Informational abstracts can be found in library and internet databases, and on the first page of some journal articles. They:
  • Allow a general reader to decide whether they want to read the paper
  • Are concise (10% or less of the paper, usually <200 words)
  • Highlight essential points (but avoid too many details)
  • Attribute authors and quote phrases (but avoid in-text references)
  • Are clear and accessible (avoid overly technical or elaborate language)
  • Communicate the key aspects of the research, including:
    • context (the current social or intellectual background to the study)
    • focus/scope (the topic and/or what the study includes/excludes)
    • purpose (the rationale for the study and/or the problem it addresses)
    • concepts (the abstract and theoretical model/s the study uses)
    • methods (how the information and/or data were gathered)
    • findings (significant parts or patterns in the information/data)
    • conclusions (what the information/data suggest/show/demonstrate)
    • recommendations (suggested theoretical, practice or policy outcomes)
Example abstract (sentences numbered for reference only)

(1) As debates over intellectual property and copyright control have intensified over the last two decades, so has interest in the detection and prevention of (2) student plagiarism in higher education. (3) While many writing teachers are critical of traditional discourses of original authorship and ownership, when teaching students to avoid plagiarism, they still often rely on appeals to (4) possessive individualism (such as an author/owner’s legalistic “rights” to their “intellectual property”) or deontological ethics (such as university “honor codes” and sanctions for cheating). (5) Drawing on both recent scholarship on plagiarism in higher education and egalitarian theories of learning, (6) this paper argues that the strongest reasons for avoiding plagiarism are positive ethical obligations to ensure equality of educational opportunity, give fair and public recognition to intellectual peers and collaborators, and work towards what Jacques Rancière has termed “intellectual emancipation”. (7) Composition instructors should thus teach students to avoid plagiarism because it: rewards privilege or a will to exploit over effort; prevents intellectual workers receiving proper recognition (rather than remuneration) for their labor; damages the student and institution’s credibility; and wastes an opportunity for autonomous intellectual development.

  1. the context situates the paper as a response to a particular moment in time or intellectual climate or phenomenon – in this case, interest in plagiarism and intellectual property over the last 20 years
  2. the focus/scope tells us what the paper will (and won’t) focus on – in this case, “student plagiarism in higher education”
  3. the purpose is a problem which the research set out to explore or solve – in this case, problematic teaching of plagiarism
  4. the concept/s are the theoretical ideas and frameworks through which the research problem is understood, in this case “possessive individualism”, “deontological ethics”, and, later in the abstract, “equal opportunity” and “intellectual emancipation”, etc.
  5. the methods are what the researcher did and how – in this case, a critical reading of relevant research studies and educational theories on the topic
  6. the findings/conclusions are the results of the research and/or the claims that the researcher can make on the basis of their study (note – these are generally separate in experimental studies) – in this case, the conclusion is an argument about the importance of ethical reasons to avoid plagiarism
  7. the recommendations answer the question of what we should do next – in this case, use these four ethical arguments to convince students not to plagiarize (note – a more social sciences related paper would probably recommend a change of policy or further targeted research)
  • Abstracts may be created at the end of the writing process as part of the final published version of a paper, but are often also written at the beginning of or during a research project and submitted to conferences / journals in advance.
  • In this ENG 102 course, the work that you do drafting your own “abstract” will help you make a strong introduction for your own research paper.

Driscoll, Dana Lynn. 2013. “Purdue OWL: Technical Reports & Report Abstracts.” Last modified March 3. Accessed March 22 2016. https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/656/1/.