Write an abstract: 13 tips for the perfect scientific summary

The abstract is the figurehead of your scientific work. It should not omit important information, but it should not be too long. We’ll help you with 13 writing tips on your way to the perfect abstract.

Abstract: This is a scientific summary

An abstract is a short summary of a scientific paper. It does not evaluate and contains no interpretations, but merely provides facts about the present work. His main task is to provide an overview of the research work and to present its results. In most cases, an abstract is required when working in conjunction with empirical studies. But also in other, not empirical extensive works such as the Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis an abstract is often common.

The main features of an abstract are objectivity, brevity, intelligibility, completeness and accuracy. So you should not present your own opinion, save on superfluous or long phrases, express yourself clearly and stringently, reflect the structure of your work, omit any important information and present the facts exactly as they are.

These benefits has an abstract

An abstract can directly inform the reader about what the work is about. This has the advantage that the reader can decide immediately whether the present work is relevant for him or not. So he saves a lot of time in the research for his own work and sees at a glance whether it is worth reading the entire work. Another advantage is the fast delivery of information. Knowledge is presented quickly and easily in the form of the abstract and, if necessary, provides the corresponding background research as proof.

Write an abstract: With these 13 tips succeeds

The following tips will tell you what to look for in your abstract and what you should avoid. After all, it is the figurehead and the first impression of your scientific work. It should be interesting, but also factual. Informative but also short. We help you on the tightrope walk to the perfect abstract.

Do not confuse your abstract with an exposé

The exposé is intended to outline the entire research project in rough steps and will be prepared before the scientific work is written. It serves the structuring and gradual planning of the topic. The research question has not yet been answered and may still be open. An abstract is always written in retrospect and should present the content of the entire work as condensed and informative as possible. The research result is already here and should definitely be reflected in your abstract.

An abstract is different from the concluding part

Many a student will probably consider the idea of simply using the end of the paper as an abstract. Unfortunately it is not that easy. The conclusion contains in contrast to the abstract a rating of your results. In addition, it is much longer and its structure is not explicitly specified. However, the abstract certainly follows a certain order. These will be explained in more detail in the next chapter.

It also does not make a good impression if your examiner realizes that you have merely copied and reassembled parts of your work for your abstract. Write new sentences and expect to make maybe two to three designs. Choose from them the best or combine a perfect version of all your designs.

Retain construction and length

An abstract usually holds between 150 and 250 words. Its short length fulfills the function to quickly get a manageable view of your scientific work. However, if your lecturer or supervisor has other requirements, you should always adhere to them.

An abstract consists of four coarse components. It starts with the introduction including all important background information. What is the starting position? Which question and what goal did you pursue? Also mention the relevance and research context of your work here.

This is followed by a methodological part. Here, you briefly brief the reader on your research methods, identify key features that you have considered (for example, a subject’s characteristics in a study) and call your thesis or hypothesis. Afterwards you present your results and finally dedicate yourself to your conclusion. This subheading also includes discussion points, implications or applications.

Follow these stylistic requirements

As mentioned in the definition, the main characteristic of an abstract is its brevity, precision and completeness. Always remain objective and do not name anything that is not reflected in the main part of your scientific work. Do not use quotes and do not repeat the title, so you save a lot of space.

The linguistic requirements are in contrast to the slightly obsolete German standards, in which scientific papers are often formulated as cryptically as possible and decorated with a lot of specialist vocabulary. An abstract, on the other hand, should always be easy to understand and express everything clearly, so that interpretation work no longer needs to be done. There should be no misunderstandings and the knowledge should also reach as many people as possible (and not impress the lecturers).

Attention: Many universities demand an abstract in German and in English

It is not uncommon to have to formulate an abstract in both German and English. The universities have in mind that your research work can achieve as much coverage as possible through the international language English. If you are unsure about formulating the text in English yourself, ask a friend for help. Otherwise you will find out here how to really learn English. Editing and mentoring can also be helpful. In the next chapter you will learn more about the differences between an English and a German abstract.

Note the tense differences between English and German abstracts

Once you have written an abstract in English, unfortunately, you can not transfer your previous knowledge about it one to one to German. Of course, the reverse does not work either. The main difference here is the time. While it is customary in English to use the Present Tense in the first part of the abstract, in German it is mostly written in passive. Here is an example to illustrate:

German: A study is presented … / It is shown that …

The Tasks are based on … / The strategy is …

In the methodological part and conclusion of the abstract, the past tense is mostly used in German (something was stated, needed). In English also Past Tense, but also often in the active form (raised, manipulated etc.). Always make sure that you do not strictly maintain a time that does not correspond to what has happened in your work. For example, if you are talking about an older study, you should of course use a past tense.

Involve the reading group

Often the target group of scientific work in the abstract is forgotten. It is definitely advantageous to tell the reader from the beginning which subject areas your work touches. In general, you should make sure while writing that your work is interesting and vividly formulated for the reader. If your abstract is also concise and easily written, it probably attracts more readers than if you throw technical terms around you that nobody can imagine.

Ask yourself these questions

If you do not know what to do with your abstract, you can always keep the most important questions in mind. If you do not know what to write, you often start to add trivia. But that’s a fatal mistake when writing an abstract. For this reason, ask yourself the following questions over and over again, so that you do not forget anything and bring in nothing superfluous. Use it to complete.

What is the goal of my work?

For whom is my work interesting? Who belongs to the target group?

What is my result or are my results?

How did I work? (Theoretical or empirical, quantitative or qualitative, which methods have I used?)

The right time for an abstract

Again and again, students make the mistake of formulating the abstract right at the beginning of their work. On the one hand, this may be helpful, as you can get an overview of your work immediately, but rather write an exposé. The abstract should be formulated at the very end, if you have a trained view of your work. It is only at the very end of their work that many students realize exactly what they have done. It should be thought through from start to finish and reflected in your abstract.

Where does the abstract belong?

If your abstract is to be printed and submitted, it belongs between the cover page and your table of contents. This has the simple reason that it is usually not listed in the table of contents. It is also common practice at many universities not to have the abstract co-printed and only send it to the examiner online. Always follow the guidelines of your university and ask a fellow student if necessary or write an e-mail to your instructor.

Writing needs concentration

Create a space where you can concentrate well. In particular, the abstract needs a high concentration level because you have to focus on the most important facts of your work. Make sure you do not get disturbed while trying to write it down. The abstract is not long anyway, so if you’re going to take breaks, it probably never ends and you have to read in again and again. Here’s how to increase your concentration.

Schedule a fixed time to write your abstract

Since it is not very long and one theoretically “just has to summarize”, many students take the abstract lightly. However, those who are more likely to suffer writer’s blocks, become ill or have other sudden incidents that disrupt planning can quickly become distressed. For this reason, it is important to schedule fixed times and to count on possible confounding factors. In particular, if you’ve been great at managing your time so far, it would be a shame if writing your abstract would get you out of this plan.

Orient yourself to other abstracts

If you absolutely do not know how to start or have doubts about whether your abstract is good or not, look at other scientific summaries. Look in journals, anthologies or find out if there is not even a collection of scientific papers online where you can search for similar topics. If you find an abstract on a topic that is similar to yours, it will be most easy for you to compare and be inspired by the phrasing.