write a structured abstract

How to write a structured abstract

Jan 21, 2013
Can you imagine selecting articles for a particular project and having no other way to find out the relevancy of each one except by reading them all? Time consuming cannot begin to describe such a task! Thankfully, abstracts in general, and even more so structured abstracts, work to eliminate the guessing game associated with picking and choosing articles and papers. Quite easily and readily students and researchers can obtain all the necessary information they require to decide whether or not to pursue a particular article or paper-just by utilizing the abstract. This emphasizes the crucial role the abstract plays in each and every publication that allocates one for its readers.
Depending on your exposure to literature and scientific research you may be familiar with both the structured and unstructured abstract. Though they both serve the same purpose, the unstructured abstract, often found in the social sciences, humanities and other disciplines, resembles a short narrative style paragraph or set of paragraphs. Structured abstracts, on the other hand, are more defined and contain a clear format and structure that indicates all of the subheadings of a paper. They're usually common to disciplines in which the paper reflects a basic, Introduction, Method, Results, Analysis, Discussion (or IMRAD) format.

So exactly what purpose does the abstract serve?

Knowing the purpose of the abstract will undoubtedly assist you in preparing a quick and efficient summary of your work. As mentioned previously, the abstract is an easy and reliable means of evaluating a source for relevancy to a particular topic or project. This means that the wording you use, as well as the details you provide, should useful and helpful to the prospective reader. In addition to this, the structured abstract in particular, was designed for use in science and medical disciplines for the quick retrieval of necessary information and data. Though also suitable for the social sciences and other subject areas these two are the primary areas in which the structured abstract is frequently used.

A quick review of what the abstract should cover

Overall, the abstract should in fact cover all the main areas of the paper. In a sense it will also replicate some of the information presented in the Introduction portion as well. A snapshot of what to include can be seen below.
  1. A basic framework for the study (necessary background information etc.)
  2. A thesis statement, research question, and hypothesis
  3. The primary research methodology used
  4. An indication of the results or findings of the research
  5. Basic interpretations and implications of the findings

A detailed outline of the structured abstract

The process for creating a structured abstract is extremely straightforward and easy to follow. Often times the subheadings included are those that can be taken directly from your research paper or lab report. A common system to follow is the IMRAD format mentioned earlier (though there will be some alterations as IMRAD is intended for the text of the paper and not the abstract). In following these sections ultimately you will be covering all the key components of the abstract.


This section should provide some brief background information on the study. Perhaps a sentence or two indicating the context of the problem, or a framework so to speak, to show where the research fits in with other work that has been conducted. This point is a beneficial one as new research should satisfy a significant 'gap' or 'missing link' found in previous research; and this point is usually only clarified with suitable background information.


Secondly the objective should be simply stated indicating the exact intentions of the project. This would include the research question, thesis statement or hypothesis.

Research Design & Methods

This section is likely to be the largest portion and should include the research or experimental design that was used. You may start of by indicating specifically the participants or variables used in the study and move on to explain how the data was collected and analyzed. Though this encompasses several issues, it should really be detailed in no more than a few sentences. The idea is to be concise and succinct.


Briefly state your results or major findings. The information that you indicate here should be directly connected to your research question as well as the research design and methods mentioned. Smaller and less relevant findings can be explained in further detail within the actual paper.
Additionally you may also indicate any conclusions that were drawn from your results (or how you interpreted the findings). Some people may choose to make the results and conclusions into a separate sections but one conclusory sentence can easily be added at the end of the results section (as the focus again is to produce a writing that is short and concise).

Situation concerns: the placement and format of the abstract

In most cases the abstract will be situated right after the title page of a research paper or lab report. In cases in which a table of contents is also utilized the abstract would receive a page number right along with other key sections of the work. Likewise, if utilizing the APA styling guide, (which is common to the sciences) the title 'Abstract' should be centered in the middle of the page followed by the body of the abstract, double-spaced with no indentations. Also a running header which reads a shortened version of the paper title should be at the top of the page. You also have the option of including a list of keywords at the bottom of your abstract. When adding this you should indent the length of a new paragraph and write the word Keywords in italics followed by a colon and the keywords you'd like to list. This should make your document more searchable in electronic databases.

Final tips

Abstracts, in essence, should be stand alone documents that properly summarize a work from beginning to end (without the reader ever needing to consult the actual text). This means that any unclear terms should be explained in the abstract and enough background information should be provided so that the reader has a full picture of what was studied and why. This is often the most crucial part of the abstract.
Lastly, any forms of references and citations should be left out of the abstract. All indications of sources should be fully and directly stated within the text of the paper (that is, no parenthetical citations, footnotes or endnotes in the abstract).
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