What are the most common mistakes students make writing their abstracts?
We often leave writing them to the very last second, but the abstract is arguably the most important part of your paper. So then, what are some things you should be watching out for that could potentially be serving as a doorstop for your readers?
1. Not having a clear rationale
There is no bigger faux pas in writing an abstract than failing to mention the significance of your research and what it contributes to the field of study. Within the first few sentences of reading your abstract, the reader should be able to ascertain what exactly the issue at hand is, and why it is important for him or her to delve deeper into the subject. Most academic fields refer to this as the rationale.
2. Using improper tense
Abstracts are best written in the past tense, especially because it is most certainly going to be the last piece of the puzzle that fits into your academic paper. All the work’s been done, and now the only thing left for you is to summarize your paper in a 200-250 word section. Abstracts written in the present tense will naturally sound rather awkward, because it counteracts its purpose to serve as an overview of your observation and analysis that may have spanned across years or decades. Some academic institutions and review boards may not even accept papers with abstracts written in the incorrect tense, so it’s crucial that you pay attention to it.
3. Using too much hyperbolic language or jargon
Reading an abstract filled with hyperbolic and dramatic adjectives only serves to discredit the validity of your findings, by giving your readers the wrong impression that you are unprofessional and potentially biased towards your findings. Going the complete opposite direction and stuffing your abstract section with esoteric chemical equations and technical jargon can also send readers down the same path of feeling turned off from reading the rest of your study. Refrain from using abbreviations as well, unless you’ve mentioned it previously – which is unlikely, given that the abstract is the first time your readers will be exposed to your paper.
4. Failing to state a conclusion
The abstract should essentially serve as your entire paper wrapped up in a pretty package, for your readers to consume and know what the entire research paper was about. That means that failing to state your conclusion is one of the biggest and most common mistakes made by academics. An abstract without a conclusion, is basically like giving a present to someone but just handing them the present and the wrapping paper, and asking them to wrap it up themselves. Stating your rationale and findings is important, but don’t forget to tie it up in the end by stating what your conclusion was. Don’t forget – your abstract is your paper in 250 words.
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5. Not having enough keywords
Not having enough keywords in the abstract reduces the visibility of your paper on a search engine. Make sure to optimize your paper for search engines by picking out the most important set of keywords from your paper and sprinkling them throughout your abstract.
Didn’t think there were so many ways you could go wrong on a 250-word summary of your paper? Now that you know, make sure to get off on the right foot with an abstract that checks all the boxes.