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How to Write an Academic Abstract

Updated on September 4, 2017

What's an abstract?

If you are writing a conference article, or want to submit an article for consideration for a conference paper you may very well need to submit an abstract ahead of time. The organising committee will then decide, on the basis of the abstract you submit, whether or not to ask you to submit the full article, i.e. whether or not to accept it for presentation or for a poster session. If you are writing an academic article for a journal, you will probably have to write an abstract for it and this will be published at the start of your article.

So what is an abstract?

An abstract is a mini version of your article, your article in brief or a distilled version of it. It is a short piece of writing, often only 300 - 500 words in length, that provides all the main points of your full article but in a brief summary form. Some people will cite your article in their work on the basis of having read your abstract, so it's very worth while making the abstract the very best that you can. The abstract also provides a good place for ensuring keywords for your research are included, so that your paper can be found when researchers are looking for papers on your subject.

Some people write the abstract as their last piece of work on a particular paper. This makes sense, as you will have done all the work on the paper at that point and will have all the information in your head, so you should be easily able to create a short summary of it. this is probably most useful for journal articles you want to submit, because these are usually submitted in full. On the other hand, other researchers often submit abstracts to conferences, without having written the particular paper and only write those papers where the abstract is accepted. They then use the submission date for finalised conference papers as their target date, to encourage them to write the paper! It's one form of time management and saves you writing a paper that may not be accepted for a conference.

Guidelines for writing an abstract - here's what to include in or exclude from your abstract

Worksheet for writing an abstract
Worksheet for writing an abstract

The abstract is NOT just an introduction to your article, it is a mini-article, summarising what you did and what you found, together with your conclusions on this. The length needs to follow the guidelines given in the journal or call for papers that you are interested in submitting to, so it may be between 100 and 500 words. (CHECK the submission guidelines VERY carefully).

Check out abstracts in your area. Look up academic articles or published conference proceedings to see what was included in successful abstract submissions in YOUR area. They will differ from subject to subject. In general, where abstracts are requested (and not all areas require abstracts), you will need to include one sentence on the following: AOMRC (Aim, Objective, Methodology, Results, Conclusion) but they do not need to be included in that order. For instance, you could have your Aim, Objective and then Conclusion at the start, as the most important, followed by the methodology and results. Again, check abstracts in YOUR area.

1. AIM. This covers what you were trying to achieve, e.g. to address an ongoing debate or problem, or some gap you found in the literature;

2. OBJECTIVE. This is where you say what YOUR research covered. This will be a narrower focus than what was covered in the Aim, it says what YOU covered or the specific question YOU set out to answer;

3. METHODOLOGY. This is how you went about your research, e.g. questionnaire, focus groups, experiment, meta analysis, etc.;

4. RESULTS. These are your results or what you found out (your findings);

5. CONCLUSION. This is what you concluded from your research, ie your ideas on what was happening or why it happened or how it relates to other research in the area.

Hint for writing your abstract more easily - Using sticky notes to help

Hint for making it easier to write your abstract
Hint for making it easier to write your abstract

When writing your abstract, even if you have a list of headings to use for writing, it can still seem a tough job. Here's a hint my daughter passed on (she already has her Ph.D.). Take a piece of A4 paper and put 5 sheets of sticky paper on it. Label one piece with the term "Aim", one as "Objectives", one as "Methodology", one as "Results" and one as "Conclusions". Now you only have to fill a small piece of yellow sticky note with writing, rather than a whole sheet. It also means that if you want to rewrite a part of your abstract, you can just peel off one sticky note and replace it with another. Also, your abstract does not have to be written in the order given, it may look better in a different order and you can move the sticky notes round the page to find the order you like best.

What do I know about it? - How come I'm an expert?

Deciding whether to accept the information worksheet
Deciding whether to accept the information worksheet

I'm not an expert. I am a doctoral student. I need to know how to do this and I am writing down what I have found out, so that I can remember it for the future. By studying what works, I hope to be able to use my time productively and to be able to submit abstracts quickly, without much head scratching. Discuss the information here with your supervisor, to make sure it fits what YOU need for submitting YOUR abstract.

