As a student, you know that research can be overwhelming. You think you’re looking up a fairly niche keyword when, suddenly, your search returns thousands of papers. You might have to pay to access the full text, which can add up quickly. How do you decide which articles or papers are worthy of your attention?

While the titles can help you narrow your focus, don’t sleep on the unsung hero: the humble abstract. These succinct synopses of academic articles or research papers provide a sneak peek of the contents.

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A truly great abstract has the power to draw readers in while remaining clear, informative, and engaging. Somehow, it manages to accomplish all of that in a single paragraph, under 250 words!

But what if, instead of selecting papers based on their abstracts, your professor asks you to write one?

Do you know how to write an abstract that is both coherent, compelling, and appropriate for your subject area? We’ve broken the ideal abstract down into four essential elements. If you incorporate all four, you’re certain to construct something captivating…and get a great grade!

We’ve broken down the four elements below.

Before You Begin

Foremost, begin your abstract on its own page, immediately following the title page. Format all text in APA style based on the 7th edition of the style guide. You can learn more about APA formatting here.

Type out the word “abstract,” bold it, and center the text at the top of the page. Begin typing immediately below your heading without indenting. Per APA guidelines, your abstract text should be double-spaced, and the page number should be in the upper right corner.

As you proceed, remember that your complete abstract cannot exceed 250 words. We recommend using the “word count” feature on your word processor to ensure you don’t exceed this hard limit.

It can also be helpful to look at examples of compelling abstracts before you begin writing. Browse our How to Write an Abstract examples here, then continue reading below.

The Four Elements of an Excellent Abstract

Element One: Your Objective

The first component to include while writing an APA abstract is your objective. What is the problem that your paper is solving or the question that your research is attempting to answer? Your reader should be able to understand the purpose of your paper in the first one or two sentences.

When crafting a strong objective statement, focus on using verbs. Are you providing information? Are you seeking to investigate or examine something? Are you testing, analyzing, or evaluating data or information?

Use past or present tense, not future tenses, as your research has already taken place. For example, your paper might examine a relationship. It isn’t going to examine the relationship.

Element Two: Your Methods

What methods did you use to solve your problem or address your research question? Try to accomplish this in as few sentences as possible. Aim for between one and two straightforward sentences.

Element Three: Your Results

The third element of a strong abstract is a summary of your findings or results. Try to resist the urge to go into excessive detail in this section. Try to craft a statement that informs the reader about what you learned, found out, or were able to prove.

An excited reader discovers the perfect paper based on a well-crafted abstract

It can be tricky to narrow down your results but try to highlight only the most important aspects of your research. If you capture the reader’s attention, they’ll read the full paper to learn about the rest.

Element Four: Your Conclusion

The final element of your abstract should be the conclusion statement. This sums up your research, including any significant implications of what you learned.

It can be helpful to revisit your objective statement. The conclusion portion of your abstract should answer the essential question you posed there. Make sure it’s clear whether your paper is proving a thesis or arguing against it.

What About Keywords?

Additionally, some students include a keywords section at the very end of their abstract. These can help make your paper easier to find if it ends up in a large database or digital library. Keywords should be specific terms that describe the major topics addressed in your paper.

In APA format, you should indent the word “Keywords” one-half inch. Italicize and capitalize the word “Keywords,” followed by a colon. Type all keywords in lowercase and separate them with commas (unless they are proper nouns). Do not place a period at the end of your list of keywords.

Improve Your Abstract With the Four C’s

The “Four C’s” are four critical questions to keep in mind while constructing your abstract. Not only can they help you write an abstract for a paper, but they can improve your overall writing.

  • Is it CLEAR?

A clear abstract is easy to read, without grammatical errors or formatting issues. It should address the purpose of your abstract, which is to provide a basic overview of your research. Clarity also means writing with your target audience in mind. In the case of an academic paper, you can safely include academic and subject-specific language without losing your reader.

Incorporating the four elements above in the correct order can help achieve clarity and flow.

  • Is it CONCISE?

While an abstract can be up to 250 words, that doesn’t mean you should aim to use that many. A concise abstract will use as few words as possible to get its point across. This saves the reader time and helps them determine if your paper will be a helpful resource.

Revise with an eye for “fluff,” or words or statements that don’t carry meaning.


When writing an abstract, following APA formatting guidelines is not optional. That is because it helps create consistency, both within your paper and across all papers.

Furthermore, the writing itself should be consistent. Start by reviewing your verb tenses. If you choose to write in past tense, be sure you’re using past tense throughout the abstract. Verb disagreement is disorienting and may confuse or distract your readers.

  • Is it CORRECT?

Your abstract should be an accurate representation of what a reader will find in your paper. With that in mind, it should reflect the contents with accuracy and fidelity. Make sure every statement is objective. Describe the paper you actually wrote, not the paper you wish you’d written.

Master Your Abstract with Help from Paper Due

On the abstract (see what we did there?), your abstract should be a clear, compelling summary of your paper. Include your objective, methods, results, and a concise conclusion.

Then, use the Four C’s to strengthen your work even further. If you’re successful, you’ll have a scintillating sneak peek that will encourage others to read the larger work.

Do you need some extra help to get your amazing abstract in even better shape? Sign up for Paper Due and get a 7-day trial for only $6.99. You’ll gain access to thousands of example abstracts that will help you hone yours to perfection.