What is an Abstract?

An “abstract” is a short summary of an academic paper. You may have seen/read some of them already while doing research. It’s a paragraph that comes before the essay itself– in APA style, it comes after the title page but before the introduction. It lives on its own page.

It’s similar to the blurbs you find on the back of books, but with one important difference: book blurbs want to hook the reader (to get you to read the book) and don’t spoil the ending. Abstracts spoil the ending. A reader should be able to read your abstract and know what the entire paper is about, including a one or two sentence summary of your findings.

Click here to see an example. On this example, ignore everything above the part that says VARYING DEFINITIONS OF ONLINE COMMUNICATION. That part in all caps is the running head for the paper. Everything above it was added by Purdue OWL just for the purposes of this example.

Notice that after the abstract, there are a few keywords. When researchers publish in scholarly journals, they are asked to choose up to 5 keywords that the paper will be sorted under, to help people find it when searching online or in libraries. Choose some words (almost always nouns) that encapsulate the main concepts involved in your paper.

My Tips

Only write about the most important details for someone to understand your paper. You may be able to steal some language from your proposal, with small revisions.

  • What is your general topic?
  • What is your main inquiry question?
  • What are the main arguments or pieces of evidence you discuss?
  • What is your answer, conclusion, or findings?

Try to have only 1-2 sentences for each one.

For more guidance, check out this Powerpoint by Dr. Edward Kennedy, another English professor here at John Jay.

What’s the Point of an Abstract?

So readers can know what your paper is about without having to read the whole thing!

Also because most scholarly articles exist behind paywalls. You can read the abstract for free, but you have to pay money (or belong to a university whose library has paid money) to read the whole thing.

That’s why you have to go through the library website to find most scholarly articles– in addition to the many helpful search functions the library site provides, you wouldn’t be able to access most of the articles if you found them through Google! Academic articles are very expensive, and none of the money goes to the author.

For example, here is an article I wrote. You can read the abstract for free on the site! However, it costs $44 for someone to read it without library access. But if someone buys it, I get $0. The abstract is a teaser!

FUN MONEY-SAVING FACT: Often, if you want to read an article, but can’t figure out how to access it for free through the library, you can google the professor and email them asking for a PDF. They will probably give it to you.

One thought on “What is an Abstract?

  1. Pingback: Module 7 (May 2-11): Drafting and Revising the Final Paper | ENG 101-11 Spring 2020 at John Jay

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