How to Write an Academic Abstract
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
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
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?
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
Special Journal Issues - Miscellaneous, including computing, management, environment, transport, economy, diplomacy, public health, energy, education, risk, etc
Journals and conferences in science and technology
Literature, Languages and the Arts, Teaching, Philosophy, Humanities and Ethics
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.
- Calls for papers
This is a wiki website with many "Calls for papers" in science and technology areas.
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.