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How to Write an Abstract for a Research Paper

Need to create a research paper or dissertation abstract, but from the name of the task, you’re baffled by the trickiness of this head-scratcher? Don’t stress early. Read our free article to get your hands on the background information and writing tips that will show you the alternative to get over this intimidating procedure and uncover how to write an abstract. Follow the commendable path of least resistance and get your piece made without a snag.

Not a single student can stroll through their college years without having to write research papers. That's just not realistic. A central purpose of research papers is to display graduates’ critical thinking, ability to find sources, and write an essay using such written material. Sometimes, teachers require to compose an abstract with a research paper, which has specific goals. If you don’t pay enough attention to writing the abstract, it will be of low quality. And poorly written abstract results in a failure of the entire work. For this reason, it is vitally important to construct a complete abstract that will portray your further research paper’s aim. This article will examine what a research paper abstract is, how to structure an abstract, how to format an abstract for a research paper, and other abstract writing tips that are more general.

What Is an Abstract?

The abstract provides a short theoretical framework, major findings, targets, and summations of your writing. The abstract serves to help readers grasp what you are bringing up without reading the entire paper.

Every abstract must accomplish the same objective, three styles exist that you might be asked to use:

  • descriptive
  • informative
  • critical

Let’s get an idea of what each of them represents.

A descriptive type reveals main points on the aim, methods, relevance of the original document, with no mention of the consequences and summations. The aim of an informative abstract is to provide a stand-alone synopsis of the main content, along with the results. A critical one is not much favored in academics, but it won’t harm you if you read a few sentences about this abstract type. Just like descriptive and informative abstracts, the critical one also takes care of the main argument points, goals, etc. But it contains a section of an overview or critique of the methods, outcomes, or research channels too.

Depending on the style, a good abstract may contain different elements. Here are a few things you can be asked to attach to your sample:

  • research issue and goals
  • methods
  • key results or arguments
  • conclusion

Always verify the formatting requirements with your supervisor before commencing the writing process. The teacher can ask you to make it either in APA style (American Psychological Association) or MLA style (Modern Language Association).

When answering one of the most frequent questions, “what is an abstract for a paper,” we usually define that it is a condensed statement that describes a larger paper and explains its purpose. Your abstract needs to overview the entire piece, emphasizing chief points and the focal idea. Every discipline requires exclusive elements to be included in the abstract. It has to be written in the form of a paragraph, usually not exceeding 300 words.

Are there different types of what is in an abstract?

Subjects related to social science demand to add the scope, goals, outcomes, and work contents. In turn, the humanities may well require adding the thesis, background, methods, results, and summary of the following work. Keep in mind that an abstract should not lack crucial information. It is a shortened version of your paper, which demonstrates to the reader the analysis you made, what sources you used, and what outcomes you faced.

What is an abstract in a paper

Your essay’s abstract is a significantly brief page explaining your research, methods, and consequences. Being a student, you have to read a lot of articles. To read some of them, you have to spend lots of time. It is great when you finish this paper and use it in the long run. But what if you have spent two hours delving into a manuscript, and it turned out to be irrelevant to your topic? With the help of abstracts, you can save lots of time just by reading this component.

What is an abstract for a research paper

A research paper abstract is extremely useful because while reading it, one can decide whether there are any important sources and ideas included or not. The questions, “what is an abstract in a research paper,” and, “what is the purpose of the abstract in a research paper” don’t differ from the aforementioned because they carry the same goal. Thus, a research paper abstract aims to showcase the methodologies you implemented in your work, what the main intention was, and what you found out as a consequence of such a study.

Kinds of Abstracts

You can’t start writing an abstract unless you know the forms this writing can take. Consider paying attention to them because it is crucial. Each of them has its unique goal as well as the word limit. There are three main types:

  • Descriptive. A descriptive abstract tends to be the most neutral type because it doesn’t suggest any changes related to the field. Nor does it present the results of the research. Simply put, a descriptive abstract intends to display the goal, methods, and the limitations of the study. It would be reasonable to say that this type is more of an outline than an actual abstract. Nevertheless, it is widely used and shouldn't exceed 150 words.
  • Critical. This type is an enhanced descriptive abstract version. Aside from depicting the key findings, a critical abstract also includes a comment or judgment regarding the study’s validity, importance, and credibility. Due to its length (the word count may vary, though, usually, it is 450 words), critical types are used less frequently than the previous one.
  • Informative. Most of the abstracts are informative. They are universal for the reason that they are neither descriptive nor critical. They do not unveil any judgments about research. However, they don’t just describe the work. An informative abstract demonstrates purpose, methods, and scope, which are the features of a descriptive type. Moreover, an informative also has the outcomes and provides the readers with the author’s recommendations. The length here does not surpass 300 words.

