Abstract (summary)

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An abstract is a brief summary of a research article, thesis, review, conference proceeding, or any in-depth analysis of a particular subject and is often used to help the reader quickly ascertain the paper's purpose. [1] When used, an abstract always appears at the beginning of a manuscript or typescript, acting as the point-of-entry for any given academic paper or patent application. Abstracting and indexing services for various academic disciplines are aimed at compiling a body of literature for that particular subject.


The terms précis or synopsis are used in some publications to refer to the same thing that other publications might call an "abstract". In management reports, an executive summary usually contains more information (and often more sensitive information) than the abstract does.

Purpose and limitations

Academic literature uses the abstract to succinctly communicate complex research. An abstract may act as a stand-alone entity instead of a full paper. As such, an abstract is used by many organizations as the basis for selecting research that is proposed for presentation in the form of a poster, platform/oral presentation or workshop presentation at an academic conference. Most bibliographic databases only index abstracts rather than providing the entire text of the paper. Full texts of scientific papers must often be purchased because of copyright and/or publisher fees and therefore the abstract is a significant selling point for the reprint or electronic form of the full text. [2]

The abstract can convey the main results and conclusions of a scientific article but the full text article must be consulted for details of the methodology, the full experimental results, and a critical discussion of the interpretations and conclusions.

An abstract allows one to sift through copious numbers of papers for ones in which the researcher can have more confidence that they will be relevant to his or her research. Once papers are chosen based on the abstract, they must be read carefully to be evaluated for relevance. It is generally agreed that one must not base reference citations on the abstract alone, but the content of an entire paper.

According to the results of a study published in PLOS Medicine , the "exaggerated and inappropriate coverage of research findings in the news media" is ultimately related to inaccurately reporting or over-interpreting research results in many abstract conclusions. [3] A study published in JAMA concluded that "inconsistencies in data between abstract and body and reporting of data and other information solely in the abstract are relatively common and that a simple educational intervention directed to the author is ineffective in reducing that frequency." [4] Other "studies comparing the accuracy of information reported in a journal abstract with that reported in the text of the full publication have found claims that are inconsistent with, or missing from, the body of the full article." [5]


The history of abstracting dates back to the point when it was felt necessary to summarise the content of documents in order to make the information contained in them more accessible. In Mesopotamia during the early second millennium BCE, clay envelopes designed to protect enclosed cuneiform documents from tampering were inscribed either with the full text of the document or a summary. In the Greco-Roman world, many texts were abstracted: summaries of non-fiction works were known as epitomes, and in many cases the only information about works which have not survived to modernity comes from their epitomes which have survived. Similarly, the text of many ancient Greek and Roman plays commenced with a hypothesis which summed up the play's plot. Non-literary documents were also abstracted: the Tebtunis papyri found in the Ancient Egyptian town of Tebtunis contain abstracts of legal documents. During the Middle Ages, the pages of scholarly texts contained summaries of their contents as marginalia, as did some manuscripts of the Code of Justinian. [6]

Perhaps the earliest use of abstracts to communicate science were from the early 1800s, where the Royal Society would publish 'abstracts' summarizing the presented papers during meetings. [7] Three decades later, the Royal Society compiled abstracts of previous papers published from 1800 – 1837, in the society's journal Philosophical Transactions , titled Abstracts of the Papers Printed in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. [8] This practice took hold and later other journals followed suite. Perhaps the earliest example of an abstract bound to the same article dates to the 1919 paper On the Irregularities of Motion of the Foucault Pendulum published in the Physical Review , the oldest journal published by the American Physical Society, [9] [7] and the journal often published abstracts in its volumes thereafter. [10]

Abstracts are protected under copyright law just as any other form of written speech is protected. [11] However, publishers of scientific articles invariably make abstracts freely available, even when the article itself is not. For example, articles in the biomedical literature are available publicly from MEDLINE which is accessible through PubMed.


Abstract is often expected to tell a complete story of the paper, as for most readers, abstract is the only part of the paper that will be read. It should allow the reader to give an Elevator pitch of the full paper. [12]

An academic abstract typically outlines four elements relevant to the completed work:

It may also contain brief references, [13] although some publications' standard style omits references from the abstract, reserving them for the article body (which, by definition, treats the same topics but in more depth).

Abstract length varies by discipline and publisher requirements. Typical length ranges from 100 to 500 words, but very rarely more than a page and occasionally just a few words. [14] An abstract may or may not have the section title of "abstract" explicitly listed as an antecedent to content. Abstracts are typically sectioned logically as an overview of what appears in the paper, with any of the following subheadings: Background, Introduction, Objectives, Methods, Results, Conclusions.[ citation needed ] Abstracts in which these subheadings are explicitly given are often called structured abstracts. Abstracts that comprise one paragraph (no explicit subheadings) are often called unstructured abstracts.


Example taken from the Journal of Biology, Volume 3, Issue 2.: [15]

The hydrodynamics of dolphin drafting

by Daniel Weihs, Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa 32000, Israel.


