How to Write a Scientific Abstract

The abstract of a scientific paper must concisely convey the background, purpose, methodology and conclusions of the published work. This section is visible to the readers even in cases where access to full articles is not available, and is usually published in conference proceedings to outline the content of a talk or seminar.

Image Credit: Media Whalestock / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Media Whalestock / Shutterstock

What is the structure of an abstract?

Abstracts usually begin with an introduction to the topic, followed by a statement of purpose and a description of past work relevant to the subject. The abstract then usually goes on to describe the methodology employed to investigate the research question, though short form abstracts may omit this.

The final paragraph of the abstract outlines the conclusions and key impacts of the work. The sections of a structured abstract is discussed in more detail below. The structure and length of an abstract is dependent on the target publication, though most journals require abstracts of around 250 words.

Introduction

The introduction consists of only two or three sentences and outlines what already known and unknown about the subject. The introduction section highlights the importance and original contribution of the paper. A more detailed background of the work is included in the paper and only the most relevant information should be included in the abstract.

Methodology

The methods section of the abstract should present enough information as sample sizes, doses of medications, or types of cells so that the reader can understand how the study was done.

Results

The presentation of results in the abstract should contain details about the findings of the work.

Conclusion

The conclusion of an abstract should consist of just one or two sentences and drive home the key findings of the paper. It is also common to comment on the implications and future impact of the work, though this is not essential.

What are the most common mistakes in abstracts?

The inclusion of relevant information in an abstract must be balanced against excessive detail. Abbreviations and acronyms should be avoided, and references and figures are not included in the abstract. Conclusions presented within the abstract should be supported by results mentioned in the abstract, without including excessive information. Similarly, the objectives and conclusions of the paper should be clearly defined.

Summary

Abstracts should:

  • Be concise and coherent
  • Be understandable to a lay-audience
  • Contain the important elements of the full length paper
  • Contain nothing that is not covered in the full length paper
  • Contain no references or figures

It is advisable to write the abstract last, once the important elements of the background, the major methodology, and the key findings of a paper have been established.

Sources

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jan 22, 2019

Michael Greenwood

Written by

Michael Greenwood

Michael graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a B.Sc. in Chemistry in 2014, where he majored in organic, inorganic, physical and analytical chemistry. He is currently completing a Ph.D. on the design and production of gold nanoparticles able to act as multimodal anticancer agents, being both drug delivery platforms and radiation dose enhancers.

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