Friday, 15 October 2021

Writing an abstract

We usually do come to writing the abstract of our work towards the end, and that is a good thing, because, if the conclusion is the summary of our paper, then the abstract is the summary of the summary. However, like all things, that is not all that the abstract is.

I think of the abstract as being the third-to-last aspect of our write up. The second-to-last is double-checking that the title is the summary of the summary of the summary, and the last is a VERY thorough proofing! When we write an abstract, it is always good to use a checklist, to ensure that we have included all the relevant elements that we need to (see the image accompanying this piece). 

Abstracts are always written in the third person, and avoid the following:

  • No use of personal pronouns (ie, no "I", "me", "we" etc) 
  • No images 
  • No figures 
  • No referencing (unless naming a key theory being used)
  • No headings (except within the paragraph and separated by a colon) 
  • And preferably no tables.

A research report abstract for example encompasses our entire research project, as we see it at the end of our project, tackling the following three (or possibly four) parts: 

  1. Research aims: what we set out to find
  2. Research methodology: how we found it
  3. Research results: what we leaned, what we found
  4. Extras: anything else we uncovered and whether this met our expectations. 

The length of abstracts vary. Business journals often have abstracts at a maximum of 350 words. We need to check the style guide for the publication we are aiming for.

Once we have written our abstract, we ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. Have we outlined the boundaries of our research?
  2. Have we clearly said which of the following we have undertaken:
    1. Investigated a subset of a larger problem, OR
    2. Identified a new question, OR
    3. Talked about an existing problem within our field, OR
    4. Have filled a gap in the literature.
  3. Have we explained WHY what we have found is important?
  4. Have we CLEARLY said what our conclusions are?
  5. Have we used all our word count?

We check that our abstract has answered those points above. If not, we rewrite it until we have.



  • ACCP. (2021). Guide to writing an abstract. American College of Clinical Pharmacy.
  • London School of Economics. (2021). Your essential ‘how-to’ guide to writing good abstracts.

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