Abstract Writing - How to Report the Results of Research

By: Marco Bomfoco

The academic abstract is a short restatement of all essential points of a research paper. In the words of Craig W. Allin, "abstracts are an exercise in writing with precision and efficiency." The abstract is one single paragraph and is subject to specific word limits, typically under 300 words. It stands alone bellow the title or at the end of the paper. Usually, it is printed at the beginning of the paper. Notice that an abstract is not an introduction or a plan to the paper. In fact, the abstract should describe the subject matter of the paper, nature of the research, objective, limitations, and the results.

The abstract presents the information in four general sections: The academic abstract is a short restatement of all essential points of a research paper. In the words of Craig W. Allin, "abstracts are an exercise in writing with precision and efficiency." The abstract is one single paragraph and is subject to specific word limits, typically under 300 words. It stands alone bellow the title or at the end of the paper. Usually, it is printed at the beginning of the paper. Notice that an abstract is not an introduction or a plan to the paper. In fact, the abstract should describe the subject matter of the paper, nature of the research, objective, limitations, and the results.

The abstract presents the information in four general sections: INTRODUCTION, METHODS, RESULTS and CONCLUSIONS. It is worth noting that the abstract is only text and follows strictly the logical order of the paper. That is, the abstract ought to parallel the structure of the original paper. At the same time, it adds NO new information, i. e. that is not stated in the paper. Now notice that the abstract can be viewed as an independent document. It is because of this that it should be unified, coherent (i.e. providing appropriate transitions or logical linkage between the information included), concise, and able to stand alone. In other words, the abstract should be complete in itself.

There are two types of abstracts: descriptive and informative. The descriptive or indicative abstract, identifies the contents of the research or the basic subject of the article, demonstrating the paper's organization without providing results or conclusions. Thus, it is not very informative. This type of abstract is always very short, usually under 100 words; and it is useful for a long report. On the other hand, the informative abstract, which is also known simply as a summary, gives the principal argument and summarizes the principal data, providing the reader with an overview of the objectives, methods, results and conclusions of the study. So, be clear and specific! Finally, you may also have heard of a "structured abstract" -- this is a subtype of the informative abstract which has more than one paragraph.

It is sometimes the case that an abstract will be read along with the title and in general it will likely be read without the rest of the document. E. Bright Wilson, Jr. writes that "often the abstract is all that will be read or can be read". Thus, we might consider that the abstract is the most important part of a scientific paper. It follows, then, that it is an absolute must to include all the keywords related to the study. Keywords must follow the abstract. Note that keywords (also called search terms or index words) represent the most important terms or concepts (words or phrases) relevant to your topic. Besides, it is also desirable to put some index words into the title of the paper.

Surely, the abstract is written after the investigation and the whole article is completed as you need to report the results of the research. It should be written in the same language as the paper and should be translated into one of the world languages (English, Spanish, French, Italian or German). We can say that the primary purpose of an abstract is to permit a quick appraise of the applicability, importance and validity of a research paper. But always recall that the reader KNOWS the subject but HAS NOT READ the paper.

What to include?

The content of the abstract includes:

&bull MOTIVATION AND PURPOSE: main subject or research question and review of the relevant literature.

&bull SPECIFICS: problem statement, approach, objectives, hypothesis, research methodology (method(s) adopted or search strategies).

&bull RESULTS: main findings (proposed solutions to the problem) and discussion.

&bull CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS/OUTCOMES: what the results mean and further points.

As a result, the abstract must state:

&bull The problem addressed and some background information.

&bull The solution or insight proposed (newly observed facts).

&bull An example that shows how it works.

&bull An evaluation: a comparison with existing answers/techniques.

Thus, an abstract should provide answers for the following questions:

&bull WHAT and WHY.

&bull WHAT you found.

&bull HOW you did it.

But how do we begin?

What would be an effective way to begin an abstract? To help you on your way let us consider some introductory sentences.

First, let us see some opening sentences that DO NOT offer real information:

1. This paper reports on a method for...

2. The paper explores the notions of...

3. The purpose of our research is to consider how...

4. The objective of this study is to determine...

Thus, it is clear that you should avoid writing a statement of scope.

On the other hand, the sentences bellow represent good examples of introductory statements, for they go directly into the subject. They give something to the reader. Let us see how it works:

1. The development process of hypermedia and web systems poses very specific problems that do not appear in other software applications, such as...

2. Given a large set of data, a common data mining problem is to extract the frequent patterns occurring in this set.

3. According to many recent studies the effect of learning style on academic performance has been found to be significant and mismatch between teaching and learning styles causes learning failure and frustration.

What about the end?

Just tells what the results mean, e.g. "These results suggest...".

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