How to Write Abstracts

Ive been very busy these last few weeks working on a lengthy research proposal.

Its been absolutely exhausting – but it feels good to almost be done.

The last step in any research proposal is to write a comprehensive summary (or abstract) about what youre about to propose.

This might sound easy, but I find that this is sometimes the most difficult part.

How do you condense all your research into a brief paragraph?

It can be mind-boggling I know.

After spending some time researching abstract development, I found these helpful tips for writing the perfect abstract:

Abstract Style

  • One paragraph under 150 – 200 words
  • Use related keywords that people might use to find your article
  • As a summary of work done, it is always written in past tense
  • An abstract should stand on its own, and not refer to any other part of the paper such as a figure or table
  • Focus on summarizing results – limit background information
  • What you report in an abstract must be consistent with what you report
  • Correct spelling, clarity of sentences and phrases, and proper reporting of quantities (proper units, significant figures) are just as important in an abstract as they are anywhere else

Abstract Content

  • Motivation – Why do we care about the problem and the results?
  • Problem Statement – What problem are you trying to solve? What is the scope of your work (a generalized approach, or for a specific situation)? Be careful not to use too much jargon. In some cases it is appropriate to put the problem statement before the motivation, but usually this only works if most readers already understand why the problem is important.
  • Approach – How did you go about solving or making progress on the problem? What important variables did you control, ignore, or measure?
  • Results – Whats the answer? Put the result there, in numbers. Avoid vague, hand-waving results such as very, small, or significant.
  • Conclusions – What are the implications of your answer? Is it going to change the world (unlikely), be a significant win, be a nice hack, or simply serve as a road sign indicating that this path is a waste of time (all of the previous results are useful). Are your results general, potentially generalizable, or specific to a particular case?

Read more about writing abstracts here . . .

Recommended Reading

Book Report Hack: How to Analyze a Book Quickly

As an English Literature major in college, I had to read 4 to 5 books per class. This meant that within a 10 week quarter, I would have read over 20 novels. It was a lot of work, but here’s a technique I used to help me analyze the books quickly:

1. Read the Plot Overview First
You can find plot summaries of most books online. I recommend checking out sparknotes.com, cliffnotes.com, or wikibooks.org. Plot summaries can give you a general understanding of the plot before opening the book. It will spoil the ending for you, but it will help you focus on the major plotline while reading.

2. Read the Themes, Motifs and Symbols
Sparknotes.com offers a Themes, Motifs and Symbols section for every book within its database. This will give you a snapshot of the major themes to watch for. If you know the themes and symbols ahead of time, you can start highlighting any reference in the book that relates to that theme.

3. Underline, Highlight and Write Notes
After you know the plot and major themes, you’re ready to start dissecting your book. As you study, start underlining the key passages that relate to the major plots and themes within the novel. Then make sure to catalog all your notations on a separate piece of paper. Write down page numbers and a brief comment of why that page or section is important to the main theme or plot you’re studying. This will be extremely helpful when you start writing a report or essay about the book.

4. Read Journal Article Abstracts
If you have time, it also helps to search for journal articles about the book you’re reading. I don’t mean start reading through dense journal articles. That takes too much time. I just mean that you should skim journal article abstracts so that you know what scholars are thinking about the book you’ve just read. Simply visit Google Scholar and type in the name of your book. Read the article abstract to give you ideas of what to write about.

Lastly, if you really don’t have time to read the book at all, then start reading through chapter summaries from sparknotes.com or cliffnotes.com. It’s not the best choice, but it will give you some preparation prior to a test or writing an essay.

The Best APA Cheat Sheets on the Web

So it’s like 3 a.m. and you’re trying to finish your paper. You’re almost done, but you forgot where you left your APA Style Guide. No worries. We have some online APA style guide cheat sheets that you can use right now:

APA Formatting Tips from Purdue
Purdue University offers a comprehensive review of everything you need to know about APA style. This website offers not only great instruction, but also helpful pictures to demonstrate how to use the various APA rules.

APA Research Style Crib Sheet Project
This website archives a bunch of handy APA rules that you should definitely check out. It provides an excellent summary of how to format and write your title page, references, and abbreviations.

APA Online Tips
The official APA website doesn’t provide very many free tips because they want you to buy the book from them. However, they do offer some free tips on APA word usage and hyphens.

APA Citation Help
How do you cite multiple authors again? Or what about citing televisions shows or interviews? This website answers all those common questions.

APA Style Essentials
This might be one of our favorite APA sites. Its written and maintained by a professor of psychology. He not only lists all the major APA rules, but he includes a downloadable pdf to show you exactly how to do it. Very useful.

If you find any other handy APA cheat sheets on the web, please send us an email or leave a comment here. We’ll add it to the list.

Top 7 Websites to Visit Prior to Writing Your Research Paper

You know writing a research paper can be a tedious process.

Not only do you have to spend a lot of time writing, but you also need to spend many hours finding and reading appropriate journal articles and books.

To make your life a bit easier, here are the top seven websites you should visit when starting your research paper. You might be surprised how much you can learn about your topic without even going to a college library:

Wikipedia
Wikipedia is always a good place to start when beginning initial research. The articles will usually provide you with a good summary of the topic you’re interested in. And the external links sections might give you some other links to consider. Check the discussion pages for further investigation.

Internet Public Library
The Internet Public Library will provide you with a host of quality websites about the topic you’re interested in. This is definitely a great resource for finding books and articles about your chosen topic.

Google News Search
Depending on what type of research you’re doing, Google News Search might be appropriate. Google News archives newspaper articles. All you need to do is type in a word and newspaper articles using that word will appear in chronological order. It’s very handy when looking for current news about your topic.

Microsoft Book Search
If you’re looking for a book in the public domain, check out this book search. You can search every word in a book, and even download entire books as a pdf. It’s a great resource for finding relevant content in older books.

Google Book Search
If you can’t find a particular book in Microsoft Book Search, definitely check out Google Book Search. You can search for current books in Google, but you’ll only get a limited preview. Google Books will also provide full downloads of older books (in public domain).

Virtual Library
Virtual library is a place that hosts tons of links on various topics. It’s easy to get lost in this website because of the amount of information available. It’s not as user-friendly as the Internet Public Library, but it does provide great links.

Google Scholar
As you get more focused on your topic, don’t forget to search in Google Scholar. This website will extract articles from academic journals. It’s a great resource for finding high quality articles on your topic. Many of the links might only give you an abstract (or summary) of what’s in the articles, but you can save the reference information and find the journals at your local college library.

No doubt there are many articles and journals that you cant access without student identificaiton, so if you run into roadblocks on articles you really need, visit your local public or college library. Libraries typically have access to passwor protected research sites..

And if you still have problems getting a particular journal article or book, just ask for help from a college librarian or research associate. It’s their job to know how to find and get information, and they will probably have some great recommendations.

Best wishes on your research.