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Research abstracts are a vital part of scientific communication, and are written to inform the reader about the purpose of the research carried out, the results, and the conclusions drawn from the findings. The abstract is also a convenient place to include citations to the literature consulted during the research process. The length of an abstract is determined by the significance and importance of the research being presented.
In a research paper, the abstract is the first part of your paper that readers read. The abstract is most effective if it is short. A long abstract makes it harder for the reader to find the important information in the paper. When the reader reads a long abstract, the reader may decide that the topic of the paper is not important. A short abstract gets the reader’s attention and keeps the reader’s attention by using interesting words and a clear topic sentence.
The abstract is probably the most important part of your research paper. Other than the title, this may be the only part of the article that people read. Further reading depends in part on the quality of your summary.
The executive summary can also be the only part of your document that is subject to a maximum word count. Most journals have a word limit of 250-300 words, and some journals require the abstract to be no longer than 150 words. Writing an excellent essay is almost an art, but writing an essay with word restrictions is usually a science.
Why do magazines limit the number of words for annotations?
There are several reasons why your summary should be short and sweet. Journals want readers to buy your work and other researchers to cite your research in their articles. A higher number of citations means a higher impact factor of the journal. The best way to sell your research is to grab the reader’s attention with a good title and summary. Finally, there is the problem of space. Magazines want your summary to fit on half a page, so the reader doesn’t have to scroll down to read everything.
When it comes to summaries, less is more. Only basic information should be given. A short, concise abstract draws readers to your research and helps the journal attract more readers and get more citations. The trick is to shorten your summary to meet the word limit. Here are some tried and true methods to achieve this.
Unnecessary swearing and omitting adverbs.
William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, in their famous writing guide Elements of Style, talks about how to reduce word count in abstracts: Delete unnecessary words. Many writers, especially academics, fill their texts with words that just aren’t necessary.
A cover-up is a word or phrase used to make a statement rather than state a fact. It’s always good to be careful, especially in academic writing, but many writers use profanity when it’s not necessary. Among the most commonly used cover-ups are the verbs appear and seem. In the following examples you can see why removing the cover words does not change the meaning.
Hedge: Maroni syndrome seems to affect quality of life.
No hedge: Maroni syndrome affects the quality of life.
Hedge: Ibuprofen reduces pain in most patients.
No hedge: Ibuprofen reduces pain in most patients.
In both pairs, the first and second sentences have essentially the same meaning, except that in the second sentence the word hedge is omitted. Note that the second examples make more sense and can be understood without the extra words.
Omitting unnecessary adverbs is another simple way to reduce the number of words in an annotation.
With unnecessary adverbs: We slowly and carefully dissected the vagus nerve.
No unnecessary adverbs: We dissected the vagus nerve.
Decomposing is by definition slow and painstaking (or should be!). If you remove unnecessary adverbs slowly and carefully, you will get a sentence with the same meaning and three fewer words. Use adverbs in situations where they actually affect meaning or have an impact on the reader or interpretation.
Remove inappropriate and unnecessary transitions.
Adverbs in quotes are more commonly known as transition terms, and while they can be very useful for adding structure and fluidity to the text of an article, they are often used unnecessarily or even incorrectly in a summary. The most commonly used subjunctives are: however, moreover, therefore, in addition, and so on.
This combination is also probably the most commonly used redundant adverb in scientific articles. Some writers use this word because they think it makes them sound more academic. Others use it because they know it is a grammatical error to begin a sentence with the conjunction and. However, it is almost always possible to remove it from a sentence without changing the meaning. See what happens when you remove the word from these sentences.
With a transition: We also dissected the vagus nerve.
No transition: We dissected the vagus nerve.
In the above example, it also makes no sense as a transition term. Other transitional terms (moreover, therefore, in addition, etc.) would also be somewhat redundant in terms of how the study or experiment was conducted.
With a transition: In addition, patients with Boni-Maroni syndrome may experience hot flashes and fatigue.
No transition: Patients with Boni-Maroni syndrome may experience hot flashes and fatigue.
Note that these two sentences have exactly the same meaning with and without the accompanying transition term. These transitions can be very useful in the longer parts of the main body of the document, especially the introduction and discussion/conclusion.
Use the active voice instead of the passive voice.
