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ABSTRACTS

Research abstracts are needed if you wish to present your work at a campus forum, national conference/symposium, and when publishing your research. At this point, you have probably already been working on your project for a long time, but the most important part of the project still remains—you need to explain your work to others. Below are some general guidelines for writing an academic abstract in any discipline. 

It is useful to use a principle called the "hourglass" to structure your abstract. A well-structured abstract can take the same approach as an hourglass shape—general at the beginning (wide at the top), becoming more specific in the middle (narrow in the middle), and then becoming more general again at the end (wide at the bottom).

An abstract using the hourglass principle may look like the following list. Many times, these topics are presented in separate sentences, but, sometimes, two topics may be combined into one sentence.  Abstracts in most disciplines include all of these topics, while those for creative projects can be less structured and often focus on artistic expression and/or a path of personal discovery.

  • General background information. The readers may know little to nothing at all about your research topic. You need to give the readers a sense of the relevant background information so that they are able to understand the basic premise of your work
  • Facts about the topic. After you told the readers what you are researching in a general sense, tell them more details about the specific topic/area of your research.
  • Statement of the problem. If everything were already known about your topic, there wouldn't be any reason for you to do the research! There is some lack of knowledge, some unanswered question, some shortcomings with the existing approaches, some unproven approach, etc. that you are seeking to accomplish. Explain this to the reader. Many times, this sentence begins with a word like "however" or has the phrase "remains unknown"
  • Statement of purpose. What is the purpose of your research? State it specifically in one sentence. Many times, this sentence begins with the phrase "the purpose of this study…" or "we hypothesized that…"
  • Methods/process. What did you do? What text did you analyze? What experiments did you run? What simulations did you create? What surveys did you administer? What tools and approach did you employ?
  • Results or anticipated results. What did you discover? If this is still a work in progress, what have you done so far, what still needs to be done, and what do you anticipate finding?
  • Discussion. After doing all of this work, how do the results apply to the statement of the problem? Do your results agree or disagree with what others have found? Do they agree with what you thought was going to happen?
  • Conclusion/importance. This last sentence answers the question "so what?" After spending so much of your time conducting this research, why is the world a better place? What impact did you make in your field? The end of your abstract is also a good place to suggest directions for future research, if you want to include this.

Be sure to follow any official guidelines for the forum/symposium/publication for how to write your abstract, like limiting the text to a specific number of words, and asking your research advisor for comments on your draft abstract before you submit it.