Write an abstract


Neil Stamper

You have finished your work and are now submitting it for publication or assessment. The abstract is crucial – many readers will go no further.

Often, only the abstract of your work will be available online. It must be excellent and it must make sense alone, without the full document. If you don’t write one, someone else – who will know less about your work – may end up writing an abstract for you.

Remember, too, that many readers of your abstract will not share your mother tongue (or even your academic discipline): avoid fancy phrasing and excessive jargon.

How many words?

Limit yourself to – at most – the number of words (usually about 200) specified by the journal or academic regulation.

What should it say?

Condense the substance of your work and say why it is significant. Briefly describe what you did and how you did it. Be specific about numbers, rather than just saying many. Mention when and where the work was carried out.

If your results can be generalised, say so. For example, “Although our experiments used hedgehogs, the results apply to all four-legged beasts.”

Although you must be factual, you are under no obligation to be boring. Try to avoid passive language.

Encourage the reader into the full version – no one else will. Until you’re a bit famous, no other author will quote your work – and thus heighten your academic credibility – without reading the full version first.

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Please contact neil at wordpower.org.uk if you find this guide useful.