Writing Abstracts

How to Write an Abstract

(Source: Phil Koopman, Carnegie Mellon University)

Checklist: Parts of an Abstract

Despite the fact that an abstract is quite brief, it must do almost as much work as your talk, project display board, and notebook. This means that it should include the sections that follow. Each section is typically a single sentence, although there is room for creativity. In particular, the parts may be merged or spread among a set of sentences. Use the following as a checklist for your next abstract:

Motivation

Why do we care about the problem and the results? This section should include the importance of your work, the difficulty of the area, and the impact it might have if successful.

Problem Statement

What problem are you trying to solve? What is the scope of your work (a generalized approach, or for a specific situation)? Be careful not to use too much jargon. In some cases it is appropriate to put the problem statement before the motivation, but usually this only works if most readers already understand why the problem is important.

Approach

How did you go about solving or making progress on the problem? Did you use simulation, or analysis of field data? What was the extent of your work? What important variables did you control, ignore, or measure? Do not copy your procedure.

Results

What’s the answer? Put the result in numbers if possible (% is good.) Avoid vague results such as “very,” “small,” or “significant.”

Conclusions

What are the implications of your answer? Is it going to change the world (unlikely), be a significant “win,” find something interesting, or simply indicate that this path is a waste of time. (All of the previous results are useful). Are your results general, or specific to a particular case? What did you learn?

Avoid a Rewrite

  • Focus on what YOU DID, not on the work of your mentor or the laboratory in which you did your work.
  • Do NOT include acknowledgements, self-promotion or external endorsements. Do NOT name the research institution and/or mentor with which you were working and avoid mentioning awards or honors (including achieving a patent) in the body of the abstract.
  • Be sure to emphasize the current year’s research. A continuation project should only make a brief mention of previous years’ research (no more than a sentence or two).

Other Considerations

  • Be sure to use the Official SSEF of Florida Abstract Form.
    • An abstract must be a fully self-contained, capsule description of the project.
    • It must make sense all by itself.
    • It must meet the word count limit. SSEF of Florida Abstract word limit is 250 words.
    • It should use complete sentences in prose format. Treat the Abstract as a “How I would tell a friend about my work, from start to finish” letter.
  • Be sure to select the appropriate Category for your project. These are the Project Categories for RSEF and SSEF of Florida.
  • Complete the CERTIFICATION at the bottom of the Abstract Form. At the bottom of the Abstract & Certification Form there are 7 questions. Read each question carefully and answer appropriately. The Scientific Review Committee (SRC) will review and approve the abstract and answers to these questions.

Further Information

The Science of Scientific Writing (Source: American Scientist)

41. Scientific Writing (Source: Duke University Thompson Writing Program)

Writing Report Abstracts (Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab)

Writing Reports, Proposals, and Technical Documents (Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab)