abstract structure generally follows that of the wider paper or
sections corresponding to aspects of the introduction, methods,
discussion. As essentially micro-theses, abstracts are short, but
is deceivingly hard, as they need to be packed with a lot of
In addition many people think they are easy and leave them to the
to write. This is a mistake. The abstract is the first
thing a person
reads on your proposal or thesis – a bad abstract will put the
reader off, not
provide enough information on your study, and generally give the
reader a bad
impression. A good abstract sets you up for success.
We provide a
sentence by sentence guide below and will then review two
Good luck and start soon!
Section 1. (1 sentence) Overview of problem, reference to broader question being investigated. Should be short and relatively interesting/punchy.
Section 2. (1 sentence) Focused overview of what is unknown, providing context for the study and potentially including the aims or goals. Some abstracts will state the goal or hypothesis within this sentence.
Section 3. (1-3 sentences). Methods you undertook to address the problem. This section should include an overview of the methods used, in enough detail to give the reader a general idea of what you did, but not in so much detail that the abstract becomes long and cumbersome. Including the sample size(s) and types of analyses used is appropriate in some cases, but it is usually inappropriate to quote numerical values from statistical tests, e.g. p values.
Section 4. (2-4 sentences). General results and outcomes, stating the major, significant results.
Secondly, we’ll look at an abstract by Bone and Keough, from a paper published in Marine Ecology. The abstract comprises 9 sentences, and comes in at 291 words (just under 300-word limit for the journal!) I’ve split the abstract into 7 sections – identify the main message or purpose of each section, and see if you can put the abstract back together into its original form. Does the finished abstract show a clear logical progression? Does it give sufficient information on the background, methods and results?