What is an abstract?

What is an abstract?

What is an abstract?

It is a self-contained, short, and powerful statement that describes a larger work. Components vary according to discipline. a social science or scientific work may contain the scope, purpose, results, and contents of the work. An  summary 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.

Types of abstracts

There are two types : descriptive and informative. They have different aims, so, therefore, they have different components and styles.

A descriptive  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.

Most  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.



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?

An abstract is a short statement that describes a larger work (article, book, report).  If the article describes an experiment, the abstract will be divided into these sections (called a “structured abstract”):

  1. Scope
  2. Purpose
  3. Methodology
  4. Results
  5. Conclusion



  • 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.

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.