How to Write an Abstract — Quick Tips

You won’t skip writing this part if you’re going to work on a thesis, research paper, dissertation. You’ll also need to submit it along with the article to the academic journal or Google Scholar.

As you don’t want to spend a lot of time on it, here are our tips that will assist you in coping with this task much faster and easier.

The fact this section follows the title page shouldn’t mislead you to take care of it first. An abstract should state what you’ve managed to bring up, and you’ll come to an awareness of that only when you complete the paper. Even if you have a plan and rely on your productive study skills, save writing this part of the piece for last.

We’ve already explained the types, formatting styles, outlines for this kind of writing. So ahead of writing from the name of the task, you’d better talk with your teacher or professor for clear instructions. The more you are informed, the less editing or re-writing you’ll have to do.

Compose the abstract sticking to the logical structure

  1. Your goal
    Why is your research critical? Why should anyone read your work in full?
  2. Problem
    What problem do you put forward in your work? What is your main argument or thesis?
  3. Methods
    What methods were used to reach your goals?
  4. Results
    What have you discovered during your working process? Have you confirmed your hypothesis?
  5. Conclusions
    How does your info add to what’s already known about the matter? How can your results be used in other works?

Make up a topic, like a video game addiction, and fill in your framework. Then format it, so it has an introduction, body, and conclusion. It needs to mirror the design of the essay. This is simple but effective.

Write your first draft

Your abstract is an encapsulation, not paraphrased or taken from your work or any other research source. Attempt to create the sample using different wording or phrases. When you’re figuring out how to write an abstract, mind that it needs to be short but informative. Avoid fillers and get straight to the point. Every line needs to communicate a clear main point. Don’t use jargon that can be misinterpreted by general readers.

To grab the readers’ attention, you should provide specific facts. You can add dates, statistics results, or any other figures that are pertinent. But give only those facts that have been used in your work.

Polish till it’s perfect

Editing is a natural part of writing. While checking for the first time, proofread the written text for errors, and ensure the formatting style is adhered to. Then pay special attention to the content. As this part needs to be a brief overview of the work, double-check if it achieves a clear sum up of the paper. Also, find out if you adhered to the symbol limit. If no guidelines for the count were provided, the abstract shouldn’t exceed one page that was double-spaced.

No matter what style you are using, APA format or some other one, utilize these important tips, and you’ll complete your task pretty fast.

Research abstract format

With regard to the research paper abstract format, it depends on the specific requirements and area you will work in. Research paper abstract format in scientific papers differs from that in humanities colossally. However, regardless of the topic, you have to include several crucial and unavoidable items. They are compulsory, so be sure to attach the following components to your research paper abstract:

  • The significance of your paper. It explains why your written piece is vital. Clarify why the reader should keep on analyzing the work.
  • Functionality and usefulness. Readers want to see what problems your work solves. What are you attempting to answer? Display your thesis and arguments.
  • Methods. Depending on the discipline, you have to include different elements here. Starting from approaches and frameworks and ending with various pieces of evidence that back up your arguments, you increase the reader’s trust toward you.
  • Findings. It is an essential part of a research paper abstract — focusing on the results of your study. It can be broad or not quite, depending on your subject.
  • Deduction. This element explains the significance of your work’s influence and why it enriches everyone’s knowledge base regarding a specific topic.

Abstract for a Research Paper

No matter whether your work is connected with social sciences or humanities, you have to stick to one format in the research paper abstract. It has to be written in a single paragraph. And you shouldn’t indent the first line of the research paper abstract. Without a doubt, your abstract has to follow your work's title page and shouldn't indicate a page number.

In regard to the APA formatting style, the abstract needs to be at the center of the page and be double spaced from the heading.

Conversely, the MLA style does not require writing such a paragraph. Make sure you write in 12-point font, precisely Times New Roman, and check whether it has one-inch margins all around.

