How to Write an Abstract in Research Papers (with Examples)

by Divya Sreekumar
How to write an abstract

An abstract in research papers is a keyword-rich summary usually not exceeding 200-350 words. It can be considered the “face” of research papers because it creates an initial impression on the readers. While searching databases (such as PubMed) for research papers, a title is usually the first selection criterion for readers. If the title matches their search criteria, then the readers read the abstract, which sets the tone of the paper. Titles and abstracts are often the only freely available parts of research papers on journal websites. The pdf versions of full articles need to be purchased. Journal reviewers are often provided with only the title and abstract before they agree to review the complete paper. [1] 

Abstracts in research papers provide readers with a quick insight into what the paper is about to help them decide whether they want to read it further or not. Abstracts are the main selling points of articles and therefore should be carefully drafted, accurately highlighting the important aspects. [2] 

This article will help you identify the important components and provide tips on how to write an abstract in research papers effectively

What is an Abstract? 

An abstract in research papers can be defined as a synopsis of the paper. It should be clear, direct, self-contained, specific, unbiased, and concise. These summaries are published along with the complete research paper and are also submitted to conferences for consideration for presentation. 

Abstracts are of four types and journals can follow any of these formats: [2] 

  1. Structured 
  2. Unstructured 
  3. Descriptive 
  4. Informative 

Structured abstracts are used by most journals because they are more organized and have clear sections, usually including introduction/background; objective; design, settings, and participants (or materials and methods); outcomes and measures; results; and conclusion. These headings may differ based on the journal or the type of paper. Clinical trial abstracts should include the essential items mentioned in the CONSORT (Consolidated Standards Of Reporting Trials) guidelines. 

Figure 1. Structured abstract example [3] 

Unstructured abstracts are common in social science, humanities, and physical science journals. They usually have one paragraph and no specific structure or subheadings. These abstracts are commonly used for research papers that don’t report original work and therefore have a more flexible and narrative style. 

Figure 2. Unstructured abstract example [3] 

Descriptive abstracts are short (75–150 words) and provide an outline with only the most important points of research papers. They are used for shorter articles such as case reports, reviews, and opinions where space is at a premium, and rarely for original investigations. These abstracts don’t present the results but mainly list the topics covered. 

Here’s a sample abstract. [4] 

“Design of a Radio-Based System for Distribution Automation” 

A new survey by the Maryland Public Utilities Commission suggests that utilities have not effectively explained to consumers the benefits of smart meters. The two-year study of 86,000 consumers concludes that the long-term benefits of smart meters will not be realized until consumers understand the benefits of shifting some of their power usage to off-peak hours in response to the data they receive from their meters. The study presents recommendations for utilities and municipal governments to improve customer understanding of how to use the smart meters effectively. 

Keywords: smart meters, distribution systems, load, customer attitudes, power consumption, utilities 

Informative abstracts (structured or unstructured) give a complete detailed summary, including the main results, of the research paper and may or may not have subsections.  

Figure 3. Informative abstract example [5] 

Purpose of Abstracts in Research  

Abstracts in research have two main purposes—selection and indexing. [6,7] 

  • Selection: Abstracts allow interested readers to quickly decide the relevance of a paper to gauge if they should read it completely.  
  • Indexing: Most academic journal databases accessed through libraries enable you to search abstracts, allowing for quick retrieval of relevant articles and avoiding unnecessary search results. Therefore, abstracts must necessarily include the keywords that researchers may use to search for articles. 

Thus, a well-written, keyword-rich abstract can pique readers’ interest and curiosity and help them decide whether they want to read the complete paper. It can also direct readers to articles of potential clinical and research interest during an online search. 

Contents of Abstracts in Research 

Abstracts in research papers summarize the main points of an article and are broadly categorized into four or five sections. Here are some details on how to write an abstract 

Introduction/Background and/or Objectives 

This section should provide the following information: 

  1. What is already known about the subject? 
  2. What is not known about the subject or what does the study aim to investigate? 

The hypothesis or research question and objectives should be mentioned here. The Background sets the context for the rest of the paper and its length should be short so that the word count could be saved for the Results or other information directly pertaining to the study. The objective should be written in present or past simple tense. 


The antidepressant efficacy of desvenlafaxine (DV) has been established in 8-week, randomized controlled trials. The present study examined the continued efficacy of DV across 6 months of maintenance treatment. [1] 

Objective: To describe gastric and breast cancer risk estimates for individuals with CDH1 variants. 

