College of Natural Science & Mathematics

How to Write an Abstract

The abstract is the reader's first encounter with your paper, and is the chief means by which scientists decide which research reports to read in their entirety. The abstract should provide a brief summary of the findings of the paper, and should be a stand-alone document that can be understood without reading the paper.

The body of the abstract should be included as a section of your scientific paper. You will also submit a separate formal abstract as part of your ASHSSS registration materials. (See Formal Abstract Guidelines and Formal Abstract Example.) The formal abstract and the abstract you include with your paper will have different formats for the heading, but the body of the abstract will be the same for both versions.

Format

The abstract included with your paper should be on the page immediately after the title page. The section heading should be centered, with one line of space between the section heading and the body of the abstract. The abstract must be single-spaced and should contain no more than 200 words.

The Body of the Abstract

The abstract is a very brief overview of your ENTIRE study. It tells the reader WHAT you did, WHY you did it, HOW you did it, WHAT you found, and WHAT it means. The abstract should briefly state the purpose of the research (introduction), how the problem was studied (methods), the principal findings (results), and what the findings mean (discussion and conclusion). It is important to be descriptive but concise--say only what is essential, using no more words than necessary to convey meaning.

The Abstract Worksheet Example and Abstract Worksheet shown below may be helpful as you prepare the first draft of your abstract.

There is no standard arrangement for the parts of an abstract. The sequence of the parts in your abstract may be completely different from that in your scientific paper (and different from the sequence shown in the example). Choose a sequence that best allows you to convey the needed information in the fewest words possible.

Abstract Worksheet Example

The Abstract Worksheet that follows may be used to help you prepare the first draft of your abstract. (Some projects may not lend themselves to this format, so don't feel that you need to use the worksheet.) The sequence of sentences in the Abstract Worksheet is ordered in a logical fashion, beginning with an introduction and proceeding to your hypothesis, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion.

Think of the most important items that crystallize each part of your project. Leave out unimportant details. As a first draft (using the Abstract Worksheet), write one or two sentences that summarize each section. For your final draft, make sure the abstract "flows" logically. Give it to a friend to read. Ask them to tell you what they think you actually did and what you found. Revise as necessary.

Below you will find an example of a completed abstract worksheet.

Introduction

The food habits of larval butterflies of two related species from a zone of overlap near Oil City, PA were examined.

Hypothesis

The theory of competitive exclusion predicts that food habits of closely related species should not overlap significantly where species occur together.

Methods

Transects in five different habitats were used to determine food and habitat preferences in wild populations. Two species of captive caterpillars were offered various food in the laboratory; weight changes of foods and caterpillars were determined daily.

Results

Food habits in overlapping habitats were significantly different between the two species (ANOVA p= 0.001). Food habits in non-overlapping habitats were not significantly different (ANOVA p= 0.52). There were no differences in food preferences (ANOVA p= 0.76) or growth rates (ANOVA p= 0.88) on different foods in laboratory maintained populations.

Discussion

These species are able to coexist because they are not competing for the same, and limiting, food resources in the same area.

Conclusion

These results support the theory of competitive exclusion because the two species did not use the same food resources from similar habitats.

Abstract Worksheet