Writing an Abstract: What to Include and Exclude
A well-written abstract should provide readers with all of the information they need to understand why the study was performed (Introduction), how it was performed (Methods), what it showed (Results) and what it means (Discussion), without any extraneous information to distract them from these points.
What to include in an abstract
Start the abstract with one to two sentences describing the general context of the study to help give readers an idea of how the study fits into the context of the wider field.
The next few sentences of the abstract should then describe the primary methods used to investigate the main objective of the study.
Note: Keep in mind that an abstract is an overview. So, not every technique needs to be listed, only the crucial ones.
The description of the study findings should comprise the bulk of the abstract. This part of the abstract should clearly but concisely describe each main finding from the study. Often, this will take the form of one phrase or sentence per each figure or table shown in the paper, as these display items also highlight the key results.
Note: Generally speaking, specific values and data (such as percentages, standard errors, p-values, etc.) should not be included in the abstract. Rather, this part of the abstract should provide readers with an overview.
The final one to two sentences of the abstract should be used to state the overall conclusion(s) drawn from the key findings that have just been summarised in the preceding text.
Note: You may wish to end this section with a statement of significance that tells readers why the overall conclusion is important in the context of the wider field.
What not to include in an abstract
Content not covered in the paper
Because the abstract is essentially a summary of the main paper, it should not present any information that is not included in the paper itself. This is true for every element of the abstract, not just the description of the results.
If the statement of the study aim does not match the aim stated in the Introduction, the abstract will not give readers an accurate impression of the article.
Mentioning potential applications of the results in the abstract that are not then explored in detail in the Discussion section can be unintentionally misleading, and should be avoided.
Confirmatory and negative results
Confirmatory and/or negative results are typically not mentioned in the abstract, to avoid distracting readers from the most important findings. For example, the results from negative controls should generally not be mentioned here.
At a structural level, most journals do not allow the inclusion of literature references or references to figures or tables in the abstract.
Note: Check your target journal guidelines carefully if you feel it is important to include either of these elements.
It is advisable to minimise the use of abbreviations in the abstract. If a term is only used once in the abstract, it should be spelled out in full, and no abbreviation should be provided, as all abbreviations will be defined again in the main text.
Note: Prioritising the use of full terms instead of abbreviations in this section will make the abstract more accessible to a wider range of readers. It will also avoid the visual disruption of an abbreviation in the middle of a sentence.
Read previous/first in series: Writing an Abstract: Purpose and Tips
Maximise your publication success with Charlesworth Author Services.
Charlesworth Author Services, a trusted brand supporting the world’s leading academic publishers, institutions and authors since 1928.
To know more about our services, visit: Our Services