Likewise, according to the MLA style, you have to write an abstract in a block format. Final sentences of both MLA and APA encapsulate your findings, deduction, and the importance of the continuation of research to reveal the topic fully. These are elements of a peerless abstract format for research paper.

Abstract Structure

Every written piece has its structure. Be it a lab report, case study, or literature review, you can’t ignore their key components. Otherwise, your work is at risk. The same goes for the research paper abstract. Please, include all five following attributes in your abstract:

  • Background
    This part focuses on trying to answer the question asked by the research. If you aim to write a 250-word abstract, you are free to include short information about your research problems and explain that your examination fills present gaps in the field. In the final introductory sentence, you have to write the focal point of your analysis.
  • Methodology
    Proceeding to methods, remember to include research design, setting, describe your ways of analyzing. Breaking it down, you have to show that you are compelling and have used many credible sources to analyze the data.
  • Results
    The subject you research might be somewhat broad. During your research, you need to exclude some points and concentrate on critical ones. Therefore, you should explain the reason for this.
  • Conclusion
    This is the last part of your abstract. Usually, the conclusion has two sentences where you present the implications. The data must back up your conclusion. On no account should you reveal personal opinion.

This fundamental abstract structure answers the question, “how do you structure an abstract?” Which is the query put forward by many students of various subjects. Nine out of ten, a structure of an abstract will look as displayed above.

How to Write an Abstract for a Research Paper

Now that you know about elements an abstract should possess, let us have a closer look at each of those items. Knowing how to write an abstract for a paper, we guarantee you will attract readers and make them continue analyzing the subject you brought up.

While learning how to write an abstract, you have to realize that this part of the paper sets the overall tone. The abstract serves as a compressed version of your written piece. It saves readers time and allows them to peruse your methods, outcomes, and conclusions briefly without reading the text.

We have already established that this part of the paper is considered a standalone piece, containing the most important information regarding your examination and results. It aspires to give an objective picture of a topic. The author needs to eliminate any biased comments, revealing only one side of the coin, and shunning the other one.


Rules identify background to be the shortest part of the abstract. Not because it goes first, but also because it is the least crucial compared to other parts. Suppose you are eager to know how to write an effective abstract for a research paper. In that case, you should note the Background has to display two critical facts: what pieces of information are commonly known, and what information is not widely available to the readers.

These aspects you have to portray in a couple of sentences. Keep in mind that every sentence has to demonstrate a different item and yet link itself to the previous one. Even though this part has to be concise, sometimes scientists augment it to describe a feature in a broader scope. It is justified because there are many cases of complex subjects that cannot be depicted in three sentences. However, you have to stick to the three-sentence rule because, otherwise, you will have to forfeit space belonging to the findings. Doing that, you lower the reader’s interest in reading your work, as the vast majority of people focus on the findings rather than explanatory information.


As you already know, this section describes the research methods you carried out to define the outcomes of your study. It should be slightly longer than the latter section. The purpose of Methods is to let the reader see what was done and how you accomplished it. Make sure you are specific and do not ask yourself questions that are way too broad when composing this section. As such, you can address questions, like “what was the setting of the research, what was the duration of it, what types of studies you analyzed,” etc. Answering them, you will know for sure how to write an abstract.


This part tends to be the most significant. Your readers will scrutinize the findings, so you must be sure this section is impeccable, convincing, and unparalleled. That is why the Results should be the largest in size compared to other abstract parts. Include every detail of the findings here.


It goes without saying that you have to convey the most important information in the conclusion. In a few sentences, you should demonstrate the critical outcomes of your analysis. If you can add additional findings and the word count allows you that, mention it. Apart from that, you are free to highlight your conducted research’s importance and explain why it is vital to continue it. In other words, explain the importance of your observations, reports, and conclusions.

Keep in mind that the more credible sources you rely upon your examination, the more authoritative your paper is. Consequently, this part of your abstract is the most persuasive for the typical reader, as he/she agrees with your take if he/she sees the number of scholarly data used. But do not manipulate your reader’s trust and do not reveal more information than needed — it will distract people.

