What is an abstract?

Guide to writing an abstract

 What is an abstract? 

  • An abstract is a short informative or descriptive summary of a longer report.
  • It is written after the report is completed, although it is intended to be read first.
  • In a technical report, the abstract appears on a separate page after the table of contents and list of illustrations.
  • For your science project report, it most likely should appear on a separate page, just after the title page and therefore just before the report itself.
  • A Science Project abstract must be informative, not descriptive:
    • A DESCRIPTIVE abstract merely identifies the areas to be covered in the report. It is an extended statement of purpose or scope. Such an abstract is only useful for a very long report, because it demonstrates only the paper's organization, not its content.
    • An INFORMATIVE abstract summarizes the entire report and gives the reader an overview of the facts that will be laid out in detail in the paper itself. It is rarely longer than one page and should never exceed more than 10% of the length of the entire report; otherwise it defeats its own purpose.
  • Several potential uses for abstracts:
    • Abstract provide information quickly and help readers decide whether to read the complete article.
    • Abstract provides an overview of content.
  • How to write an informative abstract:
    • Plan to write an abstract that is no more than 10% of the length of the report.
    • In the first draft, note key facts, statistics, etc. that you need to include.
    • Do not include a statement of scope; a sentence like "this paper will look at...." is inappropriate in an informative abstract.
    • Be sure to omit or condense lengthy examples, tables, and other supporting detail.
    • Revise the draft into smooth, stand-alone prose; the abstract itself should be a mini-essay.
    • Edit the revision. Be sure that the abstract is complete and accurate. Double check that the abstract is written in the same voice as is the paper.

Sample Abstract by: Emily C. Small

Can Earthquakes Be Predicted by Lost Pet Ads?


The purpose of my project is to determine whether or not pets will run away before earthquakes. If this is true, we will be able to predict when an earthquake is about to occur.


I tested my hypothesis by randomly picking thirty different dates, twenty random, and ten days that 4.1 magnitude earthquakes occurred in the San Francisco area. I then looked in the classified section of the San Francisco Chronicle for lost pet advertisements on the selected dates. Then I counted the ads, recorded the data, and graphed it.


Over all, the larger percentage of lost pet ads were on earthquake dates. I started by testing only ten earthquake dates, but the results were so close, it was extremely difficult to reach a conclusion. I decided to expand my testing to see if I could get some more definite results. I picked 10 more earthquake dates between 1980 and 1989 with a magnitude of 4.1 or higher. My further investigation on the predictions of earthquakes by lost pet advertisements indicated that pets do sense earthquakes and then run away.


After completing my project, I found that my hypothesis was correct. My hypothesis stated that there will be more lost pet advertisements on an earthquake date than on random control dates. I expected that there would be more pet advertisements on earthquake dates because I thought that pets would be more likely to run away prior to an earthquake. What I found after increasing my testing was that on average, the number of lost pet ads were higher than on the control dates.

Summary Statement: Do pets sense earthquakes and run away before they happen.

Help Received: Dad helped me make graphs, find information and taught me to use the microfilm reader.

Note: This abstract contains subtitles and results. This type of abstract are often published independent from the main report.

Another sample abstract, Category: Behavioral and Social Science

 How Relaxation Affects The Body and Mind

This project investigated the effects of relaxation on the body and mind. Relaxation was achieved by having the subject enter a sensory deprivation tank of water and remain there for a short period of time. The tank measures 122 x 122 x 243 centimeters and holds 0.96 cubic meter of water. It holds 272 kg of magnesium sulfate and it is located in a quiet area of the house. Thirty six subjects were used for this project.

The sensory deprivation tank completely relaxes the body; consequently this allows for mental relaxation as well. Thirty-six subjects were divided into groups based on age, gender, and the amount of time spent in the tank. Subjects were administered a battery of tests measuring both physical and mental abilities. The tests were: SAT Math, SAT Language, Mental processing speed, Chimera Test of Mental Maturity, Content With Life, Blood Pressure, and Balance. Changes were noted and the results were statistically analyzed according to a T test.

Note: This abstract does not have subtitles and results. This type of abstract are used as the first part of a complete project report.

One more sample abstract, Category: Chemistry

Effect of Temperature on Vitamin C

The objective of the experiment was to observe whether orange juice cans outside the refrigerator will show a faster decrease in Vitamin C concentration than juice cans stored inside. The experiment was conducted using nine samples, three with no pulp, three with low pulp, and three with medium pulp, stored outside. Nine more samples were stored inside the refrigerator. The content of vitamin C was tracked in the samples over a period of 20 days using a titration method.

The titration method used iodine as the base, ascorbic acid as the acid and starch as the indicator. The sample size used for each titration was 100 mL of orange juice, 1g of oxalic acid, and a small amount of starch powder. This mixture was vigorously shaken for a minute. Iodine was added drop by drop while the researcher gently swirled the flask.

Note: This abstract does not have subtitles and results. This type of abstract are used as the first part of a complete project report.

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