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About Abstracts

What Is an Abstract?

An abstract is a brief summary of your research. Because they must succinctly communicate complex ideas, abstracts are more difficult to write than their short length (200 words for the Student Research Colloquium registration form) would suggest.

How Will My Abstract Be Used?

The ONU Student Research Colloquium Planning Committee will use your abstract for organizing the presentations into paper and poster sessions. In addition, your abstract will be printed, exactly as submitted, in the colloquium program. Therefore, we suggest you take some time to craft a well-written abstract that is largely free of mechanical errors and have your ONU faculty sponsor review it before you register for the colloquium.

What Are the Elements of an Abstract?

An abstract generally includes the following elements:

  • your research focus (i.e. the problems/questions/issues your research addressed; the purpose of your research)
  • the research methods you used to investigate your questions (e.g. laboratory experiments, case studies, surveys, literary review, historical analysis, etc.)
  • the results or findings of your research
  • the main conclusions you’ve drawn from your analysis of your findings

Depending on how far advanced your research is, you may not have all four elements in your colloquium abstract. For instance, you may still be in the planning stages, in which case your abstract would identify your research focus, the methods you intend to use and the results you expect to find. Only after conducting the actual research would you be able to discuss whether you had to adapt your methods, whether you did indeed find the results you expected, and what conclusions you’ve drawn from those findings.

How to Structure an Abstract

Many of the following suggestions come from the American National Standard for Writing Abstracts published by the Council of National Library and Information Associations.

  1. Explain the purpose of your study/paper. Ideally in one sentence, state the primary objectives and scope of the study or the reasons why the document was written. Also state the rationale for your research. Why did you do the research? Is the topic you are researching an ignored or newly discovered one?
  2. In terms of methodology (research methods), clearly state the techniques or approaches used in your study. For papers concerned with non-experimental work (such as those in the humanities, some social sciences, and the fine arts) identify your sources and explain your use or interpretation of the sources.
  3. Describe your results (the findings of your experimentation), the data collected, and effects observed as informatively and concisely as possible. These results may be experimental or theoretical; just remember to note that in your abstract. Give special priority in your abstract to new and verified findings that contradict previous theories. Mention any limits to the accuracy or reliability of your findings.
  4. Your conclusions should clarify the implications of your results. Consider why the results of your study are important to your field and how they relate to the purpose of your investigation. Often conclusions lead to recommendations, suggestions, and the rejection or support of established hypotheses.

Examples of Abstracts in Several Different Disciplines

Click here to see several sample abstracts from The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

How to Write an Abstract

Click here for a PowerPoint presentation on writing an abstract from Commonwealth College of the University of Massachusetts.

Additional Tips

  • Draft your paper first; then write the abstract.
  • A good abstract usually reflects a good paper. The opposite also tends to be true.
  • Know your audience, and target your abstract accordingly.  Remember that a reader does not want to wade through complicated and unfamiliar terms in the abstract.
  • Have a peer read your abstract and then tell you what your research is about. If he or she has difficulty explaining your research, chances are your abstract requires revision.
  • Keep it brief!  Your ONU Student Research Colloquium abstract should not exceed 200 words.
  • Proofread your abstract several times so as to submit your very best work.

Acknowledgments

Much of this advice was drawn from and earlier edition of the Massachusetts Statewide Undergraduate Research Conference Guidelines for Abstract Writing.