Writing an Abstract for a Research Paper: Guidelines, Examples, and Templates
There are six steps to writing a standard abstract. (1) Begin with a broad statement about your topic. Then, (2) state the problem or knowledge gap related to this topic that your study explores. After that, (3) describe what specific aspect of this problem you investigated, and (4) briefly explain how you went about doing this. After that, (5) describe the most meaningful outcome(s) of your study. Finally, (6) close your abstract by explaining the broad implication(s) of your findings.
In this article, I present step-by-step guidelines for writing an abstract for an academic paper. These guidelines are followed by an example of a full abstract that follows these guidelines and a few fill-in-the-blank templates that you can use to write your own abstract.
Guidelines for Writing an Abstract
The basic structure of an abstract is illustrated below.
A standard abstract starts with a very general statement and becomes more specific with each sentence that follows until once again making a broad statement about the study’s implications at the end. Altogether, a standard abstract has six functions, which are described in detail below.
Start by making a broad statement about your topic.
The first sentence of your abstract should briefly describe a problem that is of interest to your readers. When writing this first sentence, you should think about who comprises your target audience and use terms that will appeal to this audience. If your opening sentence is too broad, it might lose the attention of potential readers because they will not know if your study is relevant to them.
Too broad: Maintaining an ideal workplace environment has a positive effect on employees.
The sentence above is so broad that it will not grab the reader’s attention. While it gives the reader some idea of the area of study, it doesn’t provide any details about the author’s topic within their research area. This can be fixed by inserting some keywords related to the topic (these are underlined in the revised example below).
Improved: Keeping the workplace environment at an ideal temperature positively affects the overall health of employees.
The revised sentence is much better, as it expresses two points about the research topic—namely, (i) what aspect of workplace environment was studied, (ii) what aspect of employees was observed. The mention of these aspects of the research will draw the attention of readers who are interested in them.
Describe the general problem that your paper addresses.
After describing your topic in the first sentence, you can then explain what aspect of this topic has motivated your research. Often, authors use this part of the abstract to describe the research gap that they identified and aimed to fill. These types of sentences are often characterized by the use of words such as “however,” “although,” “despite,” and so on.
However, a comprehensive understanding of how different workplace bullying experiences are associated with absenteeism is currently lacking.
The above example is typical of a sentence describing the problem that a study intends to tackle. The author has noticed that there is a gap in the research, and they briefly explain this gap here.
Although it has been established that quantity and quality of sleep can affect different types of task performance and personal health, the interactions between sleep habits and workplace behaviors have received very little attention.
The example above illustrates a case in which the author has accomplished two tasks with one sentence. The first part of the sentence (up until the comma) mentions the general topic that the research fits into, while the second part (after the comma) describes the general problem that the research addresses.
Express the specific problem investigated in your paper.
After describing the general problem that motivated your research, the next sentence should express the specific aspect of the problem that you investigated. Sentences of this type are often indicated by the use of phrases like “the purpose of this research is to,” “this paper is intended to,” or “this work aims to.”
Uninformative: However, a comprehensive understanding of how different workplace bullying experiences are associated with absenteeism is currently lacking. The present article aimed to provide new insights into the relationship between workplace bullying and absenteeism.
The second sentence in the above example is a mere rewording of the first sentence. As such, it adds nothing to the abstract. The second sentence should be more specific than the preceding one.
Improved: However, a comprehensive understanding of how different workplace bullying experiences are associated with absenteeism is currently lacking. The present article aimed to define various subtypes of workplace bullying and determine which subtypes tend to lead to absenteeism.
The second sentence of this passage is much more informative than in the previous example. This sentence lets the reader know exactly what they can expect from the full research article.
Explain how you attempted to resolve your study’s specific problem.
In this part of your abstract, you should attempt to describe your study’s methodology in one or two sentences. As such, you must be sure to include only the most important information about your method. At the same time, you must also be careful not to be too vague.
Too vague: We conducted multiple tests to examine changes in various factors related to well-being.
This description of the methodology is too vague. Instead of merely mentioning “tests” and “factors,” the author should note which specific tests were run and which factors were assessed.
Improved: Using data from BHIP completers, we conducted multiple one-way multivariate analyses of variance and follow-up univariate t-tests to examine changes in physical and mental health, stress, energy levels, social satisfaction, self-efficacy, and quality of life.
