Writing the Abstract

Like most kinds of writing, there is a formula for writing the abstract, also sometimes called a summary or executive summary in business writing. The exact formula you use for writing the abstract will vary slightly according to the type of study you are performing. However, all abstracts should be:

NONEVALUATIVE: Describe what is in the text, not comment on it. In effect, you are serving as a reporter who is writing a simple description so that others have an accurate summary of its contents.

CONCISE: The exact number of words will vary according to your purpose. But the general guideline for word count is 100 to 250 words. 

For a more specific formula, the Bedford Handbook (7th Edition) offers this handly color-coded outline of the four major sections found in most academic abstracts:

In recent years, policymakers and medical experts have expressed alarm about the growing problem of childhood obesity in the United States. While most agree that the issue deserves attention, consensus dissolves around how to respond to the problem.  This literature review examines one approach to treating childhood obesity: medication. The paper compares the effectiveness for adolescents of the only two drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for long-term treatment of obesity, sibutramine and orlistat. This examination of pharmacological treatments for obesity points out the limitations of medication and suggests the need for a comprehensive solution that combines medical, social, behavioral, and political approaches to this complex problem.

  1. The abstract begins with a statement (pink) of the overall topic (childhood obesity) to provide context.
  2. This is followed by the problem statement (aqua) or the specific issue that the paper will focus on.
  3. Next, comes the approach (green) or what will happen in the paper (in this case, a literature review).
  4. Last are the results, or the conclusions arrived at (yellow). 
Write the abstract for your report due in this class. Copy and paste it into a reply to this thread for review.

Writing the Abstract
Below is a video guide to writing the abstract that was developed for students enrolled in UMGC's upper-division courses and graduate school.