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Abstracts

Scholars often write abstracts for various applications: conference presentations may require an abstract or other short summary for a program; journal articles almost always require abstracts; invited talks and lectures are often advertised using an abstract. While the application may necessarily change the length of the abstract (a conference program may only allow for 50-75 words, for instance), the purpose and structure remains fairly constant.

Abstracts are generally kept brief (approximately 150-200 words). They differ by field, but in general, they need to summarize the article so that readers can decide if it is relevant to their work. The typical abstract includes these elements:

  • A statement of the problem and objectives
  • A statement of the significance of the work
  • A summary of employed methods or your research approach
  • A summary of findings or conclusions of the study
  • A description of the implications of the findings

Regardless of field, abstract authors should explain the purpose of the work, methods used, the results and the conclusions that can be drawn. However, each field purports slightly different ways to structure the abstract. A reliable strategy is to write the abstract as a condensed version of your article, with 1-2 sentences summarizing each major section. This means that in many of the sciences and a large portion of the humanities, abstracts follow a version of the IMRAD structure: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion.

Most scientific journals require authors to submit such abstracts. It is generally advisable to write the abstract in the English language. That is because most papers in other languages, especially Asian nations, tend to publish an English abstract with common search engines, such as, the MLA site.


Example Abstract

This example abstract follows the IMRAD structure closely. The first two sentences are the introduction and background information. Sentences 3-5 describe the methods used in the study. Sentence 6 summarizes the results, while the last two sentences summarize the discussion and conclusion of the study; they also indicate the significance of the results.

Usability and User-Centered Theory for 21st Century OWLs — by Dana Lynn Driscoll, H. Allen Brizee, Michael Salvo, and Morgan Sousa from The Handbook of Research on Virtual Workplaces and the New Nature of Business Practices. Eds. Kirk St. Amant and Pavel Zemlansky. Hershey, PA: Idea Group Publishing, 2008.

This article describes results of usability research conducted on the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). The Purdue OWL is an information-rich educational website that provides free writing resources to users worldwide. Researchers conducted two generations of usability tests. In the first test, participants were asked to navigate the OWL and answer questions. Results of the first test and user-centered scholarship indicated that a more user-centered focus would improve usability. The second test asked participants to answer writing-related questions using both the OWL website and a user-centered OWL prototype. Participants took significantly less time to find information using the prototype and reported a more positive response to the user-centered prototype than the original OWL. Researchers conclude that a user-centered website is more effective and can be a model for information-rich online resources. Researchers also conclude that usability research can be a productive source of ideas, underscoring the need for participatory invention.