Veronica Calderhead
Physical Sciences Librarian
May 21, 2008
Learning Tools: Class Guides: Dana Class Guides:
Chemistry Senior Seminar:
How to Write an Abstract
21:160:453 and 454
Professor: Dr. James Schlegel

An abstract is a brief summary of a paper or article, it should be between 150 to 250 words. The abstract of a scientific research paper must be comprehensive and include the following elements:

  • Statement of problem or purpose of research - approximately 1 sentence.
  • Experiment/methodology used and/or theoretical principles applied
  • Summarize the results/data/findings
  • State conclusions/applications - approximately 1 sentence.

Results must be conveyed in the present tense, and specific variables and tests often relayed in past tense. The abstract is a microcosm of the article, it must include the important elements, following the logic of the scientific paper (elements listed above), in a concise, organized, accurate and readable form. The abstract often determines whether or not to pursue the article so it is important that the information is conveyed. Keywords will also help with good indexing. Some ways of ensuring brevity are listed.


  • Abbreviations
  • Digits for numbers
  • Keywords you want used in the indexing
  • Nomenclature used within field/society/association

Do not include:

  • Evaluative or editorial content not found in the text
  • Lengthy equations or stuctures

Note that an abstract of a review article is slightly different. The elements to include in the abstract of a review article are: statement of topic, organization and scope of review, source type (published articles, conference papers, monographs, observations etc.), and the conclusion.

More information on writing an abstact can be found in the style guides listed below. The article "A Poster worth a thousand words: how to design effective poster session displays" (included in your handouts) also includes a section on writing an abstract.

  • The ACS Style Guide: A Manual for Authors and Editors by Janet S. Dodd. pp. 5-6 (DANA Ref QD8.5.A25 1986)
  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 4th ed, 1995 pp. 8-11 (DANA Ref BF76.7.P83 1984)
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