This sentence is very well-written. It packs a lot of specific information about the method into a single sentence. Also, it does not describe more details than are needed for an abstract.
Briefly tell the reader what you found by carrying out your study.
This is the most important part of the abstract—the other sentences in the abstract are there to explain why this one is relevant. When writing this sentence, imagine that someone has asked you, “What did you find in your research?” and that you need to answer them in one or two sentences.
Too vague: Consistently poor sleepers had more health risks and medical conditions than consistently optimal sleepers.
This sentence is okay, but it would be helpful to let the reader know which health risks and medical conditions were related to poor sleeping habits.
Improved: Consistently poor sleepers were more likely than consistently optimal sleepers to suffer from chronic abdominal pain, and they were at a higher risk for diabetes and heart disease.
This sentence is better, as the specific health conditions are named.
Finally, describe the major implication(s) of your study.
Most abstracts end with a short sentence that explains the main takeaway(s) that you want your audience to gain from reading your paper. Often, this sentence is addressed to people in power (e.g., employers, policymakers), and it recommends a course of action that such people should take based on the results.
Too broad: Employers may wish to make use of strategies that increase employee health.
This sentence is too broad to be useful. It does not give employers a starting point to implement a change.
Improved: Employers may wish to incorporate sleep education initiatives as part of their overall health and wellness strategies.
This sentence is better than the original, as it provides employers with a starting point—specifically, it invites employers to look up information on sleep education programs.
The abstract produced here is from a paper published in Electronic Commerce Research and Applications. I have made slight alterations to the abstract so that this example fits the guidelines given in this article.
(1) Gamification can strengthen enjoyment and productivity in the workplace. (2) Despite this, research on gamification in the work context is still limited. (3) In this study, we investigated the effect of gamification on the workplace enjoyment and productivity of employees by comparing employees with leadership responsibilities to those without leadership responsibilities. (4) Work-related tasks were gamified using the habit-tracking game Habitica, and data from 114 employees were gathered using an online survey. (5) The results illustrated that employees without leadership responsibilities used work gamification as a trigger for self-motivation, whereas employees with leadership responsibilities used it to improve their health. (6) Work gamification positively affected work enjoyment for both types of employees and positively affected productivity for employees with leadership responsibilities. (7) Our results underline the importance of taking work-related variables into account when researching work gamification.
In Sentence (1), the author makes a broad statement about their topic. Notice how the nouns used (“gamification,” “enjoyment,” “productivity”) are quite general while still indicating the focus of the paper. The author uses Sentence (2) to very briefly state the problem that the research will address.
In Sentence (3), the author explains what specific aspects of the problem mentioned in Sentence (2) will be explored in the present work. Notice that the mention of leadership responsibilities makes Sentence (3) more specific than Sentence (2). Sentence (4) gets even more specific, naming the specific tools used to gather data and the number of participants.
Sentences (5) and (6) are similar, with each sentence describing one of the study’s main findings. Then, suddenly, the scope of the abstract becomes quite broad again in Sentence (7), which mentions “work-related variables” instead of a specific variable and “researching” instead of a specific kind of research.
Copy and paste any of the paragraphs below into a word processor. Then insert the appropriate information to produce an abstract for your research paper.
Researchers have established that [Make a broad statement about your area of research.]. However, [Describe the knowledge gap that your paper addresses.]. The goal of this paper is to [Describe the purpose of your paper.]. The achieve this goal, we [Briefly explain your methodology.]. We found that [Indicate the main finding(s) of your study; you may need two sentences to do this.]. [Provide a broad implication of your results.].
It is well-understood that [Make a broad statement about your area of research.]. Despite this, [Describe the knowledge gap that your paper addresses.]. The current research aims to [Describe the purpose of your paper.]. To accomplish this, we [Briefly explain your methodology.]. It was discovered that [Indicate the main finding(s) of your study; you may need two sentences to do this.]. [Provide a broad implication of your results.].
Extensive research indicates that [Make a broad statement about your area of research.]. Nevertheless, [Describe the knowledge gap that your paper addresses.]. The present work is intended to [Describe the purpose of your paper.]. To this end, we [Briefly explain your methodology.]. The results revealed that [Indicate the main finding(s) of your study; you may need two sentences to do this.]. [Provide a broad implication of your results.].