One way to shorten your summary is to use a rule you may have learned in grade school: Use the active rather than the passive voice. In active constructions, the subject performs the action. In passive voice, the action is performed by a subject, usually an unnamed actor. Academics seem to be in love with the passive voice, which is found in many books, only increasing the word count and making the text less engaging. Because of this long tradition, many people think they look more scientific. Others actively avoid talking because they find it too personal. It’s a disgrace. In the active voice, your sentences are often more compelling and weighty, as the following examples show:
The passive voice: Pituitary cells were cultured in irradiated dishes (12 words).
Active voice: We cultured pituitary cells in irradiated dishes (7 words).
The passive voice: Three hundred and forty five patients who had undergone oophorectomy in our institution (17 words) were included in the present study.
Active voice: We included 345 patients who had undergone oophorectomy (8 words).
Remember that research does not happen by itself; research is done by scientists. Avoid using the passive voice in the summary – leave that for the methods section!
Do not include methods or statistical results in the summary.
Most scientific articles contain statistical data. In general, statistical methods are described in detail in the Methods section of the article. But many authors, for some reason, have to mention the statistics in the abstract, perhaps to give the details first. However, if your article is not primarily about statistics, it is best to omit the statistics from the summary and stick to language that reflects the main results of the study. Statistics not only increase the word count, but also interrupt the flow of arguments. Of course, you don’t need to tell the reader what statistical tests you used or what version of the statistical program you used – that’s what the Methods section is for. And never go into detail about the exact results of your search – that’s what the results section is for.
Consent, approval and other things that do not belong in an extract
Some authors place information about patient consent and Institutional Review Board approval in the abstract. While this information is really important, it does not need to be included in the summary. Like statistics, permission slips interrupt the flow of your argument. The reader can expect to find information on consent and authorization in the Methods section. If you do not include this information in the abstract, you will have more room to describe the importance of your research.
Word limits are not targets
Remember, the 250-word limit doesn’t mean you should try to get as close to it as possible. The best annotations contain all the necessary information long before the word limit is reached. Use the tips above to create a more compact and concise summary that attracts readers and encourages them to read the full study.
For other useful guides on academic and research writing, see the links below or the Wordvice Academic Resources page.
Write the results section of the research paper
How to write a literature review
Tips for writing research papers How do you set up a meaningful discussion section?
How to captivate magazine readers with a solid introduction
Tips to make your CV a success!
APA citation guide for academic writing
Guidelines for writing research paper abstracts. (Academic Conferences and Publishing International Limited)
How many words should a summary contain? (search port)
Strunk and White. Elements of style. (PDF)
Social science research institute Recapitulation. (University of Southern California Libraries)
This source has been very much helpful in doing our research. Read more about how to write an abstract for a research paper and let us know what you think.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long should an abstract be for a research paper?
As a student, you have probably been asked to write an abstract for your research papers. You may have also been told that you should keep the abstract no more than 150 words. But what does that mean? Time and again, students are told to keep their abstracts to a one page, single spacing in length. But when crafting an abstract for a research paper, should the length be more or less? In this guide, we’ll explore the features and limitations of abstracts, and then focus on the question of length. 2016 Category Winner: Writing for a Business Blog Many thanks to anyone who voted for me in the “Best In Show” category. Winner:
How do you shorten a research paper?
The biggest mistake that students make when writing a research paper is that, they do not know how to write an abstract. You must realize that it is the main attraction of the research paper. It should be well organized. It should be precise. It should be appealing. It should be persuasive. It should grab the attention of the reader. It must not be lengthy. It must be precise and to the point. It must be written in such a way that the reader is persuaded to continue reading the research paper.
The research paper is an important part of almost any academic program, assigned to help students develop their research and writing skills. While the length of a paper varies by class and professor, its general structure is the same: introduction, body, and conclusion. These sections are further divided into paragraphs, which should be limited to one idea per paragraph, with the introduction and conclusion paragraphs being a paragraph each.
What is the typical length of an abstract?
When you are writing your finished abstract, the main thing that you need to remember is that the purpose of an abstract is to entice your readers into reading the entire paper. The abstract should be a relatively short summary of what is contained in the paper. It should not go into unnecessary detail. If you would like to be more detailed, you can always include a longer introduction in your paper. An abstract is the summary of a research paper. It is usually written before the main paper is completed. The abstract is meant to give a brief overview of the paper, including the main topic, research methods, research questions, the main results, and any major conclusions. An abstract can be a maximum of 300 words, but most are much shorter. Typically, the abstract appears at the beginning of a research paper, before the introduction.