Background Drafting in cetaceans is defined as the transfer of forces between individuals without actual physical contact between them. This behavior has long been surmised to explain how young dolphin calves keep up with their rapidly moving mothers. It has recently been observed that a significant number of calves become permanently separated from their mothers during chases by tuna vessels. A study of the hydrodynamics of drafting, initiated inmechanisms causing the separation of mothers and calves during fishing-related activities, is reported here.

Results Quantitative results are shown for the forces and moments around a pair of unequally sized dolphin-like slender bodies. These include two major effects. First, the so-called Bernoulli suction, which stems from the fact that the local pressure drops in areas of high speed, results in an attractive force between mother and calf. Second is the displacement effect, in which the motion of the mother causes the water in front to move forwards and radially outwards, and water behind the body to move forwards to replace the animal's mass. Thus, the calf can gain a 'free ride' in the forward-moving areas. Utilizing these effects, the neonate can gain up to 90% of the thrust needed to move alongside the mother at speeds of up to 2.4 m/s. A comparison with observations of eastern spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) is presented, showing savings of up to 60% in the thrust that calves require if they are to keep up with their mothers.

Conclusions A theoretical analysis, backed by observations of free-swimming dolphin schools, indicates that hydrodynamic interactions with mothers play an important role in enabling dolphin calves to keep up with rapidly moving adult school members.

© 2004 Weihs; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article: verbatim copying and redistribution of this article are permitted in all media for any purpose, provided this notice is preserved along with the article's original URL

Abstract types


The informative abstract, also known as the complete abstract, is a compendious summary of a paper's substance and its background, purpose, methodology, results, and conclusion. [16] [17] Usually between 100 and 200 words, the informative abstract summarizes the paper's structure, its major topics and key points. [16] A format for scientific short reports that is similar to an informative abstract has been proposed in recent years. [18] Informative abstracts may be viewed as standalone documents. [16]


The descriptive abstract, also known as the limited abstract or the indicative abstract, provides a description of what the paper covers without delving into its substance. [19] A descriptive abstract is akin to a table of contents in paragraph form. [19]

Graphical abstracts

During the late 2000s, due to the influence of computer storage and retrieval systems such as the Internet, some scientific publications, primarily those published by Elsevier, started including graphical abstracts alongside the text abstracts. [20] The graphic is intended to summarize or be an exemplar for the main thrust of the article. It is not intended to be as exhaustive a summary as the text abstract, rather it is supposed to indicate the type, scope, and technical coverage of the article at a glance. The use of graphical abstracts has been generally well received by the scientific community. [21] [22] Moreover, some journals also include video abstracts and animated abstracts made by the authors to easily explain their papers. [23] Many scientific publishers currently encourage authors to supplement their articles with graphical abstracts, in the hope that such a convenient visual summary will facilitate readers with a clearer outline of papers that are of interest and will result in improved overall visibility of the respective publication. However, the validity of this assumption has not been thoroughly studied, and a recent study statistically comparing publications with or without graphical abstracts with regard to several output parameters reflecting visibility failed to demonstrate an effectiveness of graphical abstracts for attracting attention to scientific publications. [24]

Abstract quality assessment

Various methods can be used to evaluate abstract quality, e.g. rating by readers, checklists (not necessary in structured abstracts), and readability measures (such as Flesch Reading Ease). [21] [25]

See also

Related Research Articles

Scientific journal Periodical journal publishing scientific research

In academic publishing, a scientific journal is a periodical publication intended to further the progress of science, usually by reporting new research.

Academic publishing Subfield of publishing which distributes academic research and scholarship

Academic publishing is the subfield of publishing which distributes academic research and scholarship. Most academic work is published in academic journal articles, books or theses. The part of academic written output that is not formally published but merely printed up or posted on the Internet is often called "grey literature". Most scientific and scholarly journals, and many academic and scholarly books, though not all, are based on some form of peer review or editorial refereeing to qualify texts for publication. Peer review quality and selectivity standards vary greatly from journal to journal, publisher to publisher, and field to field.

Scientific literature comprises scholarly publications that report original empirical and theoretical work in the natural and social sciences. Within an academic field, scientific literature is often referred to as the literature. Academic publishing is the process of contributing the results of one's research into the literature, which often requires a peer-review process.

Astrophysics Data System Digital Library portal operated by the Smithsonian

The Astrophysics Data System (ADS) is an online database of over eight million astronomy and physics papers from both peer reviewed and non-peer reviewed sources. Abstracts are available free online for almost all articles, and full scanned articles are available in Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) and Portable Document Format (PDF) for older articles. It was developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and is managed by the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

PubMed is a free search engine accessing primarily the MEDLINE database of references and abstracts on life sciences and biomedical topics. The United States National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Institutes of Health maintain the database as part of the Entrez system of information retrieval.

In scientific writing, IMRAD or IMRaD is a common organizational structure. IMRaD is the most prominent norm for the structure of a scientific journal article of the original research type.

In academic publishing, a retraction is the action by which a published paper in an academic journal is removed from the journal. Online journals typically remove the retracted article from online access.