Help for writing your abstract

There is help available for writing abstracts and for writing articles, papers and presentations

Examples of Calls for papers

Check out what Conferences are asking for

This lens needs to be an evergreen one, that is, the information needs to be as relevant next year as it is right now, however, it is also useful to have links that apply for only a short time because they provide information that may be useful to you right now. This is why the links in this module refer to calls for papers that are current and that you can go and look at right now - and maybe even apply for. I have tried to find links in different areas so you can find something relevant to you. But even if you can't - use what is available and help yourself to learn how to improve your facility for writing abstracts. It is really important to check WHAT THEY ARE LOOKING FOR and to give it to them in that format. That is not to say that you should not be creative in how your topic fits the conference requirements - often these are the best sessions - where the presenter / writer has taken the brief for the "call for papers" beyond the bare basics of what was asked for. But if you are a student (as I am) check this out with your supervisor BEFORE submitting.

If these links do not suit your area of study, or the dates have passed, then use a search engine and type in "Calls for Papers" (without the quotes) and add the year and your study area.

I have now updated this part of the lens with a more comprehensive list of calls for papers. This now includes calls for papers for conferences, as well as for special journal issues with due dates in 2015.

Conferences - Computers

Calendar of Computer Image Analysis, Computer Vision Conferences

Special Journal Issues - Miscellaneous, including computing, management, environment, transport, economy, diplomacy, public health, energy, education, risk, etc

academic, scientific and professional journals

Journals and conferences in science and technology

Calls For Papers in science and technology fields

Literature, Languages and the Arts, Teaching, Philosophy, Humanities and Ethics

Cognitive Approaches

student research as a medium for collaborative teaching and learning

Take a look through the links provided and see if you can identify conferences for which you could apply (even if you aren't going to) and try writing an abstract in your field for attending one of these.

Links for Academic Abstracts and Calls for papers

Here are some links that you may find useful, in helping you to write an abstract for a conference paper or academic article. Even if your exact area is not covered, try looking at some of the abstracts already available and see if you can pick out the areas that make them good or bad and use that information in your own abstracts.

Study help

Some items that may help you study

Have you already written an abstract? Have you any tips to share? Any other thoughts on producing an abstract?

I used it for my Poster presentation and won!

Update March 2015

In my University, Ph.D. students have to meet certain targets and pass them, in order to continue with their Ph.D. studies. The first is the 100 day VIVA, the second is the Confirmation Viva, the third is the 2nd year presentation and the final one is the 3rd year poster. I am part time, and this is my 5th year, which counts the same as 3rd year full time. This was my year for presenting a poster which is supposed to encapsulate what you have learned during your Ph.D. studies. I used the 5 areas above: Aim, Objective, Methodology, Results and Conclusion, as part of my poster and my poster won in my section! Now I just have to get my thesis finished and presented! Back to the grindstone.

Graduated December 2016

I am very happy to add that I finally submitted my amended thesis and graduated Ph.D in December 2016.

Do you need to write an abstract?

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    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 8 months ago

      Thank you very much. Now I ought to put it into practice again!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 8 months ago from England

      This was fascinating and something I hadn't heard of before. What a lot of work you put into this! wonderful!

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 9 months ago

      Thank you very much. That's very kind.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 9 months ago from Nashville Tn.

      This information is very helpful. I appreciate your posting this. You've put so much time and energy into this article. What a blessing you are!

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 16 months ago

      LOL, you are probably already writing academic abstracts when you summarise your stories at the start of each week's episode! Thank you for visiting.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 21 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Well, there is no chance of me doing this, but your "how to" advice is spot on. :) Happy Wednesday to you!

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 21 months ago

      Thank you for visiting.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 22 months ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very useful information. Thanks for sharing.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 2 years ago

      Thank you so much!

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      RoadMonkey,

      Absolutely amazing work. Voted up and all of the choices.

      I can tell that you devoted hours of work into this hub. Well, just keep it up and you will really shine.

      I love to write abstract/prose poetry and it is tougher than it sounds.

      Keep in touch.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 2 years ago

      Thank you very much.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Good instructions for writing abstracts and you make it sound so easy to understand. I like the way you have presented your hub and like visiting.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 3 years ago

      Thank you very much. While I am NOT an artist, I often find I can understand a concept better if I use some kind of graphical method of looking at it.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 3 years ago from Northern California, USA

      This is an excellent instruction guide to writing abstracts. The visual accompaniments help me get a handle on the concept. I especially like your idea of placing the sticky notes on the piece of paper. That, to me, is the most unique way to get a handle on such a project.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 3 years ago

      @SteveKaye: Oh! Now that's not a use I had thought of, but you are right! Thanks for the new idea.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 3 years ago

      My biggest challenge is writing an abstract about myself. So these ideas will help me take a new look at my bio.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 3 years ago

      @SteveKaye: Thank you very much, much appreciated!

