions to one’s own practice are common and may serve to reduce motivation. This suggests that the tendency to respond negatively to one’s own experience and application of mindfulness is a major barrier to using digital MBIs, which is consistent with the wider literature on mindfulness interventions and offers initial support for extending this finding to digital intervention formats. For example, in one study, the question “Am I doing it right?” emerged by the second week of a traditional MBCT course [ 69 ]. In another study, participants reported feeling self-critical when they could not make time to practice and when mindfulness did not appear to work for them [ 18 ]. As in this review, this negative reaction made it difficult for participants to continue to engage, prompting them to give up and remove it from their to-do list. To help overcome this barrier, traditional face-to-face programs such as MBCT explicitly allocate time to anticipating what difficulties and obstacles may arise in doing home practice (eg, trying to find free time) and how to deal with them [ 7 ]. Such content on overcoming barriers may be lost in the translation to digital formats, and our review is the first to highlight the importance of explicitly addressing this in digital MBIs.
This finding also indicates that one of the most important factors influencing engagement with digital MBIs is unique to mindfulness specifically rather than general to digital interventions and reflects the metacognitive nature of the intervention’s target behavior. Our review offers clear guidance on which particular combinations of factors identified across other literature (eg, on digital interventions or mindfulness interventions more broadly) are most influential in the specific context of digital MBIs, which is essential to make these interventions more persuasive, feasible, and relevant to users [ 20 ].
The second theme ( making mindfulness a habit ) highlighted the need and effort required to practice consistently and a call for personalization to help achieve this. This suggests that forming a mindfulness habit is a key barrier to sustained engagement with digital MBIs and that persuasive technological features could help overcome this barrier. Although prior work on digital interventions has identified personalization as an important feature, this review is the first to demonstrate its relevance to digital mindfulness interventions specifically. For example, a systematic review of web-based interventions found that the inclusion of persuasive design principles, including tailoring (ie, provision of content or feedback adapted to factors relevant to a user), explained 55% of the variance in session completion across studies [ 70 ]. Our findings suggest that certain factors that contribute to engagement with digital content in mobile and web-based interventions more generally may also apply to interventions for which engagement with the digital content is designed to facilitate completion of a nondigital target behavior (eg, an experiential mindfulness exercise) [ 11 ]. Notably, the threshold of engagement with the digital component that successfully facilitates the “non-digital target behaviour” can demonstrably vary between individuals [ 71 ], supporting a shift toward patient-treatment matching and person-centered care [ 72 ] and underscoring the need to implement this digitally (eg, through automated personalization).
Conversely, this theme diverges from the results of a thematic analysis of the experiences of health care professionals who participated in either a web-based or printed self-help MBI [ 18 ]. The health care professionals consistently reported that longer practices were more challenging to engage with than shorter practices, whereas our review found considerable variation in preferences for different intervention features (eg, format, materials, and sound), including length of practice, perhaps because of the breadth of MBIs included in our robust evidence synthesis. This highlights the importance of understanding the key behavioral and psychological needs of the target population to ensure that the intervention addresses them.
The third theme ( leaning on others ) highlighted that those engaging with digital MBIs are encouraged by additional support in its broadest sense (ie, any communication designed to support any aspect of the intervention, its completion, or its desired outcomes). This includes synchronous (eg, phone calls and web-based chats) and asynchronous (eg, email and SMS text messages) communication, support provided to a group of people (eg, discussion forums and group chats), and anything else (eg, automated reminders, technical assistance, feedback, and reaching out to someone). Although these results align with those of previous research on the impact of additional support in digital interventions [ 73 ], this study cannot draw conclusions on the relative power of each type of support because of the variability across studies. Given this, the provision of support in research settings needs to be considered. Interventions from almost all the studies in this review included additional support; however, it was not always clear what this constituted. For example, some studies (2/22, 9%) reported that participants could ask questions via email but did not specify whether they received clinical or purely technical assistance. Relatedly, participants may not have used the support on offer, although the results from this review indicate that this is not as important as having it available. Additional support in other studies (3/22, 14%) was provided to a group of participants; however, this type of support has been excluded from definitions of guidance [ 74 ]. Future research could explore whether there are unique barriers to engagement in guided versus unguided digital MBIs and compare different types and levels of support to advance understanding of how, when, and for whom additional support can improve engagement. This is important as there is a trade-off between the provision of support and scalability—if digital MBIs need to have someone always available to be engaging, they will be limited in reach and cost-effectiveness.
Irrespective of these uncertainties regarding the relative contributions of different types of support, it is worth noting that social support was found to be a key facilitator of engagement. This idea is consistent with the historical origins of mindfulness (ie, to be practiced collectively and in community [ 75 ]) and findings from in-person group settings. In a synthesis of the accounts of individuals with mental health difficulties in group MBIs [ 76 ], learning mindfulness within a group was found to be helpful as peer support encouraged perseverance with course demands and learning alongside people with similar experiences fostered a comfortable and destigmatizing environment. Our findings point to the idea that digital MBIs may suffer decreased engagement as a result of reduced social support.
Implications for Intervention
Researchers can use the factors identified in this review to guide intervention design and, ultimately, improve engagement with digital MBIs. However, such strategies must be (1) grounded in relevant literature and (2) directly relevant to the individuals who will use the interventions. For example, the second theme suggests that instructing people to practice regularly is unlikely to turn it into a habit. Researchers might consider drawing on research on behavior change and habit formation, particularly with regard to digital interventions (eg, gamification technology to motivate behavior change). Researchers might also consider carrying out primary qualitative research to ensure that the generated strategies are informed by and meet the priorities and needs of the intended user. The person-based approach offers a systematic means of integrating theory, evidence, and user perspectives into initial intervention planning [ 19 , 20 ]. Therefore, the themes highlighted in this review could inform the production of guiding principles within this approach (ie, intervention design objectives and key features intended to achieve each aim).
