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Writers' Center

Eastern Washington University

Writing an Abstract

Overview of Abstracts

An abstract is a brief summary of a research paper. When you search for published articles in the library database, you'll first see an abstract of the article, which can give you a good idea whether the article will be useful for your research. In addition, if you would like to present a research project at a conference, you may be required to submit an abstract in order to be considered.

Tips:

  • Keep it short. Abstracts are typically 100- 250 words long.
  • Include context, background, and a thesis statement.
  • A well-written abstract can act as a guide, or outline, for the rest of your paper.

Steps for Writing an Abstract

Keep in mind that writing is a recursive process, meaning that sometimes steps aren’t always followed in order. You may find yourself going back to a previous step, or jumping ahead. Work through the steps in the order that suits your writing process—but each of these steps should occur at some point in the process.

  • Read the guidelines

Whether you are writing your abstract for a course, for a conference, or for a professional publication it is important to familiarize yourself with the specific requirements of the project. Go to the organization’s website and search for submission guidelines, then follow them exactly.

  • Look for examples

Most conferences provide archives of presentations and programs. These archives contain abstracts from previous presenters.  These abstracts can work to guide your own. Here is a sample abstract from EWU’s Student Research and Creative Works Symposium, 2012:


An Ecologically Based Invasive Plant Management Approach to Prairie Restoration on Mima Mounds at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge
Kristin Anicito
Rebecca Brown, Biology

Invasive annual grasses (IAG) are a major threat to biodiversity in western United States. IAG replace native plants and increase fire frequency thus altering ecosystem structure and function. Biological soil crust (BSC) disturbance, which leads to a loss of fixed nitrogen, likely promotes IAG invasion. Little is known about BSC disturbance effects in semi-arid systems as most studies are from drier regions. My research goal is to find an effective control for IAG that will not harm native plant growth or BSC health by testing the following questions on a Mima mound prairie at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge: 1) Will BSC disturbance increase vascular plant growth? 2) Which controls (herbicide, native seed, rhizobacteria, and sucrose) reduce IAG while maintaining native species over 1 and 3 year time scales? 3) Does active pocket gopher disturbance increase IAG? My results could improve IAG management in the western United States.


  • Compose your thesis statement

Your thesis statement or topic may change as you write, so you may need to revise your thesis statement to reflect exactly what you have discussed in your paper.

Some tips:

  • Write a thesis statement in one complete sentence.
  • Be specific.
  • Leave the research open-ended (you don’t have to provide a conclusion in your abstract). 
  • Choose a statement rather than a question.
  • Avoid announcing your thesis. Your sentence can be embedded within the abstract. From the example above:

An Ecologically Based Invasive Plant Management Approach to Prairie Restoration on Mima Mounds at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge
Kristin Anicito

Rebecca Brown, Biology

Invasive annual grasses (IAG) are a major threat to biodiversity in western United States. IAG replace native plants and increase fire frequency thus altering ecosystem structure and function. Biological soil crust (BSC) disturbance, which leads to a loss of fixed nitrogen, likely promotes IAG invasion. Little is known about BSC disturbance effects in semi-arid systems as most studies are from drier regions. My research goal is to find an effective control for IAG that will not harm native plant growth or BSC health by testing the following questions on a Mima mound prairie at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge: 1) Will BSC disturbance increase vascular plant growth? 2) Which controls (herbicide, native seed, rhizobacteria, and sucrose) reduce IAG while maintaining native species over 1 and 3 year time scales? 3) Does active pocket gopher disturbance increase IAG? My results could improve IAG management in the western United States.


  • Provide background and context

Remember that your abstract does not prove your thesis statement; your paper does. Keep only the most relevant information in your abstract. Be able to succinctly answer the following questions:

  • What kind of problem is it?
  • How did you address this problem?
  • How does your information fit into the larger conversation on this topic?

Let the Abstract Guide Your Paper

Some writers complete their paper before writing an abstract. However, some scholars write the abstract first, submit it to a conference, and then write the paper. If you choose to write your abstract first, then you can let the abstract guide your draft.

  • Find the main points

Look through the body of your abstract and identify your main point and your supporting points.

  • Craft an Outline

Outlines help to organize your thoughts and will also make you aware of your blind spots. If there are gaps in your research or reasoning, then fill the gaps with more research or re-organize the information logically.

Write your main point (your thesis) at the top of the page. Using bullets, list your main points and prepare to incorporate research to back them up.

EXAMPLE:

  • Thesis: My research goal is to find an effective control for IAG that will not harm native plant growth or BSC health by testing the following questions on a Mima mound prairie at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Main Points
    • Will BSC disturbance increase vascular plant growth?
      • Provide answer with researched evidence
    • Which controls reduce IAG while maintaining native species?
      • Provide answer with researched evidence
    • Will disturbances like gophers increase IAG?
      • Provide answer with researched evidence
    • DISCUSS WHICH SOLUTION IS BEST
  • Conclusion
    • IAG management can be improved if the following is done….