Writing abstracts

The abstract has to:

  • Condense/summarise your thesis/article
  • Capture the essence of the thesis/article


‘Piled Higher and Deeper’ by Jorge Cham


What comes in an abstract?

The abstract generally has five distinct parts, which can be written in five (or more if longer and paragraphs need to be cut) separate paragraphs.  It can be presented in the following order:

What was done? (study and its scope)

Why was the research done? Why was it important to do? This generally refers to background information and the state of research before the thesis.

How was it done (methods used)?

What were the most important findings?

What is the significance of these findings for readers? How can they use this information? This may be a concluding statement and/or recommendations.

Make sure that:

  • the position of the author is clear.
  • there a clear sense of question and answer.
  • ideas are connected to each other and a reader easily progresses through the abstract. There has to be a sense of narrative linking different parts of the abstract.
  • keywords used in the title are used in the abstract and help connect ideas.
  • the key findings/results are in the abstract.
  • the significance of the problem is given.
  • the significance of the results is clear.

Presentation of the abstract

The abstract should function as a self-contained document.

An abstract is generally written last, but comes first, before the table of contents.

In a thesis, it is not part of the page numbering. If you want to number the page with an abstract, use a lower case Roman numeral (i, ii, iii,), and number the rest of the paper with Arabic numbers (1,2,3)

Since it is your summary and refers to your paper, it should include no direct quotes, nor references to other documents.

Do not use headings or subheadings within your abstract. Write it as a short text with clear paragraphs separating main parts of the abstract.

How long should the abstract be?

The length of an abstract varies, depending on conventions in disciplines. Check what others are doing, or ask your colleagues .

  • For a thesis – a general rule is to have maximum 700 words.
  • Journals and conference papers will generally provide a maximum length for abstracts (often max 250 words).


The length of sections in your abstract can vary. But the following general rule for a 600 words abstract works:

  • What was done: 50 – 100 words
  • Why was it done: max 100 words
  • How was it done: 100 to 200 words. Note that this could be more if you have a distinct or particularly innovative intellectual approach or method.
  • What were the most important findings? as many words as needed within limits.
  • What is the significance of these findings for readers? 50 to 100 words.

Because of the word limit, it is important to only include necessary words (Check Writing clear sentences for more on this).