APA format is the official style of the American Psychological Association and is use in psychology writing as well as other social sciences. These style guidelines specify different aspects of a document's presentation and layout, including how pages are structured, the organization of references, and how citations are made. This format also stipulates the use of an abstract designed to very briefly summarize the key details contained in a paper without providing too much detail.
Why Is an Abstract Important In APA Format?
While it is sometimes overlooked or only an afterthought, an abstract is an important part of any academic or professional paper. This brief overview serves as a summary of what your paper contains, so it should succinctly and accurately represent what your paper is about and what the reader can expect to find.
Fortunately, by following a few simple guidelines, you can create an abstract that generates interest in your work and help readers quickly learn if the paper will be of interest to them.
The Basics of an APA Format Abstract
The abstract is the second page of a lab report or APA-format paper and should immediately follow the title page. Think of an abstract as a highly condensed summary of your entire paper.
The purpose of your abstract is to provide a brief yet thorough overview of your paper. The APA publication manual suggests that your abstract should function much like your title page—it should allow the person reading it too quickly determine what your paper is all about.
The APA manual also states that the abstract is the single most important paragraph in your entire paper. It is the first thing that most people will read, and it is usually what informs their decision to read the rest of your paper. A good abstract lets the reader know that your paper is worth reading.
According to the official guidelines of the American Psychological Association, a good abstract should be:
- Brief but packed with information. Each sentence must be written with maximum impact in mind. To keep your abstract short, focus on including just four or five of the essential points, concepts, or findings.
- Objective and accurate. The abstract's purpose is to report rather than provide commentary. It should also accurately reflect what your paper is about. Only include information that is also included in the body of your paper.
How to Write an Abstract
- First, write your paper. While the abstract will be at the beginning of your paper, it should be the last section that you write. Once you have completed the final draft of your psychology paper, use it as a guide for writing your abstract.
- Begin your abstract on a new page and place your running head and the page number 2 in the top right-hand corner. You should also center the word "Abstract" at the top of the page.
- Keep it short. According to the APA style manual, an abstract should be between 150 to 250 words. Exact word counts can vary from journal to journal. If you are writing your paper for a psychology course, your professor may have specific word requirements, so be sure to ask. The abstract should also be written as only one paragraph with no indentation. In order to succinctly describe your entire paper, you will need to determine which elements are the most important.
- Structure the abstract in the same order as your paper. Begin with a brief summary of the Introduction, and then continue on with a summary of the Method, Results, and Discussion sections of your paper.
- Look at other abstracts in professional journals for examples of how to summarize your paper. Notice the main points that the authors chose to mention in the abstract. Use these examples as a guide when choosing the main ideas in your own paper.
- Write a rough draft of your abstract. While you should aim for brevity, be careful not to make your summary too short. Try to write one to two sentences summarizing each section of your paper. Once you have a rough draft, you can edit for length and clarity.
- Ask a friend to read over the abstract. Sometimes having someone look at your abstract with fresh eyes can provide perspective and help you spot possible typos and other errors.
Things to Consider When Writing an Abstract
The format of your abstract also depends on the type of paper you are writing. For example, an abstract summarizing an experimental paper will differ from that of a meta-analysis or case study.
For an abstract of an experimental report:
- Begin by identifying the problem.
- Describe the participants in the study.
- Briefly, describe the study method used.
- Give the basic findings.
- Provide any conclusions or implications of the study.
For an abstract of a meta-analysis or literature review:
- Describe the problem of interest.
- Explain the criteria that were used to select the studies included in the paper.
- Identify the participants in the studies.
- Provide the main results.
- Describe any conclusions or implications.
How Long Should Your Abstract Be?
The sixth-edition APA manual suggests that an abstract be between 150 and 250 words. However, they note that the exact requirements vary from one journal to the next. If you are writing the abstract for a class, you might want to check with your instructor to see if he or she has a specific word count in mind.
Psychology papers such as lab reports and APA format articles also often require an abstract. In these cases as well, the abstract should include all of the major elements of your paper, including an introduction, hypothesis, methods, results, and discussion. Remember, although the abstract should be placed at the beginning of your paper (right after the title page), you will write the abstract last after you have completed a final draft of your paper.
In order to ensure that all of your APA formatting is correct, consider consulting a copy of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.
A Word From Verywell
The abstract may be very brief, but it is so important that the official APA style manual identifies it as the most important paragraph in your entire paper. It may not take a lot of time to write, but careful attention to detail can ensure that your abstract does a good job representing the contents of your paper.
Some more tips that might help you get your abstract in tip-top shape:
- Look in academic psychology journals for examples of abstracts.
- Keep on hand a copy of a style guide published by the American Psychological Association for reference.
- If possible, take your paper to your school's writing lab for assistance.
Getting your paper accepted for any academic conference will involve writing an abstract. Here, Albrecht Sonntag explains how to make sure yours stands out to the conference organisers.
An abstract is a brief summary of the paper you want to present at an academic conference, but actually it’s much more than that. It does not only say something about the paper you are proposing, but also a lot about yourself. An experienced evaluator giving his time for the tedious process of paper selection will attentively study your proposal, but will at the same time read quite a few things between the lines: the enthusiasm you have for your topic, the professionalism with which the proposal has been drafted, the respect you show for the event you are applying for.
Respect for the event is expressed by
a) verifying if your topic really fits the call for papers;
b) limiting yourself to the word count that is indicated by the organisers;
c) following the instructions on how to format the proposal;
d) including all the additional information required (such as basic personal data, keywords, exact level of study, etc.);
e) writing a text in correct English syntax and spelling;
f) keeping to the deadline.
A good abstract provides an idea of why the original research this paper is based upon provides an added value to the conference and the ongoing dialogue in the field. It is obviously not easy to squeeze the research of an entire PhD thesis into a few lines. You will need to focus on one specific angle, answering four straightforward questions:
a) What is the problem you address?
b) What method(s) do you use to research this problem?
c) What data have you been able to produce or process?
d) What (intermediary) findings will you be able to discuss?
In answering these four questions in a succinct manner, the usual 200 to 300 words of an abstract are quickly used up.
And take your time! A good abstract is not written in just a few minutes. Even experienced researchers prefer to go over it several times.
What to drop
Keeping to the word limit is easier if you resist the temptation to start with an introduction. Just enter into the subject – your problem or research question itself is introduction enough. There is no need either to include references to authors or works that underpin your research. The evaluators will trust you have not engaged into a PhD or managed it to your third year without having appropriated the theoretical and conceptual basics.
Where to look for inspiration
If you are still unsure, go for help. If you are part of a pre-established panel, ask you panel convenor what he/she thinks about your abstract. (Obviously, it helps if this is not done at the very last minute…). Ask your PhD supervisor whether he/she can give some advice. Or browse the numerous abstracts that are online from previous conferences. Look for abstracts of young researchers, who are still at very early stages of their career. Ask yourself: what made the evaluator gain a positive impression of a given proposal?
Your abstract is like a business card or ‘elevator pitch’. You want to be remembered by the people to whom you offer it. Favourably, if possible.