Early Career Professionals How To Toolkit

How to Write an Abstract

What is an abstract?

An abstract is a short summary of a larger work, like a research paper, poster, or oral presentation. Usually about a paragraph long, abstracts help readers quickly get the gist of what the larger work is about. Abstracts are commonly submitted when applying to present at a conference or to have research published in an academic journal. Think of your abstract as a commercial for your work that highlights what the audience might find interesting or compelling and what advances practices or knowledge in your field.



How to write an abstract?

Abstracts are written for a variety of purposes (e.g., research papers, posters) and applications (e.g., conference presentations, academic journals), and thus vary in terms of their content. Generally, abstracts:

  • Contain background information; 
  • Pose central questions or a statement of the problem; 
  • Discuss what you did and why;
  • Summarize results or findings; and 
  • Reflect on their significance.

Types of Abstracts

Policies, Programs, Evaluations.

Abstracts about policies, programs, interventions, and research evaluations might include the following elements:

  • Issues: Include a short summary of the issues centered or addressed by your project, experience, service, or advocacy program.
  • Description: Describe the project, program, intervention or research evaluation. 
  • Lessons learned: Describe the results of the project, program, intervention or research evaluation and any lessons learned.

Recommendations: Name your next steps and recommendations.

Academic Research

Abstracts written for scientific papers and conference presentations generally follow a more structured format with the following elements:

  • Background: Include a brief overview of the study objectives, hypothesis, or the significance of the problem.
  • Methods: Describe how the research was conducted, including study design, data collection, and specific methodologies.
  • Results: Summarize key findings and outcomes of the research.  

Conclusion: Briefly describe the study’s outcome and potential implications.

Get Started Guide

Planning your abstract

Check submission guidelines
– Guidelines differ by outlet and institution. Check the submission guidelines and follow all instructions. Viewing sample abstracts or abstracts from past years that may be available for the outlet to get a sense for its style and preferences.

Determine format There are two common formats for abstracts: descriptive and informative. The content, structure, and narrative of your abstract will depend on the format.

  • Descriptive abstracts are typically between 100 and 120 words and briefly summarize the project.
  • Informative abstracts are usually 250+ words and contain key findings and results.

Brainstorm content Getting started is always the hardest part. Begin to brainstorm content by asking yourself some questions: 

  • Activities: What did you do or what are you doing? 
  • Audience: Who are you writing for? What will they be interested in learning about?
  • Impact: Why did you do the work that you did? What impact did or might it have?
  • Lessons Learned: What did you find or learn along the way? How can your work inform other projects?

To help generate ideas, put pen to paper (literally or digitally). Workshop a few ideas. Try them out on a peer or colleague and ask for feedback.

Writing your abstract

Once you decide on direction, you’re ready to get writing! A well-written abstract makes it easy for the reader to understand your project’s purpose and objective. 

Prepare a draft – Even though your abstract is only one paragraph, it is important to ensure your messaging is clear, concise, and cohesive. Write to be understood. Your abstract should be understandable to your audience. Avoid unnecessary jargon. Your abstract should be well-organized and well-written, it should flow smoothly, and it must accurately summarize our project. Multiple revisions can help you get to a more polished product. It is good practice to share a draft with a peer, advisor, or supervisor and get their feedback.

Finalize draft – A draft may go through several revisions before it is finalized. Editing is a critical step in finalizing. Through an editing process, content is fine-tuned and mistakes within the text are remedied. You will edit your own work, of course, but it is also smart to recruit the help of a peer or mentor. Having another pair of eyes on your work can help ensure a best-quality final product. Be sure to make use of the built-in spelling and grammar tools of your word processing application, or utilize a third-party software like Grammarly.

The latest public health &
equity content

Straight to your inbox

Skip to content