How to write an outstanding abstract for your research paper?

Did you know that an abstract is the most important part of your research paper? Learn how to write an abstract and increase engagement with your research!

Have you heard that an abstract is one of the most important elements of your research paper?

I want you to remind yourself of the time when you search for papers to support your research. Ask yourself the following question – what information you read first?

Yes, that’s right – you usually decide whether the research paper is useful for your research based on the title and abstract alone.

Only after the abstract catches your interest, you read the full paper.

You can see the abstract of your research paper as an opportunity to showcase the best aspects of your research and encourage your readers to go through the entire article to find out more.

I know we’re usually not taught how to sell and market our work during our PhDs, which is a real shame if you ask me. But it’s something you can learn using the process for developing habits I discussed some time ago.

Essentially the purpose of an abstract is similar to the sales pitch. The abstract is your opportunity to get your readers hooked and convince them that your work is relevant for them.

And remember, depending on the journal or conference, you’ve got about 100-300 words to convey your message!

So how do you write outstanding abstract for research paper?

Clarify the message of your research paper

Before you start typing your abstract, it’s important to clarify the main message(s) that you want your readers to take away from your research.

Considering your readers, these messages should answer the following questions:

  • why is this research important?
  • why is this research relevant?
  • what are the tools, techniques and methods used?
  • what new information do I learn from this research?
  • what are the implications of this research?
  • how can I use this research to progress with my work?
You never know who will read your abstract so make sure you answer most of their questions and get them hooked with your research paper
Readers of your work can have different backgrounds and requirements. Try to show why your research is exciting and relevant to them by answering core questions in your abstract!

You get the point. Having done your research, it’s important to select only the main information that will directly answer the questions above.

I know it isn’t easy to know exactly what the readers will be interested in – after all, each researcher is interested in different aspects of your work.

But as a rule of thumb, you can assume that they’ll be interested in the fascinating conclusions and significant implications of your work that may influence the way they do their research.

Structure the information you present in the abstract 

Now that you’ve clarified the messages and selected the information you want to include in your abstract, it’s time to structure it.

Unless the journal or conference has a predefined structure for an abstract, you can use the following structure in your writing to make sure you present the most important information about your research paper:

  • general background: this part sets the broad context for your work and informs the reader about the broad background and importance of your work
  • specific background: this part narrows down the scope of your work to a specific aspect of your field of study
  • research challenge/knowledge gap: this part specifies the problem or challenge that needs to be solved or understood in the specific aspect of your field of study
  • proposed solution: this part presents your proposed solution or hypothesis that you’ve tested in your research paper
  • methods: this part concisely informs the readers what approach and tools you used in your work
  • results and discussion: this part (most important!) presents the fascinating results from your research and their implication on the specific aspect of your research field
Example of an abstract of research paper to demonstrate how to write an abstract for research paper
Abstract should encourage the reader to read your full research paper. Include only the most relevant information that show why your research paper is exciting and worth reading.

Be clear and concise with your writing

When writing the abstract for your research paper, it may be tempting to use jargon and abbreviations that you’ve already used throughout your manuscript.

I want you to remember that the readers of your article may not necessarily have the relevant background. They may be just broadly interested in your work and using jargon may make it difficult for them to understand your key messages.

Use neutral language to convey your high-level messages. It might be a good idea to ask someone who isn’t directly involved in your work to read the abstract and ask them if they understood it.

wonder how to write an abstract? Use concise language and easy to read vocabulary, proofread your work
Writing an outstanding abstract for research paper is an iterative process. Make sure you don’t use jargon, keep it concise and use appropriate language.

As I mentioned above, depending on the journal or conference, you may have only between 150 to 300 words to pitch your research. Use it wisely using the structure above.

Finally, it’s generally accepted that you use past tense to describe what has been already done in your research area, describe your methods and results. You may use present tense to introduce your work and explain the implications of your results.

A final word…

An abstract is one of the most important elements of your research paper.

You can see it as a sales pitch to fellow researchers in your field. Make sure you only present the most critical information in a way that is easy to read and appealing even to readers out of your research field.

When written with their questions in mind, you can increase engagement with and impact of your work.

Check out our free ebook on ways to improve visibility of your research!

Remember to share your recent research abstract with us on our Instagram (@MotivatedAcademic)!  

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Academic Coach at Motivated Academic, senior lecturer at Cranfield University, UK.

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