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An abstract is a summary of a longer written document. It is written with the same organization as the original document, usually without “review” or comment. Abstract lengths vary by discipline and purpose of the project; generally, they are 50-100 words for a short paper and 150-200 for a longer one. Abstracts are typically placed prior to the manuscript.

Abstracts fall into two categories: indicative and informative.

The indicative abstract covers a less structured document (like a book, essay or editorial). It helps readers to understand the focus, arguments and conclusions of the larger document so that they can determine whether to read it more thoroughly.

An informative abstract is used for more strictly structured documents (like scientific experiments or investigations) and includes the elements of the original research report: its objective, methods, results, and conclusions.

Whichever type of abstract you write, it should be able to stand alone as a statement separate from the larger document.

The ABCS of a good abstract:

  • Accuracy Include only information included in the original document.
  • Brevity Get straight to the point, use precise language, and do not include superfluous adjectives.
  • Clarity Do not use unnecessary technical jargon, colloquialisms or obscure vocabulary and detail and always explain any acronyms1.

Abstracts are challenging because they require decisions about what constitutes that essence of a document full of important information. Here are some tips to help you:


  • Write the final version of your abstract after your paper is completed so the organization and development of the two documents match.
  • Begin with a topic sentence: what is this paper about?
  • Use an outline to confirm that you are summarizing the most important information.
  • Incorporate Keywords for electronic retrieval into the text. (They may also be listed at the end of the abstract text.)
  • Bibliographic references and graphics are typically excluded from an abstract.

Keep your readers in mind as you develop the abstract:


  • Assume that they are generally familiar with the information being abstracted but are interested in evaluating the usefulness of the entire document for their research.
  • Write in a concise and readable style so that they can read through the abstract quickly to ascertain the essence of the larger document.
  • Provide information in each sentence; for example, if it is important enough to include, “a cost was given,” it is appropriate to give the specifics: “The cost was $5.25 per gallon.”

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Revised: 07/11


1Indiana University http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/abstracts.pdf

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Meet the writer: Charlesia McKinney. Graduate student at KU, pursuing an MA in rhetoric and composition, focusing on cultural rhetoric, feminist rhetoric, and afrocentric pedadogy. KU Writing Center consultant. “If I could give a piece of advice to a large group of people, I would ask this question: ‘Are you doing something in your life today that would have an impact 3,000 years from now?’ In many ways, I think we should live that way: that we should have a focus beyond our lifetime or even the next, but on what matters for many years to come.” Want to hear more from Charlesia? Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @tonitaxcherea #writersofku #thisiswhatawriterlookslike
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