What is an abstract?
An abstract is a concise summary of a research paper. It is often said that an abstract is like a summary of a story wherein you give away the ending. Writers must bear in mind that the abstract will be read by students and researchers to help guide their decisions about whether to read the article or not, and so the abstract should make sense on its own, without the need to refer to outside sources or even to the article that it is summarizing.
Abstracts are short: often numbering between 100 to 250 words in length. I often remind my students that there is limited space in an abstract, and so we must remain staunchly focused on the primary purpose of the abstract, which is to summarize our study, its methodology, and its findings.
With this in mind, I have begun teaching a basic five-sentence model for writing an abstract. I have outlined this model below.
The Five-Sentence Model:
In the five sentence model, the first sentence establishes the general issue, the second sentence provides more specific detail about the issue, and then, if possible, segues into the purpose of the study. The third sentence briefly describes the study’s methodology. The fourth sentence briefly outlines the study’s findings, often providing some specific statistical data, and the fifth and final sentence provides a brief statement of the study’s implications for society, policy, or research.
I have included a colour-coded exemplar below.
In recent years, high-profile fatalities involving school-aged pedestrians crossing the street at designated crosswalks have elevated the issue of pedestrian safety, especially with respect to highly vulnerable pedestrians. While Section 136(1) of The Highway Traffic Act clearly outlines the requirement to stop at posted stop signs, little is known about the average driver’s propensity to comply with this law. This study gained insight into this question by observing motorists as they approached a suburban stop sign, and then coding their behaviour into one of three categories: “full stop,” “rolling stop,” or “slow and go.” The study’s findings suggest that the majority of drivers do not comply with the requirement to stop at stop signs, with more than one in four drivers almost completely disregarding the stop sign. These findings suggest a need to solicit greater compliance rates amongst Ontario drivers with respect to Section 136(1) of the HTA.
Sentence Number and Objective:
1st: Establishes the general Issue.
2nd: Provides more specific detail about the issue, then segues into the purpose of the study.
3rd: Briefly describes the study’s methodology.
4th: Briefly outlines the study’s findings, often providing some specific statistical data.
5th: A brief statement of the study’s implications for society, policy, or research.
Directions for further study are not explicitly discussed in most abstracts, although they may at times refer to the general need to conduct more research in a certain area.
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