Best Practice

How to Write an Abstract for Your Research Paper

This article offers practical guidance on crafting compelling research paper abstracts for social sciences, detailing their purpose, structure, and key components. It also provides insight into what makes a good abstract and outlines the basic structure of a research paper.
Lauren Stewart
Qualitative Data Analysis Expert & ATLAS.ti Professional
  1. Introduction
  2. The basic research paper structure
  3. What is the main purpose of an abstract?
  4. What are some examples of abstracts?
  5. Aspects included in an abstract
  6. What makes a good abstract?
  7. How to write an abstract


Writing an effective research abstract is a critical step in scientific research dissemination, particularly in the social sciences. An abstract serves as a concise summary of your research paper, providing a quick overview of your study's aim, research methodology, results, and conclusions. It enables readers to quickly assess the relevance and scope of your work, aiding in the wider dissemination of your research findings. Given its importance, understanding the structure and components of a well-crafted abstract is crucial for researchers. This article offers clear, step-by-step guidance on constructing a coherent and informative abstract for research papers published in peer-reviewed journals within the social sciences. By focusing on clarity and conciseness, this guide aims to support researchers in effectively communicating the essence of their work to an academic audience.

A research paper abstract is a concise description of your study.

The basic research paper structure

For most scientific journals, research papers follow a similar structure or, at minimum, have a basic set of shared components. Typically, this structure comprises an abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. The introduction sets the stage, outlining the research question, background information, and the study's significance. It provides context and articulates the research's objectives and hypotheses.

The methods section details the research design, data collection, and analysis procedures, offering enough information for transparency and potential replication. This part is crucial for establishing the study's validity and reliability. Following this, the results section presents the findings in a clear, logical order, often supported by tables, figures, and statistical analyses to illustrate the data.

The discussion interprets the results, linking them back to the research questions and the existing body of literature. It examines the implications of the findings, acknowledges any limitations, and suggests directions for future research. The conclusion summarizes the key findings and their relevance, reinforcing the study's contribution to the field.

In addition to these core components, research papers may include acknowledgments, references, and, occasionally, appendices. These elements support the main text, offering acknowledgment, supplementary information, or detailed data that underpin the research's integrity and transparency. Understanding this structure is foundational for both writing and reading scientific research, providing a consistent framework that facilitates knowledge dissemination and scholarly communication.

Writing scientific papers requires understanding common structures of research writing. Photo by Alejandro Escamilla.

What is the main purpose of an abstract?

The primary function of a research paper abstract, especially within the context of peer-reviewed social science journals, is to succinctly summarize the core aspects of the entire paper. While many genres of academic writing do not require abstracts, journal audiences need a way to get concise information about research articles to determine where they should devote their reading time. Good abstract writing includes outlining the research question, methodology, key findings, and conclusions. By doing so, the abstract provides a clear and concise overview, enabling readers to quickly gauge the paper's relevance and decide whether to delve into the full text.

In research writing, the abstract serves as a critical navigational tool, guiding scholars and practitioners through a vast landscape of literature. Informative abstracts help in efficiently categorizing and indexing articles, thereby enhancing their discoverability in academic databases. This feature is particularly valuable in a field characterized by a constant influx of new research, facilitating quick identification of pertinent studies.

Moreover, the abstract operates as a standalone piece, often circulated independently of the full paper. It must, therefore, encapsulate all vital information, allowing readers to grasp the study's essence without needing to access the entire document. This characteristic is crucial for the exchange of knowledge within academic and professional communities, providing a snapshot that can inform, influence, and inspire further research and discussion.

In essence, the abstract is a fundamental element of the research paper, crafted to efficiently convey the study's key points. Its role in promoting understanding, engagement, and visibility of research cannot be overstressed, making it a vital component of scholarly communication in the social sciences.

An informative abstract is meant to give a brief summary of the paper and its research. Photo by Jo Szczepanska.

What are some examples of abstracts?

Research paper abstracts succinctly summarize research across various social science disciplines, each tailored to its field's specific focus and methodology. Below are examples of descriptive abstracts, each from a different social science domain, demonstrating how they encapsulate the core essence of their respective studies.

Sociology: Urban migration dynamics

This research addresses the factors influencing urban migration, providing data-driven insights for effective urban management and policy formulation.

This study analyzes urban migration trends in emerging economies from 2000 to 2020, using demographic data, economic indicators, and policy analysis. The research employs quantitative regression methods and GIS to pinpoint the factors that drive individuals to move to urban areas, highlighting the roles of economic opportunity, education, and housing. The paper concludes with policy recommendations for sustainable urban development.

Political science: Electoral trust in post-conflict regions

The paper contributes to understanding how electoral trust impacts voter engagement, offering guidance for strengthening democracy in post-conflict areas.

Focusing on post-conflict societies, this study examines how trust in electoral systems affects voter turnout. By integrating survey data and interview findings, it identifies a positive correlation between trust in electoral integrity and participation rates, with variances across demographic groups and information access levels. The implications for enhancing democratic processes in post-conflict settings are discussed.

Economics: Digital currency's role in trade

This research evaluates digital currency's potential to alter trade dynamics, providing insights for economic stakeholders and policy developers.

This study assesses digital currency's effects on international trade, analyzing its influence on transaction efficiency and economic relationships using trade data and econometric analysis. The findings indicate that digital currencies lower transaction costs and time, suggesting significant potential impacts on trade practices. The study also addresses regulatory and future research needs.

Psychology: Social media's impact on adolescent self-esteem

This paper adds to the growing body of research on social media's psychological effects, focusing on its influence on adolescent self-esteem and offering strategies for positive engagement.