Throughout various observations, it becomes apparent that many students do not know how to write an abstract for a research paper. Plenty of them attach citations to abstracts, divide it into paragraphs, indent them, and add irrelevant information that is not mentioned further. When writing the abstract, do not forget that this is the first (and often the last) part of your work examined in great detail. If your abstract has any errors, it jeopardizes your entire paper. That is why you need to have an earnest approach toward writing this part. Either way, consult your professor, and he or she will help you tailor your abstract to your educational institution’s specific requirements.

Research Abstract Examples

To possess solid theoretical knowledge is not enough to write a successful research paper abstract. We have constructed two research abstract examples related to humanities, history, and social sciences. The purpose is to demonstrate how this introductory section of your complete paper should look. Do not hesitate to use them as your research paper abstract examples when dealing with your assignments.

1st Sample – Humanities

The most significant unfairness: the case of Haiti

Haiti used to be a French colony until the beginning of the XIX century. France is arguably the most powerful state across the globe, and one might assume that its territories, even though former, are somewhat robust in terms of economy as well. This article examines various articles, memoirs, and logbooks concerning vast penury, social problems, and cultural separatism felt by Haiti’s people. Apart from the mentioned documents, official correspondence between France and Haiti will be analyzed with a task to define countries’ relations on the official level. We were looking for sources that pursue answering the most burdensome and ongoing questions that remain unanswered and ignored. How is the information presented in various sources? Does it differ significantly? What was the root cause of Haiti paying retributions to France? Why did Francois Hollande state that France should only apologize for moral damage? What are the implications of this work? Does it find parallels with other similar cases in the world? The work’s findings support the fact that there was hefty and forceful pressure from France toward Haiti based on the latter’s oppression and exploitation. In turn, the French economy and army, by reason of its humongous quantity, forced Haiti to pay arguably the highest amount of money in history (approximately $28 billion). Consequently, Haiti is now among the poorest states, having over 55% unemployment rate and $450 net worth per family.

2nd Sample – History/Social Science

“Slaughter”: a description of Indonesian mass killings from the perspective of locals

In spite of the voluminous number of research on the Indonesian military coup, little is known about the perspective of Indonesians on those events that occurred in 1965-66. The overall image that emerges from the news, archives, and movies is neutral. The first documentary that threw light on those events is The Act Of Killing – a movie containing two parts. This study recovers locals’ perspective for an international audience through qualitative interviews with 30 people from different parts of Indonesia who were unfortunate enough to experience the military coup’s repercussions. An examination of these conversations yields the Indonesians own explanations that correlate with Joshua Oppenheimer’s movie(s). As such, the incorporation of the comments discloses hidden corruption, violence, and murders of the military and their supporters’ aggression and criminality. The narratives aim to add nuance to our comprehension of who ordinary Indonesians were in this putsch. For safety reasons, the identities of the interviewees were hidden. Nonetheless, the information was not crooked, changed, or cut. These interviews about mass killings enabled to sort through the data of those events. The study will contribute to future research on the given subject and similar topics.

3rd Example – History/Social Science

“People left behind”: Syrians between two civilizations

Syrian people have been facing problems for years because of the war. Despite the attention paid by the global community to the genocide of Syrians, not enough was done to guarantee that Syrian authorities preserve people’s rights. On the contrary, the level of violence, corruption, and bribery has skyrocketed. Consequently, myriads of people attempted to immigrate to European countries. This analysis intends to define the driving factors of countries that agreed to accept refugees, but failed to provide Syrian people with proper conditions. The focal questions are as follows: Who was responsible for forceful immigration? What did Europe, the US, Russia, and Turkey do to resolve the conflict? Why can Syrian people not mingle with Europeans? What are the chief problems Syrians face living outside Syria? Is there any social life for Muslim refugees? Do they have any rights? This analysis will examine several scholarly sources produced by Syrian academicians and dozens of interviews by the author of the research paper with the Syrians. They had to leave their households because of danger. Both scholars and non-academicians were of the same opinion about the aforementioned countries’ insufficient role in resolving the issue. These findings support the idea that not only did the Syrians lose their properties, such as real estate, investments, and businesses, but also they lost hope for a promising future in the EU and Syria. The study is believed to be worthwhile for future scientists and research by reason of containing credible, processed, and objective data.