The impact factor (IF) or journal impact factor (JIF) of an academic journal is a scientometric index calculated by Clarivate that reflects the yearly average number of citations of articles published in the last two years in a given journal. It is frequently used as a proxy for the relative importance of a journal within its field; journals with higher impact factor values are often deemed to be more important, or carry more intrinsic prestige in their respective fields, than those with lower values.

Google Scholar Academic search service by Google

Google Scholar is a freely accessible web search engine that indexes the full text or metadata of scholarly literature across an array of publishing formats and disciplines. Released in beta in November 2004, the Google Scholar index includes most peer-reviewed online academic journals and books, conference papers, theses and dissertations, preprints, abstracts, technical reports, and other scholarly literature, including court opinions and patents. While Google does not publish the size of Google Scholar's database, scientometric researchers estimated it to contain roughly 389 million documents including articles, citations and patents making it the world's largest academic search engine in January 2018. Previously, the size was estimated at 160 million documents as of May 2014. An earlier statistical estimate published in PLOS ONE using a Mark and recapture method estimated approximately 80–90% coverage of all articles published in English with an estimate of 100 million. This estimate also determined how many documents were freely available on the web.

Abstract management is the process of accepting and preparing abstracts for presentation at an academic conference. The process consists of either invited or proffered submissions of the abstract or summary of work. The abstract typically states the hypothesis, tools used in research or investigation, data collected, and a summary or interpretation of the data.

Scientific writing is writing for science.

<i>PLOS One</i> Peer-reviewed open access scientific journal

PLOS One is a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS) since 2006. The journal covers primary research from any discipline within science and medicine. The Public Library of Science began in 2000 with an online petition initiative by Nobel Prize winner Harold Varmus, formerly director of the National Institutes of Health and at that time director of Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center; Patrick O. Brown, a biochemist at Stanford University; and Michael Eisen, a computational biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

CAB Direct is a source of references for the applied life sciences It incorporates two bibliographic databases: CAB Abstracts and Global Health. CAB Direct is an access point for multiple bibliographic databases produced by CABI. This database contains 8.8 million bibliographic records, which includes 85,000 full text articles. It also includes noteworthy literature reviews. News articles and reports are also part of this combined database.

EASE Guidelines for Authors and Translators of Scientific Articles to be Published in English were first published by the European Association of Science Editors (EASE) in 2010. Updated versions are periodically released at the EASE Guidelines page of the EASE website. EASE Guidelines summarize the most important editorial recommendations, aiming to make international scientific communication more efficient and to aid in preventing scientific misconduct. They also support the global initiative Healthcare Information For All by 2015 by advising authors to make abstracts of their papers highly informative, reliable, and easily understandable. The document has been translated into many languages, to facilitate its popularization worldwide and help scientists from non-Anglophone countries.

Scholarly peer review is the process of subjecting an author's scholarly work, research, or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field, before a paper describing this work is published in a journal, conference proceedings or as a book. The peer review helps the publisher decide whether the work should be accepted, considered acceptable with revisions, or rejected.

A fast abstract, also extended abstract, is a short, lightly reviewed technical article that is usually presented with a short talk at a scientific conference. The length of the document is usually limited to 2 pages, although some conferences may allow slightly longer articles. If the conference does not specify a document style, the standard double-column IEEE format is a common practice.

<i>GAIA</i> (journal) Academic journal

GAIA: Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society is a peer-reviewed academic journal established in 1992. Its main focus is on background information, analyses, and solutions of environmental and sustainability problems. Since 2001 it is published by oekom verlag. Articles are in English and German. The editor-in-chief is Helga Weisz . GAIA follows the Green Road to Open Access: Authors can archive their article for free public use on personal websites and/or in any open access repository immediately after publication . Authors retain copyright: All articles are published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license CC BY 4.0. Additionally, GAIA offers GAIA Hybrid Option: With this option authors can publish their articles with full open access against a basic charge.

Semantic Scholar is an artificial-intelligence backed search engine for academic publications that was developed at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence and publicly released in November 2015. It uses recent advances in natural language processing to provide summaries for scholarly papers.

A video abstract is the motion picture equivalent of a written abstract. Usually not longer than 5 minutes, video abstracts help the viewer to get a quick overview on a scholarly paper, research article, thesis or review: and to quickly ascertain the purpose and results of a given research. They are not intended to replace the original research paper, rather to help draw attention to it, increasing its readership. The main difference between a video abstract and a short science video of any kind is that the former is associated with a scientific paper that has been accepted and published.

A graphical abstract is a graphical or visual equivalent of a written abstract. Graphical abstracts are a single image, designed to help the reader to quickly gain an overview on a scholarly paper, research article, thesis or review: and to quickly ascertain the purpose and results of a given research, as well as the salient details of authors and journal. Graphical abstracts are intended to help facilitate online browsing, as well as help readers quickly identify which papers are relevant to their research interests. Like a video abstract, they are not intended to replace the original research paper, rather to help draw attention to it, increasing its readership.


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