What is an Abstract?

An abstract is often required in scholarly APA formatted papers. The abstract is always set on the second page after the title page and functions as a summary of the entire paper. Because they need to be precise, students often struggle to write a summary of their paper in 200 – 250 words.  The best way to write an abstract is to have an outline, write your paper, then go back once your paper is done, and begin writing the abstract.

Are Abstracts Required on All Papers?

In my book, I recommend that students talk to their professors at the beginning of the course to get clear instructions about formatting expectations. As well-meaning as many professors are, they can often be inconsistent with their expectations. For example, if a student had a 1000 word writing assignment and included a 200 word abstract, the professor may deduct points from the student’s paper because they didn’t require an abstract and thus the paper was only 800 words. On the flip side, a graduate student may write a great paper and leave out the abstract assuming that it is not needed and have points deducted. The lesson here is to always be clear about the professor’s expectations.

What Are the Formatting Requirements For Abstracts?

The abstract page – if it is required – is always the second page of an APA paper. The following elements are required to have a correctly formatted paper, listed in order from the top to the bottom of the page:

  • Heading elements including a left justified short title in all caps and a right justified page number.  Abstracts will always have “2” as their page number. 
  • The word “Abstract” is centered under the heading at the top of the page.
  • The abstract should be one continuous paragraph.
  • Do not indent the paragraph on the abstract page.
  • Add a page break after the finished text on the abstract page to make sure other writing does not spill onto that page. This will keep your paper looking organized, neat, and up to APA standards.

What Should I Include In My Abstract?

This question is more important that it seems. Because word processors are becoming more and more sophisticated – often offering APA style help – some students have gotten in the habit of allowing Microsoft Word to generate an abstract for them. Two words: Big Mistake! As a professor, I can tell when a student has spent the time crafting a well written abstract versus generating one from a weird algorithm in a word processor. To make sure your abstract will impress your professor, try including the following elements:

  • The beginning of your abstract should introduce the reader to the topic you are discussing in your paper. This may include the research topic or area of engagement. However you choose to introduce the topic of your paper, be sure that it is inline with the title of your paper to build a strong idea how the paper will develop.  Remember, the title of your paper serves as the first introduction, the abstract builds on the title and the body of your paper builds on your abstract.
  • Some universities, such as the University of Phoenix, Southern New Hampshire University, and Ashford University use APA format for non-scientific papers. If an abstract is required for a humanities paper, use the cone method as a way to introduce a paper in an abstract.
  • After the general introduction to the research topic, explore the questions addressed, the method of research employed, participants, results, and conclusions.
  • Write your abstract in the same order that your paper develops.  For example, mention or introduce topics in your abstract in a way that mirrors the way the subjects are mentioned in your paper.  This will help the reader with the flow of the paper.
  • When most people open the Bible, what is the first book they read? Genesis, right? It’s 50 chapters packed full of stories (good ones at that) but most people never make it out of Genesis! The same thing will happen if you try to write your abstract first. One of my earliest revelations in writing came when I realized that I didn’t have to write my paper in the same order that it was organized or formatted. Write your abstract after you have written your paper, not before.

More questions about Abstracts? No problem, post your questions below and I will get back to you asap! Happy writing!

Download A Formatted Abstract Page


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