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 3 years ago

      Not now. I just came to see what you wrote - and to support you with a visit plus a Like.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 3 years ago

      @julieannbrady: Thanks for visiting and commenting.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 3 years ago

      You know, it has been a while for me ... I do remember when I worked with the cardiologist, Andreas R. Gruentzig, at Emory University Hospital ... he was writing abstracts - lots of them! He was teaching other doctors how to do angioplasty. Bravo to you on going back to school.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 3 years ago

      @John Dyhouse: Thank you for visiting and commenting

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 3 years ago from UK

      Staightforward approach to this task. Will be a help for many people.

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      There were so many things I learned from this lens that I can apply to my own life.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 3 years ago

      @takkhisa: Thank you very much for your kind comment and for visiting.

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 3 years ago

      Wow! It is an amazing lens! The things I have read from this lens will never be forgotten by me, thanks :)

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 4 years ago

      @rob-hemphill: Thanks - that was my daughter's idea and the sticky notes have proved very useful both to her and to me. Thank you for commenting and visiting

    • rob-hemphill profile image

      Rob Hemphill 4 years ago from Ireland

      Great information! Your sticky note tips for writing an abstract are ideal.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 4 years ago

      @anonymous: It's always good to get something over and finished with and also having gained a new skill that you can use in future! Thank you for visiting.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Nice lens - I am done with my abstract writing for college.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 4 years ago

      @Countryluthier: Glad you found it useful. All the best for your paper and masters course.

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 4 years ago from Virginia

      Great tips RM! COUNTRYLUTHIER blessed. This is very timely as I write my final major paper for masters of education this spring.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 4 years ago

      @Thetoothfaerie: Thank you for visiting.

    • Thetoothfaerie profile image

      Thetoothfaerie 4 years ago

      This is very helpful. thanks.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 4 years ago

      @CampingmanNW: Thank you very much. Yes, indeed, there was no internet when I was young - not even personal computers! The world has indeed changed.

    • CampingmanNW profile image

      CampingmanNW 4 years ago

      An interesting lens, thank you. The Internet has changed not just America, but the world and how we communicate.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 4 years ago

      @KimGiancaterino: Thank you very much. I think the internet becomes an even greater pleasure AFTER retirement!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 4 years ago

      My father is an electrical engineer and he wrote many abstracts for trade publications. He would have loved the immediacy of the Internet ... he retired before online platforms became respectable, so to speak. Great information! I always enjoy your articles.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 4 years ago

      @sherioz: Thank you very much. I am now trying to put it into practice and get an article published in an academic journal this year - my goal.

    • profile image

      sherioz 4 years ago

      This is a wonderful article. As someone who reviews articles and conference abstract submissions, I can say that many professionals would do well to read this article.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 4 years ago

      @Countryluthier: Multiple masters! I don't even have one! Well done and thanks for stopping by.

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 4 years ago from Virginia

      Great information RM and all the best with the docorate. I am getting off the education train at the multiple mastes stop. Happy New Year!

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 5 years ago

      @flinnie lm: You're welcome. Hope they help you.

    • flinnie lm profile image

      Gloria Freeman 5 years ago from Alabama USA

      Hi thanks for the great tips, and info.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 5 years ago

      @Melissa Miotke: Thank you so much.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 5 years ago

      @BillyPilgrim LM: Thank you very much

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 5 years ago from Arizona

      I don't need to now but I have in the past. Great lens!

    • BillyPilgrim LM profile image

      BillyPilgrim LM 5 years ago

      Great tips, thanks for sharing x

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 5 years ago

      @SheilaMilne: Thank you very much! Very kind. I'll pass that on to my daughter who came up with the idea. I have been using it too - it's handy.

    • SheilaMilne profile image

      SheilaMilne 5 years ago from Kent, UK

      I've written a number of abstracts in my time, and also received them from people submitting to conferences. Many of them would do well to read this article! It's surprising how many people don't structure them well, run over the word count, all sorts. I love your sticky notes idea.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 5 years ago

      @JoshK47: Thank you very much. :)

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Very interesting - I don't need to write one, but now I know where to go if I need to! Thanks for sharing - blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • RoadMonkey profile image
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      RoadMonkey 5 years ago

      @FitnessPhanatic: Congratulations on having conference paper abstracts accepted. Good Luck with your journal article. Glad you found the lens helpful.

    • FitnessPhanatic profile image

      FitnessPhanatic 5 years ago

      I have submitted a number of abstracts to conferences and had them accepted - I am now in the process of writing my first journal article and have found your lens very interesting and helpful, especially the questions at the start, which provide a useful framework - thanks