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Writing Effective Abstracts

Here are some tips for writing an effective abstract.  I’ll use the example of a section of a lab report that studies refraction.  This might be part of a more elaborate lab, so there might be other topics to add.

1. State the main research question or objective:

Clearly and succinctly state the main research question or objective of the study. This will give readers an idea of what the paper is about and what they can expect to learn from it.

Light passing through a transparent medium can be refracted. We used Snell’s Law to determine the index of refraction for an acrylic block.

Notice that the first sentence tells us a bit about the process being studied.  The second sentence tells us what was actually done.  There isn’t a huge amount of detail.  That will be provided in the body of the lab report.

2. Summarize the Main Findings

Provide a brief summary of the main findings of the study, including any significant results or conclusions. Be sure to include any important statistics or data, but avoid going into too much detail.

We found the index of refraction to be 1.53, which is within 2.00% of the expected value.

Notice that this sentence provides the numerical result of the study. It also compares it to the expected value.  The index of refraction has no units, but make sure that you include units if a number requires them.

You might be thinking that this sentence looks like a conclusion.  That is correct.  The abstract is one of three places (abstract, results, conclusion) we report our results.

3. Indicate the importance of the research:

Explain why the research is important and how it contributes to the broader field of study. Highlight any new insights or discoveries that were made as a result of the study.

Knowing the index of a refraction is important for the design of optical systems, particularly those involving lenses.

This sentence lets us know where these types of results could be useful.  A full journal article would probably go into a bit more detail about the specific area of research.

Here’s the full abstract…

Light passing through a transparent medium can be refracted. We used Snell’s Law to determine the index of refraction for an acrylic block. We found the index of refraction to be 1.53, which is within 2.00% of the expected value. Knowing the index of a refraction is important for the design of optical systems, particularly those involving lenses.

Using these tips helps us write an effective abstract. The reader can see what we did, what we found, and where it might be useful.