How to Write a Good Abstract
Dr. Rey Ty
Northern Illinois University
Most conference papers and journal articles must start their manuscripts with an abstract. There are no
hard and fast rules. Rules vary on the maximum number of words, ranging anywhere from 90 to 250
words: follow them strictly.
Abstracts are presented first, but written last. Why? The direction a paper takes changes, depending on
the availability of documents, people interviewed, and so on. Hence, no one really knows what the final
manuscript will look like, until it’s done. Hence, an abstract cannot be written ahead of time accurately,
as the shape and content of the paper changes, especially qualitative ones.
An abstract is not an introduction. An abstract is not a problem statement. Many people submit
manuscripts for academic journals and erroneously write the abstract an as extended introduction or
statement of the problem, either of which is wrong. In fact, many academic journals and conference
proceedings require the abstract to focus on the main findings or the implications of the research or
An abstract is the most condensed summary of your paper. It is the summary of summaries. An abstract
gives a good picture of your whole paper. Think of it as a bird’s eye view of the forest, affording you a
good glimpse of the trees, mountains, and rivers.
Strictly follow the required convention for a conference you are attending or an academic journal to
which you are submitting your article. Some put the word Abstract in its own line and in bold face.
Others put the word Abstract at the start of a paragraph, following by a colon. Others don’t even use the
word Abstract. The following is a template for a good abstract. You are not a machine, so please do not
simply fill in the blanks and use the same sentence structure in all your papers. You are human and show
your humanity and individuality by making your sentence structure and choice of words fit the mood
and flow of each of your papers. Of course you must feel free to put them in your own words, making
sure you show a variety of sentence structures and word choices in your different papers. Hare is the
bare bone skeletal structure of a good abstract. Some papers are theory-led or deductive for which you
must provide a theory. Other papers are theory-developing or inductive, for which you do not use a
theory in the front side but produce an original theory at the end. Other papers are abductive for which
you both use an existing theory in the introduction and produce a new theory in the conclusion. Many
academic journals remind contributors not to mention any author in the abstract. Don’t be boring (like
the template). Show power and drama: start or end your paper with a big bang!
This paper addresses the problem of __________________. The two research questions this
paper address are ___________________________ and _____________________. The two research
objectives are __________________ and ___________________. The important literature guiding this
research includes ___________, _____________, and ______________. The research methods used are
__________ and ________. There are two major findings. First, ____________________. Second,
________________. Implications for policy are ___________. Implications for the practice (of adult
education, for example) are ____________________.
Template for a PowerPoint (with a slide on Abstracts) can be found here
._DeKalb_IL_Northern_Illinois_University and here http://www.slideshare.net/reyty1/research-presentation-
Version 2 for writing an abstract is for a paper that is an integrative literature review (no field work, no
interviews, but putting literature together as one—not a patchwork, but an integrated whole). Major
elements of this type of abstract includes summary (or analysis), critique and synthesis. Read Richard
Torroco’s seminal journal article on how to write an integrative literature review.
Some papers require a listing of key words, the number of which is specified in each publication (such as
4 key words only or 8 key words maximum).
Abstract Sample Version 2 below.
Abstract: This paper critiques the debate about the purpose of HRD. Furthermore, it presents an
integrative literature review that provides a meta-theory, hitherto missing, to explain the reasons for
which there are endless disputes in the literature about the purpose of HRD. The synthesis explains that
ideology provides the guiding meta-theoretical framework from which contending literatures can be
classified into a taxonomy that includes the conservative, libertarian, and critical HRD schools of
Keywords: Defining Human Resource Development, Diversity, Change
All the best to your paper writing!