Design, Setting, and Participants (or Materials and Methods) 

This section should provide information on the processes used and should be written in past simple tense because the process is already completed. 

A few important questions to be answered include: 

  1. What was the research design and setting? 
  2. What was the sample size and how were the participants sampled? 
  3. What treatments did the participants receive? 
  4. What were the data collection and data analysis dates? 
  5. What was the primary outcome measure? 


Hazard ratios (HRs) were estimated for each cancer type and used to calculate cumulative risks and risks per decade of life up to age 80 years. 

Figure 4. Methods section samples from two studies [1] 


This section, written in either present or past simple tense, should be the longest and should describe the main findings of the study. Here’s an example of how descriptive the sentences should be: 

Avoid: Response rates differed significantly between diabetic and nondiabetic patients. 

Better: The response rate was higher in nondiabetic than in diabetic patients (49% vs 30%, respectively; P<0.01). 

This section should include the following information: 

  1. Total number of patients (included, excluded [exclusion criteria]) 
  2. Primary and secondary outcomes, expressed in words, and supported by numerical data 
  3. Data on adverse outcomes 

Example: [8] 

In total, 10.9% of students were reported to have favorable study skills. The minimum score was found for preparation for examination domain. Also, a significantly positive correlation was observed between students’ study skills and their Grade Point Average (GPA) of previous term (P=0.001, r=0.269) and satisfaction with study skills (P=0.001, r=0.493). 


Here, authors should mention the importance of their findings and also the practical and theoretical implications, which would benefit readers referring to this paper for their own research. Present simple tense should be used here. 

Examples: [1,8] 

The 9.3% prevalence of bipolar spectrum disorders in students at an arts university is substantially higher than general population estimates. These findings strengthen the oft-expressed hypothesis linking creativity with affective psychopathology. 

The findings indicated that students’ study skills need to be improved. Given the significant relationship between study skills and GPA, as an index of academic achievement, and satisfaction, it is necessary to promote the students’ study skills. These skills are suggested to be reinforced, with more emphasis on weaker domains. 

Keywords are the last part of an abstract in most journals and should include the important terms in your paper. More details are provided later in this article. 

When to Write an Abstract 

In addition to knowing how to write an abstract, you should also know when to write an abstract. It’s best to write abstracts once the paper is completed because this would make it easier for authors to extract relevant parts from every section. 

Abstracts are usually required for: [7]  

  • submitting articles to journals 
  • applying for research grants  
  • writing book proposals 
  • completing and submitting dissertations 
  • submitting proposals for conference papers 

Mostly, the author of the entire work writes the abstract (the first author, in works with multiple authors). However, there are professional abstracting services that hire writers to draft abstracts of other people’s work.  

How to Write an Abstract (Step-by-Step Process) 

Here are some key steps on how to write an abstract in research papers: [9] 

  1. Write the abstract after you’ve finished writing your paper. 
  2. Select the major objectives/hypotheses and conclusions from your Introduction and Conclusion sections. 
  3. Select key sentences from your Methods section. 
  4. Identify the major results from the Results section. 
  5. Paraphrase or re-write the sentences selected in steps 2, 3, and 4 in your own words into one or two paragraphs in the following sequence: Introduction/Objective, Methods, Results, and Conclusions. The headings may differ among journals, but the content remains the same. 
  6. Ensure that this draft does not contain:
    a.   new information that is not present in the paper
    b.   undefined abbreviations
    c.   a discussion of previous literature or reference citations
    d.   unnecessary details about the methods used 
  7. Remove all extra information and connect your sentences to ensure that the information flows well, preferably in the following order: purpose; basic study design, methodology and techniques used; major findings; summary of your interpretations, conclusions, and implications. Use section headings for structured abstracts. 
  8. Ensure consistency between the information presented in the abstract and the paper. 
  9. Check to see if the final abstract meets the guidelines of the target journal (word limit, type of abstract, recommended subheadings, etc.) and if all the required information has been included. 

Choosing Keywords for Abstracts  

Keywords [2] are the important and repeatedly used words and phrases in research papers and can help indexers and search engines find papers relevant to your requirements. Easy retrieval would help in reaching a wider audience and eventually gain more citations. In the fields of medicine and health, keywords should preferably be chosen from the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) list of the US National Library of Medicine because they are used for indexing. These keywords need to be different from the words in the main title (automatically used for indexing) but can be variants of the terms/phrases used in the title, abstract, and the main text. Keywords should represent the content of your manuscript and be specific to your subject area. 

