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Library 101

Abstracts: A Definition

An abstract is a condensed version of a larger piece of writing.  An abstract is concise and clear and includes the major points, purpose, methods and scope of the original work.

Two Types of Abstracts

Descriptive Abstracts

  • tell readers what information the report, article, or paper contains
  • do not provide results, conclusions, or recommendation
  • do not make judgments of the report, article, or paper
  • are usually very short, 100 words or less

Informative Abstracts

  • communicate specific information from the report, article, or paper
  • include the purpose, methods, and scope of the report, article, or paper
  • provide the report, article, or paper's results, conclusions, and recommendations
  • include findings from your analysis, research, and investigations
  • include a brief summary of your conclusion
  • are short - from a paragraph to two pages
  • the majority of abstracts are informative


Works cited:

Elements of an Abstract


All abstracts include:

  • A full citation of the source, preceding the abstract.
  • The most important information first.
  • The same type and style of language found in the original, including technical language.
  • Key words and phrases that quickly identify the content and focus of the work.
  • Clear, concise, and powerful language.

Abstracts may include:

  • The thesis of the work, usually in the first sentence.
  • Background information that places the work in the larger body of literature.
  • The same chronological structure as the original work.

How not to write an abstract:

  • Do not refer extensively to other works.
  • Do not add information not contained in the original work.
  • Do not define terms.

(This list of elements is adapted  from Philip Koopman's, “How to Write an Abstract.”; and the UNC-CH writing abstracts page.)

Words Matter

It is important to be purposeful when writing your abstract. You need to be concise and precise. Use active language that describes your work. Be purposeful when choosing your key words to describe your work. Use terms that easily identify your research and methods.

When do People Write Abstracts?

When do we use abstracts?

  • when submitting articles to journals, especially online journals
  • when applying for research grants
  • when writing a book proposal
  • when completing the Ph.D. dissertation or M.A. thesis
  • when writing a proposal for a conference paper
  • when writing a proposal for a book chapter

From the UNC-CH Writing Abstracts Page


Details About Abstracts

Follow the links above to learn more about writing abstracts.

From the UNC-CH writing center read carefully the following sections:

  • When do people write abstracts?
  • Types of abstracts
  • All abstracts include

From the USC writing center link read carefully the following sections:

  • Types of abstracts
  • Writing Style
  • What the abstract should not contain

Abstracts Quiz