Many publishers have guidelines for abstracts for research papers that will be submitted to their journals. You may apply these guidelines to research papers you write for college classes. The abstract should be a succinct summary, be able to stand on its own without reference to the longer piece, and should not include information that is not in the longer piece. As with journal abstracts, abstracts for research papers should enable the reader to quickly decide whether or not to read the full text. The abstract should provide a statement of the paper's purpose and a summary of the main points in order. Use connecting words so that the writing flows properly. Once you have a draft, remove any unnecessary words that do not add to the meaning.
According to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed., p. 25-27), an abstract is a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of an article. It allows readers to survey the contents of an article quickly. Readers often decide on the basis of the abstract whether to read the entire article. A good abstract should be:
ACCURATE--it should reflect the purpose and content of the manuscript.
COHERENT--write in clear and concise language. Use the active rather than the passive voice (e.g., investigated instead of investigation of).
CONCISE--be brief but make each sentence maximally informative, especially the lead sentence. Begin the abstract with the most important points. The abstract should be dense with information.
An abstract of a report of an empirical study should describe: (1) the problem under investigation (2) the participants with specific characteristics such as age, sex, ethnic group (3) essential features of the study method (4) basic findings (5) conclusions and implications or applications.
An abstract for a literature review or meta-analysis should describe: (1) the problem or relations under investigation (2) study eligibility criteria (3) types of participants (4) main results, including the most important effect sizes, and any important moderators of these effect sizes (5) conclusions, including limitations (6) implications for theory, policy, and practice.
An abstract for a theory-oriented paper should describe (1) how the theory or model works and the principles on which it is based and (2) what phenomena the theory or model accounts for and linkages to empirical results.
An abstract for a methodological paper should describe (1) the general class of methods being discussed (2) the essential features of the proposed method (3) the range of application of the proposed method (4) in the case of statistical procedures, some of its essential features such as robustness or power efficiency.
An abstract for a case study should describe (1) the subject and relevant characteristics of the individual, group, community, or organization presented (2) the nature of or solution to a problem illustrated by the case example (3) questions raised for additional research or theory.
An abstract for a historical paper follows the same guidelines as mentioned above. Historical writing is different in that primary and secondary sources are analyzed and interpreted to provide a description of the past. Historical writing has been defined as "writing down what happened in the past, why and how it happened, and what results it had."
A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (7th ed.)
Many departments or universities require that a thesis or dissertation include an abstract summarizing its contents. In some cases, the abstract may be submitted as a separate document. Most universities have specific models for abstracts that include guidelines for content, length, format, and placement.