Basic tips for authors [10,11] 

  1. Read through your paper and highlight key terms or phrases that are most relevant and frequently used in your field, to ensure familiarity. 
  2. Several journals provide instructions about the length (eg, 3 words in a keyword) and maximum number of keywords allowed and other related rules. Create a list of keywords based on these instructions and include specific phrases containing 2 to 4 words. A longer string of words would yield generic results irrelevant to your field. 
  3. Use abbreviations, acronyms, and initializations if these would be more familiar. 
  4. Search with your keywords to ensure the results fit with your article and assess how helpful they would be to readers. 
  5. Narrow down your keywords to about five to ten, to ensure accuracy. 
  6. Finalize your list based on the maximum number allowed. 

 Few examples: [12] 

Paper title  Poor keywords  Better keywords 
Direct observation of nonlinear optics in an isolated carbon nanotube  molecule, optics, lasers, energy lifetime  single-molecule interaction, Kerr effect, carbon nanotube, energy level 
Region-specific neuronal degeneration after okadaic acid administration  neuron, brain, regional-specific neuronal degeneration, signaling  neurodegenerative diseases; CA1 region, hippocampal; okadaic acid; neurotoxins; MAP kinase signaling system; cell death 
Increases in levels of sediment transport at former glacial-interglacial transitions  climate change, erosion, plant effects  quaternary climate change, soil erosion, bioturbation 

Important Tips for Writing an Abstract 

Here are a few tips on how to write an abstract to ensure that your abstract is complete, concise, and accurate. [1,2] 

  • Write the abstract last. 
  • Follow journal-specific formatting guidelines or Instructions to Authors strictly to ensure acceptance for publication. 
  • Proofread the final draft meticulously to avoid grammatical or typographical errors. 
  • Ensure that the terms or data mentioned in the abstract are consistent with the main text. 
  • Include appropriate keywords at the end.

Do not include: 

  • New information 
  • Text citations to references 
  • Citations to tables and figures 
  • URLs 
  • Generic statements 
  • Abbreviations unless necessary, like a trial or study name  

Key Takeaways  

Here’s a quick snapshot of all the important aspects of how to write an abstract. [2]

  1. An abstract in research is a summary of the paper and describes only the main aspects. Typically, abstracts are about 200-350 words long. 
  2. Abstracts are of four types—structured, unstructured, descriptive, and informative. 
  3. Abstracts should be simple, clear, concise, independent, and unbiased (present both favorable and adverse outcomes). 
  4. They should adhere to the prescribed journal format, including word limits, section headings, number of keywords, fonts used, etc. 
  5. The terminology should be consistent with the main text.  
  6. Although the section heading names may differ for journals, every abstract should include a background and objective, analysis methods, primary results, and conclusions. 
  7. Nonstandard abbreviations, references, and URLs shouldn’t be included. 
  8. Only relevant and specific keywords should be used to ensure focused searches and higher citation frequency. 
  9. Abstracts should be written last after completing the main paper. 

Frequently Asked Questions  

Q1. Do all journals have different guidelines for abstracts? 

A1. Yes, all journals have their own specific guidelines for writing abstracts; a few examples are given in the following table. [6,13,14,15] 

Journal/Entity  Few guidelines for abstracts in research papers 
American Psychological Association 
  • Word limit: 250 
  • Recommended fonts: 11-point Calibri, 11-point Arial, 10-point Lucida Sans Unicode, 12-point Times New Roman, 11-point Georgia, or 10-point Computer Modern 
  • 1-inch margins on all sides 
  • Text: not indented, single paragraph, double-spaced 
  • Keywords: 3-5 words/phrases/acronyms 
American Society for Microbiology 
  • Word limit: Up to 2,200 characters (no spaces) 
  • Section headers: Background, Methods, Results, Conclusions 
The Lancet 
  • Descriptive and include study type 
  • Section headers: Background, Methods, Findings, Interpretation, Funding 
Journal of the American Medical Association 
  • Structured abstracts for reports of original data 
  • Word limit: maximum 350 
  • Section headers: Importance, Objective, Design, Setting, Participants, Exposures, Main outcomes and measures, Results, Conclusions 
  • Unstructured abstracts for other reports 
  • One paragraph, no headings 
  • Word limit: maximum 200 words 
  • 3-10 keywords 

Q2. What are the common mistakes to avoid when writing an abstract? 

