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FAQs about writing an Abstract

How detailed should an Abstract be?

An Abstract should be a concise summary of your work, and give the reader enough information to decide whether the work is worth reading. Keep your Abstract limited to the sections listed here.

Can I cite sources in my Abstract?

In general, Abstracts should not contain citations. In the Abstract, you give a general overview of the whats and whys of your work. It is in the body of the paper, mainly in the Introduction, Literature section, and Discussion, that you cite sources.

Should I use the present or past tense in my Abstract?

This depends on the Abstract section:

  • When giving general background information, you can use the present or past tense, depending on whether you explain a current concept (for example, ‘Implicit learning is a method…’) or trends witnessed (‘Research has revealed a …’).
  • When explaining your methods, make sure to use the past tense, as you are referring to something that has already taken place. For example, ‘Data were collected using…’.
  • To discuss your results, you can use either the present tense (‘These results indicate…’) or the past tense (‘The values showed…’).
  • Implications of results are usually discussed in the present tense. For example, ‘This work provides a new approach…’ or ‘Future research should consider…’.

Don’t worry if switching between the present and past tense feels awkward - this is completely normal for an Abstract.

How long should an Abstract be?

The number of words depends on the discipline, but in general, Abstracts are between 150 and 300 words long. Refer to a journal’s author guidelines for specifics.

Can I use abbreviations in my Abstract?

As the Abstract is short and you don’t repeat terms often, you probably don’t need abbreviations. However, if you do use a term multiple times, or if you feel that the abbreviated version is easier to recognize than the written-out version, you may use the abbreviated form. Do make sure that you also provide the written-out form the first time you use the abbreviation, and do so again when you first use it in the body of your text.

Should I give definitions in my Abstract?

As you can expect most readers of your Abstract to be familiar with key disciplinary terminology, it is generally not necessary to give definitions in your Abstract. However, it is good practice to define terms in your Introduction or Literature section, especially if they are not yet fully established.

Should I give p values in my Abstract?

In general, it is best to avoid numerical values such as the p value in your Abstract. Instead, try to explain your key results in words. For example, report a ‘statistically significant difference’, ‘strong correlation’ or ‘immediate effect’ without giving numbers. You give the underlying numbers in your Results section.

What words should I use in my Abstract?

It is important to use words that your peers are familiar with, and that they might search for. Abstracts are indexed as searchable areas in article databases like Scopus and Web of Science. If your Abstract covers key terms that are standard in your field, your publication is more likely to be discovered.

Structuring your Abstract

Useful phrases for your Abstract

Abstract examples with explanations