Research Paper Abstract Outline

First and foremost, an outline is a map of your paper. An outline briefly demonstrates the information you will develop in specific sections and your text’s order. One might say that composing an outline is time-consuming, especially for short sections, like the abstract. As we already defined, an abstract is a full-fledged paper, so it also needs to be outlined. Each and every academician uses an outline because it helps organize thoughts and eliminate irrelevant and subjective ideas. Apart from that, an outline allows us to visualize the structure and how to make it coherent.

Even though the abstract should not be extensive, you have to know what to include in it. Before you start writing an abstract, you have to be sure about the thesis statement you will rely on during the writing process. An outline for the abstract can be created in any format. Moreover, you can always change it, adjust, and even sometimes deviate from it.

As we have already defined, a peerless abstract must comprise four key elements. Let’s recall them once again:

  1. A clear statement and why it is essential.
  2. Some background information to draw the reader’s attention.
  3. Methods of your analysis, what you will cover.
  4. The findings and conclusion of your analysis.

To write a research paper abstract outline, you have to write these four points concisely. Make sure your outline is short and gives an understanding of what your abstract will be about.

For instance, you have to write a research paper on American literature. Assuming that you have the freedom of choice, you decide to delve into the American transcendentalism and Henry David Thoreau as its most prominent representative. You have some ideas about what you want to write about, but you haven’t researched the topic yet. That is why it is important to construct an outline to stamp your ideas and get back to them every time you forget the research purpose. A research paper abstract outline does not have a defined format, so you are free to choose either Latin or Roman numerals. Your outline can look like this:

Literary transcendentalism: Walden as the best example, H.D. Thoreau

  1. Why is this book important? The lifestyle of Thoreau, his misdemeanor, attitudes, etc.
  2. A brief description of the book (18 chapters) and contents (fishing, growing crops, etc.)
  3. An analysis of letters and various comments from critics about his works.
  4. Thoreau’s remarkable literary impact and problems with local authorities.

Now, have a glance at the abstract written following the mentioned outline. It is written in different colors to give you a clear picture where one part ends, and the next one starts. The first color symbolizes the first point of the outline, the second color – the following point, etc.

Literary transcendentalism: Walden as the best example, H.D. Thoreau

Walden; Or Life In The Woods is considered the most recognizable example of the transcendentalism movement that wasn’t portrayed dramatically in the US. Facts included in the book reveal insights into the American writer, his role models, lifestyle, and other aspects, such as the way of interacting with people, treatment of the authorities, and negative attitude toward the law. The book comprises 18 essays describing different philosophical problems and other activities, including hunting, fishing, growing crops that were done to survive in natural surroundings. The study sought to unveil the reasons for its popularity in the US, draws parallels between lives in different epochs, and finds out items that apply to people’s lives these days. As such, numerous memoirs, critiques, correspondences, and other texts were uncovered to make the analysis objective and credible. The study also discovers the relations between Thoreau and his mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and what impact the latter had on Thoreau. By exploring settings, behavior, and writing style, the findings shed light on the author’s life, philosophy, and contribution to the next literary movements. However, the other side of the coin exists. Through the evaluation of documents, in spite of having a skeptical approach toward the law and monetary system, Thoreau faced several problems with the authorities and lacked finances to be released on bail. The current study argues for a new understanding of how American transcendentalism evolved by being inspired by Thoreau’s works and how it calls for responses from readers of modern days.

Abstract Writing Tips

Like with every type of writing, you can find some tips on what to include and what not to write in your abstract. Even though it should usually be up to 250 words, the abstract requires its own format, structure, and rules to be met. That is why you should consider utilizing these tips and recommendations when designing an abstract.

