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Research abstract – what exactly is it?

Writing a research abstract is an important part of writing a research paper. The abstract works akin to a synopsis. It allows the reader of your paper to understand what the purpose of the research is, what methods you’ve used, the major findings of your study and what conclusions you have come to through interpreting the data you have found. It is particularly important if you are presenting your research to either a university or a company. Either will read your abstract first to see what the contents of your research is and whether they are interested in it. Your abstract is a means of selling your research as legitimate and explaining how you have come to the conclusions presented in your paper. Through your abstract you will be able to convince the reader that you are a serious researcher and that you can back up any assertions made in the body of your research with evidence found during the process of inquiry.


However, it can sometimes be difficult to understand how to write an abstract. You may find it hard to sum up all the research that you’ve conducted in a logical a precise way. The process of writing an abstract can be time consuming if you don’t know how to do it and as it is such a vital part of your overall research, it is something that should not be ignored or disregarded. That is why this article is designed to help anyone who needs to write an abstract and doesn’t know how to. By breaking it down this article will make sure that you can write any abstract that you like.

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First, let’s look at the different type of abstracts. As there is more than one way to write an abstract and more than one type of abstract, it is important to be precise and make sure that you know which one is appropriate for your research paper and which one isn’t or else it could cause your paper to be seen as unprofessional and thus mean your research is not used. Let’s break down the different types of abstracts to see which is the one you should use.

  • Critical Abstract. A critical abstract is perhaps the least used type of abstract, but it is still important to discuss as there are some circumstances in which it can be used. A critical abstract is traditionally longer than a normal abstract, somewhere between four hundred and five hundred words. As well as focussing on the usual aspects of an abstract, a critical abstract also analyses and criticises the data in your research more thoroughly and attempts to make comparisons between your research and other work in the field. These types of abstracts are usually associated with businesses and the sale of research because they are attempting to draw direct comparison between your work and the work of other people in the field; most academics would not make such an obvious link in the abstract as that is the purpose of the paper. However, if you are part of a polling company attempting to sell your services to an organisation and want to provide them with a sample this type of abstract would be most useful to you because it allows direct comparison.
  • Descriptive Abstracts. In contrast to Critical Abstracts, Descriptive Abstracts avoid commenting on the research at all costs. These type of abstracts are usually very short and talk exclusively about the information discovered and included in the research rather than attempting to make any interpretation of the possible meaning of the research. This ensures that this type of abstract is very limited and doesn’t often get used because it is seen by some academics as not being explanatory enough and more akin to an outline than a summary. However, if you are attempting to circulate research in an office or a facility department that is already familiar with the research you are doing and wants the results rather than having the possible outcomes explained to them, then this type of abstract is perfect as it simply sets out the information included without passing any unnecessary comment. Descriptive Abstracts are best used for internal research and would not be suitable if you were trying to present research for an outside body, such as supplementary material as part of your dissertation as they lack the breadth of analysis to constitute any meaningful judgement of the work.
  • Informative Abstract. These types of abstracts are used the most, particularly by academics as they conform more to the norms of academia than any other type of abstract. Informative abstracts combine the explanatory nature of a descriptive abstract with the analysis of a critical abstract to present a complete picture of the data, highlighting not only the research methods used but also the point of the research and the main argument behind why the research is important. Informative Abstracts also make some judgements on the work in the research but unlike Critical Abstracts they don’t attempt to directly compare the work presented with other work in the field. This makes them more effective because that is something that the main research paper should deal with and is superfluous in an abstract. The informative abstract also allows the reader to quickly and comprehensively asses the validity of your research and the means by which you have come to the conclusions you have. It therefore is the probably the best abstract to choose as it combines all the positive elements of the other abstracts and can be used in both academic and business situations without too much editing either way.
  • Highlight Abstract. A Highlight Abstract is designed to highlight a particular aspect of the research to the reader and to draw their attention to it. Like the Critical Abstract, it may draw comparison between one type of research and your research to highlight favourable elements of the research you have conducted. Highlight Abstracts are not generally used by academics, as unlike other types of abstract, they are seen as being overly biased and attempting to convince the reader of one particular point rather than produce a complete picture of the evidence. However, if you work in a business and want to promote one particular part of your research to a client then a Highlight Abstract, like the Critical Abstract would be a preference for you. It allows you to showcase something that you think the client would think was particularly important and allows them to decide whether they want to work with your company or not. As such, whilst it is frowned upon by academics, the Highlight Abstract is highly useful if you are active in the world of business.