A2. Listed below are a few mistakes that authors may make inadvertently while writing abstracts. 

  • Copying sentences from the paper verbatim 

An abstract is a summary, which should be created by paraphrasing your own work or writing in your own words. Extracting sentences from every section and combining them into one paragraph cannot be considered summarizing. 

  • Not adhering to the formatting guidelines 

Journals have special instructions for writing abstracts, such as word limits and section headings. These should be followed strictly to avoid rejections. 

  • Not including the right amount of details in every section 

Both too little and too much information could discourage readers. For instance, if the Background has very little information, the readers may not get sufficient context to appreciate your research. Similarly, incomplete information in the Methods and a text-heavy Results section without supporting numerical data may affect the credibility of your research. 

  • Including citations, standard abbreviations, and detailed measurements 

Typically, abstracts shouldn’t include these elements—citations, URLs, and abbreviations. Only nonstandard abbreviations are allowed or those that would be more familiar to readers than the expansions. 

  • Including new information 

Abstracts should strictly include only the same information mentioned in the main text. Any new information should first be added to the text and then to the abstract only if necessary or if permitted by the word limit. 

  • Not including keywords 

Keywords are essential for indexing and searching and should be included to increase the frequency of retrieval and citation. 

Q3. What is the difference between abstracts in research papers and conference abstracts? [16] 

A3. The table summarizes the main differences between research and conference abstracts. 

Parameter  Conference abstract  Research paper abstract 
Context  Concise summary of ongoing or completed research presented at conferences  Summary of full research paper published in a journal 
Length  Shorter (150-250 words)   Longer (150-350 words) 
Audience  Diverse conference attendees (both experts & people with general interest)  People or other researchers specifically interested in the subject 
Focus  Intended to quickly attract interest; provides just enough information to highlight the significance, objectives, and impact; may briefly state methods and results  Deeper insight into the study; more detailed sections on methodology, results, and broader implications 
Publication venue  Not published independently but included in conference schedules, booklets, etc.  Published with the full research paper in academic journals, conference proceedings, research databases, etc. 
Citations  Allowed  Not allowed 

 Thus, abstracts are essential “trailers” that can market your research to a wide audience. The better and more complete the abstract the more are the chances of your paper being read and cited. By following our checklist and ensuring that all key elements are included, you can create a well-structured abstract that summarizes your paper accurately. 


  1. Andrade C. How to write a good abstract for a scientific paper or conference presentation. Indian J Psychiatry. 2011; 53(2):172-175. Accessed June 14, 2024. 
  2. Tullu MS. Writing the title and abstract for a research paper: Being concise, precise, and meticulous is the key. 2019; 13(Suppl 1): S12-S17. Accessed June 14, 2024. 
  3. Zawia J. Writing an Academic Paper? Get to know Abstracts vs. Structured Abstracts. Medium. Published October 16, 2023. Accessed June 16, 2024. 
  4. Markel M and Selber S. Technical Communication, 12th edition. 2018; pp. 482. Bedford/St Martin’s. 
  5. Abstracts. Arkansas State University. Accessed June 17, 2024. 
  6. AMA Manual of Style. 11th edition. Oxford University Press. 
  7. Writing an Abstract. The University of Melbourne. Accessed June 16, 2024. 
  8. 10 Good Abstract Examples that will Kickstart Your Brain. Kibin Essay Writing Blog. Published April 5, 2017. Accessed June 17, 2024. 
  9. A 10-step guide to make your research paper abstract more effective. Editage Insights. Published October 16, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2024. 
  10. Using keywords to write your title and abstract. Taylor & Francis Author Services. Accessed June 15, 2024. 
  11. How to choose and use keywords in research papers. Paperpal by Editage blog. Published March 10, 2023. Accessed June 17, 2024. 
  12. Title, abstract and keywords. Springer. Accessed June 16, 2024. 
  13. Abstract and keywords guide. APA Style, 7th edition. Accessed June 18, 2024. 
  14. Abstract guidelines. American Society for Microbiology. Accessed June 18, 2024. 
  15. Guidelines for conference abstracts. The Lancet. Accessed June 16, 2024. 
  16. Is a conference abstract the same as a paper abstract? Global Conference Alliance, Inc. Accessed June 18, 2024. 

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