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General Research Paper Guidelines: Abstract

Abstract

Generally, research papers require an abstract. If you are required to construct an abstract for your research paper assignment, it should briefly detail:

  • The overall purpose of your research or research problem.
  • The design and method of the study.
  • Major findings that resulted from your analysis.
  • A broad overview of your study’s conclusions.

Know that an abstract is not the same as an introduction. An abstract is a summary of your paper; it does not provide context or attempt to interest a reader in your paper the way an introduction does. Assignments that require abstracts should still include an introductory section that provides background on the topic and establishes the purpose of the paper.

If you have questions about whether or not to include an abstract in your research paper, be sure to check with your instructor or reread your assignment for clarification.

Basics of Abstracts

An abstract is "a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of the paper" (American Psychological Association [APA], 2020, p. 38). This summary is intended to share the topic, argument, and conclusions of a research study or course paper, similar to the text on the back cover of a book. Abstracts may be required for certain course assignments and are required elements of Walden capstone projects (see the Center for Research Quality's abstract assistance for more information on specific requirements for these doctoral capstone abstracts). Read on for guidelines on constructing a strong abstract for course papers!

Format Guidelines

An abstract appears after a paper's cover page but before the body of the paper. Per APA 7, Section 2.9, to format an abstract, center the title "Abstract" at the top of a new page in bold text. Note that the bolding is a change from APA 6 guidelines, which recommended plain text. The body of the abstract for course papers should be

  • be no more than 250 words,
  • flush left on the page and not indented, and
  • a single block paragraph.

The abstract may use the full name of an acronym and identify the acronym in parentheses; writers should thereafter refer to the acronym. If the acronym is identified but then not used again in the abstract, however, it should only be written out and not identified. The abstract should not include citations or any material that needs to be cited; all background information on your topic should appear in the body of the paper. Citations, which are intended to credit supporting sources, would be out of place in an abstract, just as they would on the back cover of a textbook.

Note that APA 6 had an additional recommendation about writing numbers in the abstract differed from the general guidelines for writing numbers. In APA 7, that distinction has been removed. Write out numbers as words or use numerals according to the general guidelines.

To review a sample abstract, see p. 50 of the 7th edition APA manual.