Investigating the correlation between social media use and self-esteem in adolescents, this longitudinal study monitors self-esteem changes and social media interaction over five years. It identifies specific usage patterns that either positively or negatively affect self-esteem. The findings inform recommendations for parents, educators, and mental health professionals.

Aspects included in an abstract

An abstract is a critical component of a research paper, especially in the context of peer-reviewed journal articles. It should provide a clear and concise summary of the key aspects of the research, allowing readers to quickly understand the purpose, methodology, findings, and significance of the study. A well-structured abstract includes several essential elements, each serving a distinct purpose in conveying the research's core information. Below are the major components that should be included in a compelling descriptive abstract.

Purpose of the study

This section clarifies the research question or objective and sets the stage for the subsequent description of the study. It should succinctly state what the study aimed to investigate or achieve, providing the context necessary for understanding the research's relevance and scope.


The methodology part summarizes the paper's own research design, data collection, and analysis methods. It should give enough detail to understand how the study was conducted but remain concise. This component is crucial for readers who wish to assess the study's methodological approach and quality criteria such as validity, reliability, and generalizability.


This part of the abstract presents the main findings or outcomes of the research. It should highlight key results, data points, or trends identified through the study without delving into exhaustive detail. The aim is to provide a clear snapshot of what the research uncovered.

Conclusions and implications

Here, the abstract summarizes the study's conclusions and their broader implications. This section should tie the findings back to the research question or objective and suggest how the results contribute to the field of study. It may also propose areas for further research or practical applications of the findings.


While not a narrative section, including relevant keywords at the end of the abstract is a common practice that enhances the visibility and searchability of the research. These keywords should reflect the core topics and themes of the study, allowing potential readers to find the paper more easily in database searches.

A keywords section makes a paper easy to find through search engines and databases. Photo by Brett Jordan.

What makes a good abstract?

In the context of peer-reviewed journals, writing abstracts is essential for capturing the essence of a research paper, facilitating its discovery, and encouraging further reading. Editors and peer reviewers often look for specific qualities that indicate an abstract effectively communicates the research's value and findings. These qualities not only enhance the paper's impact but also contribute to the broader academic dialogue. Here, we outline four key considerations that define the effectiveness of a compelling abstract in a peer-reviewed journal article.

Clarity and conciseness

A well-crafted abstract articulates the essential elements of the research clearly and succinctly. It avoids unnecessary jargon, overly complex sentences, and extraneous information, making it accessible to a broad audience. Clarity ensures that readers can quickly grasp the study's purpose, approach, and findings, while conciseness respects the reader's time and attention, presenting only the most pertinent information.

Coherence and structure

A good abstract follows a logical structure, guiding the reader through the study's purpose, methods, results, and conclusions in a coherent manner. Each section should seamlessly connect to the next, creating a cohesive narrative that accurately reflects the study's progression and findings. This structural integrity helps readers understand the research's flow and significance, enhancing the abstract's overall effectiveness.


An effective abstract provides a complete overview of the research, including all critical aspects of the study. It should address the research question, methodology, main findings, and implications, ensuring that readers have a comprehensive understanding of the study without needing to read the full paper. Completeness ensures that the abstract stands alone as a summary of the research, providing sufficient detail for readers to evaluate the study's relevance and contribution to the field.

Impact and relevance

Finally, a good abstract highlights the study's impact and relevance to the field. It should make clear how the research contributes to existing knowledge, addresses a gap in the literature, or has practical implications for the field of study. By emphasizing the significance of the research, the abstract can engage readers' interest and underscore the value of the study within the broader academic and professional community.

A clear research abstract makes the study easier to understand. Photo by Jack Millard.

How to write an abstract

Writing an abstract is a critical skill in academic research, serving as the bridge between your study and potential readers. An effective abstract succinctly summarizes the key aspects of your research, providing a clear and compelling overview that encourages further exploration of your work. The process involves distilling your study's essence into a concise format while ensuring that it remains informative and engaging. Here, we outline a step-by-step approach to crafting an abstract, emphasizing considerations that enhance its clarity, relevance, and impact.

Understand the abstract's purpose

Begin by recognizing the abstract's role as a standalone summary of your research. It should convey the core aspects of your study—its purpose, methodology, results, and conclusions—to someone who has not read the full paper. Understanding this purpose guides your focus, ensuring that you highlight the essential information and omit extraneous details. Keep your audience in mind, aiming to make your abstract accessible and informative for both experts and non-specialists in your field.

Start with a clear structure

Adopt a structured approach to writing your abstract, typically following the same order as your research paper: introduction (with the research question or objective), methodology, results, and conclusions. This structure not only aids in writing but also helps readers follow and understand your research's progression. Each section should flow logically to the next, creating a coherent narrative that mirrors the organization of your full study.

Focus on key details

In each section of your abstract, concentrate on the most significant information. In the introduction, clearly state the research problem or question and the study's objectives. For the methodology, provide an overview of the approaches and techniques employed, without delving into detailed procedures. Then, summarize the most important results, highlighting findings that contribute directly to understanding the research question. In the conclusion, emphasize the implications of your findings, noting their relevance and potential impact on the field.

Revise for clarity and conciseness

Once you have drafted your abstract, revise it meticulously to enhance clarity and conciseness. Remove any redundant phrases, complex jargon, or unnecessary details, striving for a clear and straightforward presentation of your research. Ensure that each sentence adds value and contributes to a comprehensive understanding of your study. Additionally, seek feedback from colleagues or mentors, as they can offer insights on how your abstract may be perceived by others. Finally, remember to tailor your abstract to your targeted journal and audience, using active voice, a structured format, or other stylistic preferences you may find in that journal's articles.

Feedback from colleagues and mentors can strengthen a descriptive abstract. Photo by Icons8 Team.