The most important section of your technical report or paper is the abstract. In fact, your reader’s first impression of the report is often formed after 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 is the last part of the paper to be written. Despite its importance, students are apt to throw the abstract together as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, the time spent in learning the following rules will pay high dividends in the end.
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
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, at some point, be separated from the parent report. Thus, you must include the more important results, conclusions, and recommendations. The program committees of engineering conferences will often use abstracts (and only abstracts) as the basis for accepting papers to be presented.
5. The abstract should never give any information or conclusion that is not stated in the main body of the report.
6. The documentation style of the abstract follows that of the report to which it is attached. Abstracts submitted to conferences will normally follow the style specified by the conference. Most ChE undergraduate abstracts are single-spaced, and the first line is not indented.
These are samples of technical abstracts. A sample student lab-report abstract may be found here: student abstract. An example of an abstract for an academic research paper may be found here: research paper abstract.