The abstract: The All-Important First Impression

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We’ve all heard the phrase “first impressions count” and, whether it is for a job interview or even a first date, we all want to make a good impression. When writing an article, dissertation or thesis, your abstract provides the first impression of your work. Based on the brief description provided in the abstract, readers will determine whether or not they want to invest the time to read what you have written.

The main aim of the abstract is to provide a concise overview of your work. The length will vary depending on the guidelines of your university department or the particular journal to which you may be submitting an article. Some can be as short as 150 words while others may be 300 to 400 words.

The style of an abstract may vary depending on the discipline. However, typical components include the purpose, research design, methods, results, and conclusions of the study. The purpose of the study usually includes the reason(s) for the investigation and the objectives. It also situates the study within the wider field of research. The research design refers to the type of approach you are using for your study (e.g., case study, randomized controlled trial, ethnography). Your design should be chosen because it is the most appropriate for answering your particular research questions. The methods portion of the abstract provides the techniques (e.g., interviews, surveys, observations) you used for the study. Lastly, the abstract contains your results or your findings, along with what you have concluded from those findings.

Again, the perfect abstract will vary depending on the discipline. A hard science abstract will differ from one in the social sciences. Check with your university department for their specific guidelines for preparing abstracts. You may also find it useful to examine abstracts found in peer-reviewed journals within your subject-area. There will be some that stand out as excellent. Consider saving them to use as models for your own work to help ensure that your abstract provides a great first impression!

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