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Why are abstracts so important in academic writing?

How do you identify interesting articles? You probably skim abstracts and only read full articles if the abstracts are interesting, well-written and relevant, right?

An effective abstract is one of the most powerful tools you can use to grab readers’ attention, so it should provide all the information readers need to judge whether the study is important and relevant.

What do you put into your abstract?

As an abstract plays a such crucial role in the academic world, it is of utmost importance for researchers to ensure that the most relevant information is presented in the most effective format.

The memory aid IMRAD can help you to focus on the 4 key sections of an academic abstract:

Your abstract may be structured using the IMRAD headings listed above, or unstructured in a single paragraph, but either must contain essentially the same information within a strict word limit – usually 100 to 250 words.

Information to be included in each section of your abstract

Let’s talk more about each of those sections individually.

1. Introduction

You should try to briefly state the problem addressed by your study, usually in three sentences at most.
You need to cover the following points:

  • Why the study is important.
  • How the study aimed to solve a problem.
  • What the research question was.

2. Method

You should briefly describe how the study was conducted. In most cases, an effective method section should cover:

  • Definition of the sample and materials.
  • Data collection method.
  • How the data was analysed.

3. Results

In this section, you do not need to write everything you have gleaned; try to include only the most important or relevant results. You should keep in mind that the results mentioned here can be referenced to highlight the relationships identified in answering the research question you present in the introduction section.

4. Discussion

In the last section of an abstract, you need to state the implications of the findings. Try to ask yourself the following questions when preparing for this section:

  • What is the theoretical significance of your findings?
  • How could your findings be implemented in practice?

Last but not least, be sure to end your abstract with a strong conclusion!

Common bad practices to avoid

Other than following the advice given above, it is always helpful to be aware of bad practices.

Remember you should NOT:

  • Cite other work if it is not directly related to yours.
  • State anything that is not in your main text.
  • Use technical terms or jargon not understandable by a general readership.
  • Use abbreviations unless terms are very long and repeated often – if you must do so, be sure to define abbreviations the first time you use them.

And one final, very practical piece of advice: check carefully, get others to give feedback and revise your abstract until it can’t be improved any more!

Author Profile

Dr Rachel Baron
Co-Chief Editor & Managing Editor (Social Sciences)
Rachel first joined us as a freelance editor in 2001, while completing her PhD. After spending a few years as a post-doctoral researcher and then lecturing in psychology, she returned to us in 2010 and focused her career on academic editing. She took on the role of Assistant Chief Editor in 2018, and became co-Chief-Editor in 2020. Unable to leave academia behind completely, she also teaches Psychology at an English-speaking university in Italy, where she is now based. With extensive experience in both academia and publishing, Rachel has an excellent overview of both the client and editor sides of the business.

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