The abstract of a research manuscript, whether a research paper or a thesis, is a all-encompassing, brief summarization of the entire manuscript. It is typically between 250 and 300 words, depending on the style guide of the journal or university. A research abstract is used for serving two main purposes. The first is to give your reader an overall idea of the research work, so that they can make a decision to continue reading the entire manuscript. The second is for indexing purposes. Scientific and academic journal indexing databases use the abstract section of each paper to categorize that paper to its corresponding discipline and sub-discipline. This is because the abstract usually contains important key terms that are sufficient to be used by the database to index the paper correctly. The abstract is commonly supplemented with a few keywords to help with indexing.
The abstract is written as the final stage of academic writing, since the researcher would have an overall idea about the entire paper if writing it last. It must summarize the entire work, giving the reader an overall idea about the research purpose, methodology, results and contributions. It must also be well-written and compelling, to hook the reader to continue reading on.
There are generally four different types of research abstracts, which are discussed below.
The majority of abstracts in the literature are informative, and serve to provide an overall summary of the entire research work to the reader. This is usually no more than 300 words, and contains the primary elements of research purpose, objective, problem statement, methodology, results, and a brief statement of the contributions/implications of the work. It should aim to inform the reader about the important concepts of the work.
A descriptive abstract is very brief, typically less than 100 words. It concisely describes the research purpose, objectives, methodology and sometimes scope. It is considered an outline that quickly informs the reader about the main topic of the work, and how the methodology was performed. It does not include any information on the results, outcomes, implications or contributions of the work.
A critical abstract contains all of the concepts of an informative abstract, but also contains the author’s judgement about the reliability and validity of the work. Here, the author aims to assess the results obtained in the work and compare them to related works. The length is longer than that of an informative abstract, due to the need to include the criticism of the work, and a comparison of its results of related works. These types of abstracts are not as common as informative abstracts.
This type of abstract is rarely used, and only serves to lead the reader to continue reading the entire paper. It does not include the main concepts of the work, and cannot act a reliable summarization of the work itself. It rather aims to provide some brief highlights to interest the reader to go on.
After deciding on the type of abstract and completing it. It is always recommended to edit and proofread the abstract thoroughly, as this is the first section a reader would see, and the basis of their decision to continue reading the paper. Overall, it must be compelling to hook the reader, straightforward, concise, and contain no errors. This is the first impression a reader will have on your paper, so make it count!