Jan 31, 2018 3 mins read

The Ins and Outs of Writing a Good Abstract

Introduction

Creating a lab report can be an extremely arduous process; it requires patience, critical thinking, and varying degrees of technical skills. However, sometimes it can be one little 300-word paragraph that proves to be the most difficult part of this entire process. Yes, I am talking about the abstract. It’s not always easy providing such a concise summary for a research report that may be several pages long, and that may have taken weeks, months, or even years to finish. I know I have had trouble writing out abstracts in the past. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to have recently attended the Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Conference (MURC) Abstract Writing Workshop at UBC. I learned a lot about writing abstracts, and hopefully I’ll be able to pass some of my new-found knowledge onto you.

The Basics

Let’s start off with some basics. An abstract is a 200-350-word summary of your research. Remember, the abstract serves an important purpose; it summarizes all the important and exciting information in your report Many readers will decide whether they want to read your paper or not based on this quick paragraph. Try not to use any jargon or acronyms, as not all of your readers may have expertise in your field of study. Also avoid including any unnecessary fluff or information; remember, you only have so many words to work with. Lastly, as with any formal paper, avoid the use of personal pronouns (e.g. us, we, I, etc.). Do remember to include sufficient background knowledge so that the reader has context when they are reading your paper. Another tip to follow is to have a peer proofread your abstract. This is a good rule of thumb to follow for any written piece; it is easy to miss errors in your own writing, even after reading it through multiple times. Lastly, be concise! I’ve said it before, but I will say it again. Readers need a concise abstract so that they can quickly decide whether the research being presented is of interest to them or not.

The Parts and Pieces of an Abstract

Onto the essentials of an abstract. What exactly should be included in an abstract? Here is a quick list of questions you’ll need to answer:

  • What did you do in your research?
  • Why did you perform the research?
  • How was it done?
  • What were your findings?
  • What do your results mean? Why is it significant?

The Structure

Now that we know what we need in our abstract, let’s begin to structure it in a logical order:

  • What did you do in your research?
  • Why did you perform the research?
  • How was it done?
  • What were your findings?
  • What do your results mean? Why is it significant?

1) Introduction

  • Background – provide an overview of the topic and existing research
  • What is the gap in knowledge? What are you trying to find out? Why did you perform the research?
  • What is the research question?

2) Research methods: what did you do? How was it done?

3) Results: what were your findings?

4) Conclusions: what do your results mean, and why are they important?

Remember, it is important to structure your abstract in a logical progression so that your reader understands what is going on. You want each sentence to have purpose, and to build from the last.

Conclusions

When writing out an abstract, don’t be intimidated! Just remember the basics, such as being concise, and avoiding the use of personal pronouns. Don’t forget to answer the essential questions in your abstract, and make sure it is structured in a logical order. Just follow those simple steps, and hopefully your abstract writing experience will be a little less stressful!

Visit the link below for examples of abstracts from last year’s MURC Conference https://students.ubc.ca/sites/students.ubc.ca/files/MURC%20Program%20Guide%202017.pdf

Information adapted from the “Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Conference (MURC) 2018 Abstract Writing Reference Sheet”


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Shivam Bhayana is a 3rd year Environmental Engineering student. His involvment with the Algae Biofuel Team stems from his interest...