Writing the Abstract

The most important section of your technical report or paper is the abstract. In fact, your reader’s first impression of the report and of you is often formed from reading the abstract. A well-prepared abstract enables a reader to identify the basic content of a document quickly and accurately, to determine its relevance, and thus, to decide whether or not he or she needs to read the entire document.

A useful abstract is a complete, accurate, and concise summary of the report. It condenses the subject matter of the report itself; consequently, the reader of the abstract should be able to grasp the major findings of the report and their relative importance and relationships. The abstract should include a quantitative summary of what you did, the results you obtained, and the conclusions based on these results. The range of numerical values should be given for important parameters, variables, and results. The abstract is not, however, a textual table of contents.

Although the abstract is the first section to be read, it should be the last part of the paper to be written.

1. Write the abstract last, after you have written the entire report.

2. Make sure you cover these five main points in your abstract:

  • the principal objectives and the scope of the experiment
  • the methodology employed
  • quantitative results
  • conclusions

3. Avoid citing references to the main body of your text (including sections, figures, tables, and bibliographic information). Also avoid illustrations. Equations should not be numbered.

4. The abstract is self-contained. Most abstracts will be separated from the parent report at some point. Thus, you must include the more important results, conclusions, and recommendations.  The data bases that produce responses to search engines most often display only the abstract of your report or publication.  The program committees of engineering conferences will often use abstracts (and only abstracts) as the basis for accepting papers to be presented.  It is important to write this section carefully.

5. The abstract should never give any information or conclusion that is not stated in the main body of the report.

6. Your abstracts for ChE 253M should be single-spaced, and the first line is not indented.

7. The abstracts for ChE 253M should be written in active voice and personal pronouns are to be avoided.

An abstract from a recent technical paper is provide here.