Writing Research: Clarify Your Abstract
April 1, 2014 09:00 AM
The abstract for your research paper is often the first contact a reader has with your total work. It needs to draw their attention while stating relevant conclusions, all to draw them into your work so you can share the more relevant details. Writing a good abstract is key to get your paper accepted for publications and presentations, and should receive as much care and attention as the rest of your paper and the data therein.
Consider the abstract your “elevator pitch” to a potential audience. If you had thirty seconds to explain your project to another, especially someone unfamiliar with your area of expertise or research, you would want to tell them about one or two main outcomes without getting bogged in the technical details. Keeping this in mind is the basis for constructing a compelling abstract.
An effective abstract contains a few critical qualities:
Uses one or more well-developed paragraphs, which are unified, coherent, concise, and able to stand alone
Uses an introduction-body-conclusion structure in which the parts of the report are discussed in order: purpose, findings, conclusions, recommendations
Follows strictly the chronology of the report
Provides logical connections between material included
Adds no new information but simply summarizes the report
Is intelligible to a wide audience
Because the abstract is short, it’s not a place where a lot of detail needs to be crammed. Instead, grab the reader’s attention with your first statement, add in a couple of supporting details, and conclude with the overall message. It’s a similar format often used by the media in conveying news; your abstract can be considered a news report for the public policy community.
A general approach to writing an effective abstract contains four steps. First, reread your report with the purpose of constructing the abstract. Look specifically for purpose, methods, scope, results, conclusions, and recommendations. After your review, write a rough draft without looking back at your report. Don’t simply copy key sentences from your report or summarize in a new way. Consider your main points from your reread and concisely convey them.
Once you’ve written the draft, take a day away from it. Upon your return, read your rough draft and revise to correct for weaknesses in organization and coherence, drop superfluous information, add important information you may have left out, eliminate wordiness, and correct grammar and mechanics. Your final step should be to carefully proofread your final copy.
Be aware that search engines and indexing services often only search abstracts when performing word-based searches. The abstract is often the first thing displayed when a manuscript appears in a search list, so make sure that there are several important keywords that relate to your research and conclusions included.
A good abstract is concise, explains the key findings of the research, and does not overwhelm a non-expert reader with technicalities. Good abstract writing is essential not just to get people to read your paper, but to also promote your paper for conferences, proposals, and job interviews. A simple test to see if your abstract has the right impact is to have a colleague or peer outside your area of expertise to review it; if they understand your project’s main points and key details, then you’re on the right track. Taking some time to construct a solid and well-written abstract is well worth the investment.