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Writing the Perfect Abstract

A well-written abstract is critical to the success of your work.

Benjamin Franklin, one of our most famous founding fathers, once said: "If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing."

It might seem a little extreme to consider the abstract more worthwhile than the paper itself. But the purpose of a well-written abstract is to entice the reader into finding the article - either in the library or online - and reading it in its entirety. It is the most concise version of what you intend to say to the reader about your topic. It is a little like the perfect storm, with all the components coming together to make a profound statement about your work!

Abstract Defined 

While an abstract is a summary of information, the descriptive abstract usually contains the main topic, purposes and an overview of the content. An informative abstract, provides information directly from the report such as key factors and the conclusion. Each abstract should have essential components cohesively woven into this section that provide enough information for the reader to determine usability for their purpose. Descriptive abstracts are usually limited to 100-350 words and informative abstracts are often limited to 100-250 words.

Abstracts are used for several reasons. For example, they can be used as part of a research article published in a journal; as an introduction to a chapter in a book with intent to lead the reader; as a library reference tool; for submission to a scientific meeting of research findings or solutions to problems; or as a component of a dissertation.

When preparing to write an abstract, remember to include specific elements and components:

·               Background: A statement that identifies the nature of the work

·               Aim: A statement of the purpose of the work

·               Method: A sentence or two that explains how the work was done

·               Results: Several sentences that describe the main findings

·               Conclusion: Final sentence that describes the major impact of the work

The beginning of the abstract should state the importance of the topic. Furthermore, it describes the problem and how the results of this paper will contribute to a better understanding of the topic. The author also may include the importance of the work and the impact it might have if the results are successful.

The Problem Statement should identify what practical, scientific, theoretical or artistic gap the research is completing. It should be written clearly so the reader can understand the exact perspective of the article. The abstract can be helpful to the author as well by helping her develop a clear vision of her argument.

The section on the approach and methodology used allows the author to make several statements about how the problem was solved or what progress was made on the problem. Uses of different methodologies such as simulation, models or analysis of data are discussed. The researcher is able to identify the important points of the project, such as control of variables and how data was collected and measured. This section describes what methods were used to obtain specific results.

A summary of the results provides the problem-solving process or analysis of the information presented in several sentences.

The conclusion is a written description of the implications of your work. It is important to state whether the results apply to a specific population or if the results are generalizable. This allows the reader to make assumptions as to the impact of the study on different populations.

Qualities of a Good Abstract

The abstract should be a summary of the report. Be sure to write well-developed paragraphs that are cohesive, logical and to the point. You'll also want to follow an established sequence with an introduction, body and conclusion.

Remember to include the specific sections as required by the publisher - usually the topic, problem statement, methodology, results and conclusions. The abstract should follow the presentation of the research paper or project and there should be logical transitions between ideas contained in the abstract. The abstract also should be easy to read and understood by a wide audience.

Helpful Hints

·               The abstract is a brief version of your paper so the most important facts must be gleaned and shaped into a coherent statement.

·               Follow an established pattern: why the topic is important, problem statement, approach, results and conclusions.

·               Follow the publisher's directions.

·               Meet the identified word count limitation.

·               Identify any major restrictions or limitations related to your study and state them clearly for the reader. 

·               Identify a half-dozen search phrases and keywords so your article can be found easily.

A well-written abstract is critical to the success of the research article. It not only draws readers to your work, it helps the reader to find your research. Just like professional writing, abstracts take practice. With frequent practice, you too can write the perfect abstract.

Victoria Kark is the nurse/manager mentor for Dimensions Healthcare System in Maryland and a doctoral student at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.

Facts and Figures Nursing Research Archives
  Last Post: July 27, 2010 | View Comments(3)

This article was very helpful to me as a writer and would be helpful to others that are beginning research or publications. I will keep this one handy to refer to as I begin my PhD program of study as I am sure there will be lots of writing opportunities ahead!

Susan Williams,  Instructor,  University of South AlabamaJuly 27, 2010
Fairhope, AL

Dear Victoria Kark,
very nice article, useful for all Nursing Researchers, Nurse Leaders, Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Administrators who are interested in their professional growth and interested in communicating their research findings, willing to share the knowledge to their fraternity., Thank you for posting. I am very happy to read and share the knowledge to my sector.

Neeraja KurudiJuly 13, 2010
Warren, MI

Great article, Vikki.
This should reach every nurse educator, especially those in distance learning programs. It is a clear template for what is expected in a scholarly paper.

Linda Royer, RN, PhD,  Online Course FacilitatorJuly 09, 2010
Orlando, FL


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