Strengths and Limitations
To the best of our knowledge, this is the first review to synthesize qualitative evidence from individual studies across different contexts to advance the understanding of the barriers to and facilitators of engagement with digital MBIs. Using inductive thematic synthesis encouraged the generation of themes that “go beyond” the content of the primary studies to produce novel findings. All 22 studies were assessed as being adequately reported, which suggests that the papers included in this review are of sufficient quality to draw concrete inferences. We also followed established methodological guidance; used an a priori published protocol; and took several steps to increase the validity and reliability of the review, including pilot-testing forms and procedures, consultation with an information specialist, and regular team meetings.
In terms of limitations, we restricted our search to PsycINFO to manage the number of studies in a resource-efficient manner. However, it is possible that this led to the omission of additional relevant studies or introduced selection bias. Where possible (eg, in reviews with longer time frames), researchers should consider searching several sources and using purposive sampling to ensure that the final set of included studies meets relevant criteria (eg, has a wide geographic spread or rich data [ 42 ]). The studies included in this review reported mostly on White adult female individuals from Western countries, which means that the generalizability of our findings to underrepresented groups is unclear. This is an important area for further research as initial engagement with digital and mobile health interventions is lower in some underserved populations (eg, people of lower socioeconomic status [ 28 ]). Relatedly, we excluded studies with samples entirely aged <16 years and/or >35 years because of the focus of our own intervention development being on young people. Although the final age range covered was 16 to 69 years, future research would benefit from investigating engagement in younger and older populations as motivations to use digital interventions may vary.
There was significant heterogeneity across the interventions (eg, commercially available programs, acceptance and commitment therapy, mindful messaging, and guided mindfulness meditations) in the included studies, and these differences may have influenced engagement. Researchers and developers of digital MBIs should also consider how specific elements (eg, content, mode of delivery, and provision of support) might make people more or less likely to stop using the technology. Finally, although this review synthesized evidence from diverse study types, it is worth bearing in mind that engagement with MBIs is usually defined in terms of intervention use (ie, physical engagement [ 77 ]). It is unclear whether the factors identified in this review characterize facilitation and hindrance of aspects of psychological engagement, such as intention to practice mindfulness, belief that practicing mindfulness will be helpful, and commitment to integrating mindfulness into daily life. This is an important area for further research given evidence that psychological rather than physical disengagement from self-help MBIs has a greater impact on cultivating mindfulness [ 77 ].
Previous studies have shown the potential of digital MBIs to improve a range of health outcomes. Sufficient engagement with these interventions is required to achieve the intended effects; however, engagement is typically poor. This review synthesized evidence from studies on digital MBIs and identified 3 key factors that influence user engagement. We recommend that researchers generate their own solutions to these challenges by drawing on relevant literature and working with people from the target user population.
This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council South West Doctoral Training Partnership (grant ES/P000630/1). The authors would like to thank Justin Hodds, who assisted with developing the search strategy; Masha Remskar, who assisted with piloting the screening process and data charting; Andrew Booth, who advised on assessing the quality of the qualitative research; and Elisa Todor, who assisted with performing quality assessment and reporting study characteristics.
Relevant data are available in this paper and its supplementary files. Requests for additional material should be addressed to the corresponding author.
ELO contributed to conceptualization, methodology, formal analysis, writing—original draft, writing—review and editing, and funding acquisition. BA contributed to methodology, writing—review and editing, and supervision. NH contributed to writing—review and editing—and supervision. MJA contributed to conceptualization, methodology, writing—review and editing, supervision, and funding acquisition.
Conflicts of Interest
PRISMA-ScR (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews) checklist.
Data charting form.
Piloting data charting.
Excerpt from data charting.
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Edited by A Mavragani; submitted 14.11.22; peer-reviewed by F Muench, E Ennis; comments to author 05.04.23; revised version received 05.07.23; accepted 01.08.23; published 28.09.23
©Emma Louise Osborne, Ben Ainsworth, Nic Hooper, Melissa Jayne Atkinson. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (https://www.jmir.org), 28.09.2023.
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on https://www.jmir.org/, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.
Writing the title and abstract for a research paper: Being concise, precise, and meticulous is the key
- 1 Department of Pediatrics, Seth G.S. Medical College and KEM Hospital, Parel, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.
- PMID: 30930712
- PMCID: PMC6398294
- DOI: 10.4103/sja.SJA_685_18
This article deals with formulating a suitable title and an appropriate abstract for an original research paper. The "title" and the "abstract" are the "initial impressions" of a research article, and hence they need to be drafted correctly, accurately, carefully, and meticulously. Often both of these are drafted after the full manuscript is ready. Most readers read only the title and the abstract of a research paper and very few will go on to read the full paper. The title and the abstract are the most important parts of a research paper and should be pleasant to read. The "title" should be descriptive, direct, accurate, appropriate, interesting, concise, precise, unique, and should not be misleading. The "abstract" needs to be simple, specific, clear, unbiased, honest, concise, precise, stand-alone, complete, scholarly, (preferably) structured, and should not be misrepresentative. The abstract should be consistent with the main text of the paper, especially after a revision is made to the paper and should include the key message prominently. It is very important to include the most important words and terms (the "keywords") in the title and the abstract for appropriate indexing purpose and for retrieval from the search engines and scientific databases. Such keywords should be listed after the abstract. One must adhere to the instructions laid down by the target journal with regard to the style and number of words permitted for the title and the abstract.
Keywords: Abbreviations; aims; article; author; conclusions; database; indexing; keywords; manuscript; medical writing; message; methods; paper; research; results; summary.