  • Active voice
    That is hard to implement for the reason that there are many situations where you can’t use the active voice (for instance, you have to report on a completed study). However, this is one of the most vital tips for writing an abstract. Do not make the abstract written in a passive voice entirely. Try to write sentences in the active voice when you don’t get back to the scholarly article.
  • Write the abstract after you're done with your research paper
    It is a common mistake when students attempt to complete their research papers adhering to the contents table. Using this false strategy, you are sure to be stuck. That is because you don’t have any research outcomes, proof of importance, or even background information. And still, you start writing your abstract. Start writing the abstract as well as an outline when you have your paper finished. Remember that the abstract summarizes your work. And if you don’t have the paper, you can’t wrap it up.
  • Avoid lengthy contextual or background information
    The more sentences about general information your abstract contains, the more likely people will skip your entire research paper. No need to cover everything regarding your topic. In case you have more than three sentences, narrow it down, choosing the most important facts that will introduce the reader to the subject. You might ask, “how long should an abstract be then?” That depends. If you aim to write a descriptive abstract, make sure you don’t exceed 150-word count. Conversely, intending to write an informative abstract, you have to focus on a 250-word limit.
  • Exclude redundant phrases, adjectives, adverbs, and other fillers
    Sometimes, academic writing “forces” to attach fillers to adjust the paper to the professor’s requirements. When writing an abstract, eliminate any useless words. With these fillers, not only will you make your abstract hard to follow, but also you will make it less formal. Remember that the text should be written formally. After all, you don’t have a defined word count and can write 170 or 250 words.
  • No abbreviations or acronyms
    Even though many abbreviations are widely known, it is better to avoid them. Instead, write the entire name of the company, organization, etc. Sometimes, it is acceptable to write an abbreviation and then explain it in brackets. For instance, NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration). But it is always better to stick to the strategy of avoiding abbreviations and acronyms to eliminate any misunderstandings.
  • Do not refer to specific literature
    You have to demonstrate the sources you revealed in your research paper. You don’t need to mention all scholars whose books were included. Instead, incorporate all of them, saying, “scientists identified that…,” or “analyzed research indicates…”
  • Do not cite other works
    Each piece of scholarly material will be listed in your Works Cited or References page, so there is no need to add any citations to your abstract.
  • Do not attach charts, illustrations, images, tables
    Try to avoid including these items when writing the abstract. Yes, you have to refer to academic sources when supporting your arguments — you will do that within the research paper, not in the abstract.
  • Omit ellipsis and incomplete sentences
    Under no circumstance should you add dot-dot-dot to your abstract. Writing three dots in a row, you make your reader confused. There is no reason for doing that.
  • The same goes for incomplete sentences
    Make sure your text is coherent. If you can’t find the line between one sentence and another, analyze what is wrong and correct the error.
  • Turn off colloquial language
    It goes without saying that any jargon, idioms, and other casual communication parts have an adverse impact on your work. To make your language formal, look for various academic papers, examining their writing styles. You are free to use some dictionaries, such as Merriam-Webster, to enrich your paper’s vocabulary.
  • Implement keywords
    At the bottom left of your abstract, include words that appear the most. They should be tightly connected with your research and relate to your methods. It will help people check specific information without reading the entire text.
  • Do not write the abstract and research paper in the 1st person
    You are not an academician yet, so your papers can’t be taken seriously if you write them relying on no sources. Therefore, avoid including “I” and “Me” when writing the abstract and research paper. Instead, implement phrases like, “It is generally/widely/commonly believed/agreed/accepted that.”
  • Additional techniques
    Regardless of a high research paper quality, students often face difficulties with constructing abstracts. In such cases, the following methods can help you gather the best and brightest information in your text, process it, recapitulate, and compose a top-notch abstract.
  • Key items
    The point is to jot down every important idea from each of your paragraphs. Don’t worry if you will have plenty of information. When you finish grouping focal aspects, combine them into one or two sentences. When refining, you will be aware of the most crucial purpose of your paper.
  • Highlight main sentences
    Throughout your research paper writing, underline every idea you think is crucial. At the end of your writing process, you will be able to find them promptly and think of the most paramount concepts you cannot skip. Remember to leave some space for background information and findings. Background does not require much space, but it is crucial to ensure the readers are introduced to the subject.
  • Do not write the same sentences
    Like with every other paper type, do not repeat your thesis statement, findings, and conclusions word for word. The English language is one of the richest in the world, so don’t hesitate to use various dictionaries to find synonyms for your terms (on no condition should scientific terms be superseded). Make your abstract and paper shine.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, an abstract is a complete paper that describes the purpose of your research. Depending on your discipline, the abstract can be critical, descriptive, or informative. When it comes to the word count, it should be 400, 150, or 250 words, respectively. Background, Methods, Results, and Conclusions are five vital elements of the abstract. You must write it in a formal language, be specific, explain the importance of the following study, and answer how it can augment and improve the existing data.

We hope that this article answered the most troublesome questions regarding the abstract, its structure, format, word limit, and revealed some useful tips on how to write the abstract successfully.