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How to write an abstract

How to write an abstract

By Saul McLeod, published

An abstract is a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of an article. The purpose of the abstract is to give the reader a quick overview of the essential information before reading the entire article.

An abstract is usually one paragraph between 150–250 words, but there’s often a strict word limit, so make sure to check the requirements of the university or journal.

The abstract should stand alone, and be “self-contained”, and make sense to the reader in isolation from the main article.

Abstract Example

Matching theories of social support suggest that receiving the amount and type of support one prefers from one’s romantic partner promotes more favorable affect and higher relationship satisfaction. Individuals who feel they are provided with less support from their partner than they desire (underprovision) generally experience less positive affect, more negative affect, and tend to be less satisfied in their relationships. However, research findings are mixed with regard to whether receiving more of a particular type of support from one’s partner than one desires (overprovision) is associated with more favorable affect and higher relationship satisfaction. The purpose of the present study was to examine whether underprovision and overprovision of two theoretically important types of social support from spouses— emotional or informational support—were associated with more favorable affect and higher relationship satisfaction in a sample of newlywed couples. Participants were 114 newlywed couples. Data were analyzed using Actor-Partner Interdependence Moderation Models. Results suggested that receiving more emotional support was associated with more favorable affect and higher relationship satisfaction regardless of support preferences. Also, wives who received more informational support from their husbands had higher relationship satisfaction regardless of support preferences. In contrast to findings for relationship satisfaction, the association between informational support and affect were consistent with matching hypotheses. Husbands who experienced underprovision of informational support from their wives, experienced less favorable affect. In contrast, wives who experienced overprovision of informational support from their husbands experienced higher depressive symptoms. Implications for research, theory, and practice are discussed.

Abstract Reference

Lorenzo, J. M., Barry, R. A., & Khalifian, C. E. (2018). More or less: Newlyweds’ preferred and received social support, affect, and relationship satisfaction. Journal of Family Psychology, 32(7), 860.

Structure of the Abstract

[*NOTE: DO NOT separate the components of the abstract – it should be written as a single paragraph. This section is separated to illustrate the abstract’s structure.]

1) The Rationale

One or two sentences describing the overall purpose of the study and the research problem(s) you investigated. You are basically justifying why this study was conducted.

  • What is the importance of the research?
  • Why would a reader be interested in the larger work?
  • For example, are you filling a gap in previous research, or applying new methods to take a fresh look at existing ideas or data?


Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer can experience an array of psychosocial difficulties; however, social support, particularly from a spouse, has been shown to have a protective function during this time. This study examined the ways in which a woman’s daily mood, pain, and fatigue, and her spouse’s marital satisfaction predict the woman’s report of partner support in the context of breast cancer.

  • The current nursing shortage, high hospital nurse job dissatisfaction, and reports of uneven quality of hospital care are not uniquely American phenomena.
  • Students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are more likely to exhibit behavior difficulties than their typically developing peers. The aim of this study was to identify specific risk factors that influence variability in behavior difficulties among individuals with SEND.

2) The Method

Information regarding the participants (number, and population). One or two sentences outlining the method, explaining what was done and how.

  • The method is described in the present tense.
  • Why would a reader be interested in the larger work?).


Pretest data from a larger intervention study and multilevel modeling were used to examine the effects of women’s daily mood, pain, and fatigue and average levels of mood, pain, and fatigue on women’s report of social support received from her partner, as well as how the effects of mood interacted with partners’ marital satisfaction.

  • This paper presents reports from 43,000 nurses from more than 700 hospitals in the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, and Germany in 1998–1999.
  • The study sample comprised 4,228 students with SEND, aged 5–15, drawn from 305 primary and secondary schools across England. Explanatory variables were measured at the individual and school levels at baseline, along with a teacher-reported measure of behavior difficulties (assessed at baseline and at 18-month follow-up).

3) The Results

One or two sentences indicating the main findings or trends found as a result of your analysis.

  • The results are described in the present or past tense.


Results show that on days in which women reported higher levels of negative or positive mood, as well as on days they reported more pain and fatigue, they reported receiving more support. Women who, on average, reported higher levels of positive mood tended to report receiving more support than those who, on average, reported lower positive mood. However, average levels of negative mood were not associated with support. Higher average levels of fatigue but not pain were associated with higher support. Finally, women whose husbands reported higher levels of marital satisfaction reported receiving more partner support, but husbands’ marital satisfaction did not moderate the effect of women’s mood on support.

  • Nurses in countries with distinctly different health care systems report similar shortcomings in their work environments and the quality of hospital care. While the competence of and relation between nurses and physicians appear satisfactory, core problems in work design and workforce management threaten the provision of care.
  • Hierarchical linear modelling of data revealed that differences between schools accounted for between 13% (secondary) and 15.4% (primary) of the total variance in the development of students’ behavior difficulties, with the remainder attributable to individual differences. Statistically significant risk markers for these problems across both phases of education were being male, eligibility for free school meals, being identified as a bully, and lower academic achievement. Additional risk markers specific to each phase of education at the individual and school levels are also acknowledged.

4) The Conclusion / Implications

A brief summary of your conclusions and implications of the results, described in the present tense. Explain to the reader what the results mean.

  • For example, what changes should be implemented as a result of the findings of the work?
  • How does this work add to the body of knowledge on the topic?


Implications of these findings are discussed relative to assisting couples during this difficult time in their lives.

  • Resolving these issues, which are amenable to managerial intervention, is essential to preserving patient safety and care of consistently high quality.
  • behavior difficulties are affected by risks across multiple ecological levels. Addressing any one of these potential influences is therefore likely to contribute to the reduction in the problems displayed.

The above examples of abstracts are from the following papers:

Aiken, L. H., Clarke, S. P., Sloane, D. M., Sochalski, J. A., Busse, R., Clarke, H., ... & Shamian, J. (2001). Nurses’ reports on hospital care in five countries. Health affairs, 20(3), 43-53.

Boeding, S. E., Pukay-Martin, N. D., Baucom, D. H., Porter, L. S., Kirby, J. S., Gremore, T. M., & Keefe, F. J. (2014). Couples and breast cancer: Women’s mood and partners’ marital satisfaction predicting support perception. Journal of Family Psychology, 28(5), 675.

Oldfield, J., Humphrey, N., & Hebron, J. (2017). Risk factors in the development of behavior difficulties among students with special educational needs and disabilities: A multilevel analysis. British journal of educational psychology, 87(2), 146-169.

The Abstract SHOULD NOT contain:

  • lengthy background information,
  • references to other literature,
  • elliptical (i.e., ending with ...) or incomplete sentences,
  • abbreviations or terms that may be confusing to readers,
  • any sort of illustration, figure, or table, or references to them.

When to Write an Abstract

Although the abstract will appear as the very first part of your paper, it’s a good practice to write your abstract after you’ve drafted your full paper, so that you know what you’re summarizing.

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2020). How to write an abstract. Simply psychology:

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