Module 4: Writing an abstract

How is an Abstract different from an Introduction?

An Abstract is quite different from an Introduction. While an Abstract provides an overview of the whole essay/report, an Introduction sets up the position you are going to present (thesis statement); the reasons that position is justifiable (outline of main points); states the limits (scope) of the essay/report and may provide some background information (orientation to the topic).

See Module 2 for more information about writing an Introduction.

The function of an Abstract is to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the essay report. The function of an Abstract is to inform the reader of the contents of the report /essay so that the reader can see in advance the key areas covered and the main pointsof the argument.

An Abstract clearly states the purpose and direction, the main arguments and the conclusions reached. It is a mini version of the paper. If writing an investigative report which includes research findings, then it is usual to include in the Abstract the aims or objectives, methods, findings or results, conclusions and implications.

An Abstract does not include details or give examples, it is concerned with only the ‘big ideas’ of the essay/report.

In some disciplines, an Abstract is written as one paragraph and is single spaced, whereas the essay or report itself is double spaced. Check this level of detail with your supervisor.

When should you write the abstract first or last?

Usually the abstract is written after the essay/report is completed. Some people claim that writing it first assists with their planning. If you write it first, you need to keep checking that it still represents the major ideas of your essay/report.

Outline of an abstract

Background: Set a context for the topic. What problem, question, or hypothesis is being studied? Why would it be of interest to the reader?

Methods: How did you perform the study, test the hypothesis, or answer the question?

Results: What did you find? Did you solve the problem, prove the hypothesis, or answer the question?

Discussion: What do your results mean?

Conclusion: What value do your results add to knowledge in your field? What follow up might you undertake?

Adapted from: Annesley, T.M. (2010). Guide to scientific writing. Clinical Chemistry, 56(4), 521–524.

Example 1


Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) commonly known as ‘Lupus’ is a chronic and complex multisystem autoimmune disease that can affect virtually every system in the body. The physical and emotional ‘roller coaster’ effect of SLE requires quality nursing care to fortify the SLE client. Comprehensive and continuous nursing assessment is necessary to gain a deeper understanding of the problems and needs of the SLE client.

The purpose of this investigative report is to develop a nursing assessment modal that will facilitate a comprehensive nursing assessment of SLE clients. Selected features from Neuman’s Systems Model, Corbin and Strauss’ trajectory Framework on Chronic Illness Management, and Kubler-Ross’ theory on grieving form the basis of the Eclectic Nursing Assessment Model that has been developed in this report.

The method of analysis used is that of Billig’s method which involves the presentation of the Arguments for the appropriateness of the selected concepts from these models and theories and also includes the presentation of the limitations of these models.

A discussion of the Eclectic Nursing Assessment Model is presented in terms of monitoring and managing the SLE client. The implications of the model in terms of nursing practice, education, and nursing research are discussed The Introduction contains an analysis of the theories of the causes of diabetes and the main argument for the support of one theory (Opilas, 1994).

Example 2


This abstract is taken from a medical internet site. Consider how it differs from the abstract above and its similarities with Sample 1.

Overcoming service barrier for homeless persons with serious psychotic disorder. (Title)

Calloway MO, Morrissey JP (Authors)
Cecil G. Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 27599-7590, USA . (Internet access details)

Objective: To help homeless persons with comorbid psychiatric and substance use disorders gain access to community services.

In 1993 the Center for Mental Health Services implemented the five year Access to Community Care and Effective Services or ACCESS program, in 15 cities. One aim of the program is to encourage collaboration between agencies serving the multiple needs of this population. This study examined the extent of linkages between agencies in the 15 demonstration cities.

Methods: One respondent from each of the 1060 community-based programs in tied 15 cities rated the extent to which his or her agency was linked with each of the other agencies in the local community in 1994 and again in 1996. Overall, there were 20.801 potential pairwise linkages. Linkages were classified into four types: a mutual tie, in which both agencies send and receive clients; a unidirectional tie, in which one agency sends and the other receives; an attempted tie, in which one agency sends but the other agency does not confirm receiving; and an unattempted tie. RESULTS: In 1994 and 19996, of the 20,801 pairs of potential service linkages, about one third were in place, while the remaining two- thirds were absent. Overall, linkages showed a slight but significant increase between 1994 and 1996. More that half of the linkages changed in type, indicating fluid service systems.

Conclusion: Linkages between community agencies serving homeless persons with comorbid psychiatric and substance use disorders are not extensive. However, they increased slightly under the first two years of the access program, and there are good reasons to anticipate greater improvements in the future.

Explanation:(click to show)