The abstract briefly summarizes the research to give readers a preview of what is to come. Like the title, it must be correct but it is also an opportunity to attract potential readers, i.e. “market” your paper. It is usually a single paragraph of 100-300 words that outlines at least the topic, method, findings and research conclusions. It should stand alone, so don’t use terms or abbreviations that are only defined in the paper and don’t use citations as these require access to the references section. Since the abstract may appear in a list that readers peruse, keep it simple and to the point. Make it useful, so avoid meaningless statements like “This paper gathers data relevant to current theories and analyses it“. Take the opportunity to highlight what is interesting, new or the value the paper adds. Finally, take care to use the relevant keywords that someone interested in this topic might search for.
Don’t tease readers. The goal of the abstract is to give information not to tease readers to read on. So instead of saying “This paper draws several critical conclusions“, actually state the conclusions. Don’t think: “If I give my findings in the abstract, they won’t read on.” If your abstract gives no value, people won’t read on either. It should give enough information to make it worth reading the paper in depth.
What to include. An abstract usually gives at least:
- Topic, e. g. “This paper investigates user control as a factor in technology acceptance.”
- Method, e.g. “based on a protocol analysis of people facing new software.”
- Findings, e.g. “Systems that gave people more control were more accepted by experienced users.”
- Conclusions, e.g. “In allocating user control over the software, designers need to consider the experience level of the target audience.”
In summary, an abstract should at least give the topic, method, findings and conclusions of the research so a reader can decide whether to read the paper in depth. Ideally it also says why one should read it.