Once you have decided which type of abstract you want to use, it is time to decide how best to write your abstract. The style in which you write it is important because if you fail to use an appropriate tone to the type of abstract you have chosen then you will not get the desired effect that you want.

When writing an abstract, it is important to remember that the style of your abstract should reflect the abstract you have decided to use. For instance, if you want to use a Highlight Abstract as a means of advertising your research rather than circulating it to other academics, your style should be persuasive. It should also be unambiguous – you are trying to highlight something rather than subtly imply it so that, though your language should be intended to convince the reader of the merits of the research it should not try to shy away from the fact that you want them to look at something very particular in regards to the research and understand it clearly. This means that a certain amount of bluntness is needed to be sure to get your message across.

The other types of abstracts should be written differently. Whilst they are all different in some way, they all should have an academic style to them. Whilst the Highlight Abstract could still be considered academic because it cannot be separated from the research that it accompanies and only highlights one aspect of the research it cannot be considered completely academic and thus you can use a more colloquial style. The other abstracts, however, are certainly more academic and require a stronger academic influence on how they are written.

For instance, whilst a Critical Abstract draws links and contrasts between other papers and its own research, it still needs to do this in an academic way; it cannot compare them in an insulting and slighting way but simply as a means of drawing attention to any failures of one type of research as opposed to another. This means that this type of abstract must be professional, as must other abstracts. A Descriptive Abstract can describe the methods used in the research and not make any direct assessment of them, but it should not do so in a simplistic way – it has to fully explain the methodology used and the extent to which the methods are effective in gathering data. These types of abstract must be utterly thorough and clinical in their assessment of the research they are describing.

Similarly, when writing an Informative Abstract, it is important to make sure that your style is academic as you are assessing all parts of the research and making clear why it is important. Through your use of style you’ll be able to convey as much as you will with the content of your abstract; if your style is at odds with the research you are presenting and seem unprofessional then your entire abstract will be let down and it will be likely that your client or whoever is reviewing the work will see it as unprofessional and lacking in depth. You must make sure that your abstract has a style that is consistent with academic standards of excellence – unless you are writing a Highlight Abstract which is more open to the use of colloquial language and a more direct means of drawing your reader’s attention to one particular area of the research.

Now that you have reviewed what style of abstract you feel is necessary for your particular research paper and thus decided upon which type of abstract you feel is needed for your paper, it is time to discuss how to write a good abstract. Writing a good abstract isn’t just about the use of the correct type of style for that abstract or making sure that you include the conventions of an abstract in it, it is also about how you write it. You must consider the right tone to use and the correct way to address the issues and reasons for your research in a way that does not stray into an outright explanation, as that is the job of the paper itself, but to include enough information to ensure that the reader has a clear grasp of what you are saying but also understands the implications of your research for the wider field and how it may be useful in the future.

  • Make sure that it is informative. Regardless of what type of abstract your abstract is, you have to make sure that it is informative. The key of any good abstract is to convey information is an easy, authoritative way about the research you have done and what conclusions you have come to as a result of it. You have to make sure that your abstract has enough information for your reader to understand the general idea of it but not too much information that they feel as if they don’t need to read the paper – that isn’t the aim of your abstract, it is to make clear what the reader can find out in the paper if they want to read on.
  • Coherent and cohesive. Your abstract must be coherent, and you have to make sure when writing it that it is clear what you are talking about; don’t assume knowledge that your reader may not have as this may result in the missing of a key point and they may not wish to read the full research paper. It is also important to make sure that your abstract should be cohesive and not use bullet points – whilst it might get your point across easier it may also make the reader feel that you lack authorial credibility.
  • Make sure to use the past tense. When writing your abstract make sure to use the past tense as you are referring to research that has already been done and published. It will seem odd if you attempt to write your abstract as if the research is on going and it will make your entire paper seem unprofessional and you will be less likely to get the recognition for your work that you deserve.
  • Write it after the fact. Whilst your abstract will go first in your paper it is important to write it after you have conducted all your researched and properly analysed it. Some people fall into the trap of wanting to get the abstract out of the way before they have done anything else and so do it first. Make sure you don’t do that as it will only hinder the rest of your paper and make it less effective and reduce its impact on the reader.

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