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Should I write an abstract for a formal essay? I've heard from different sources that I should, although my instructor didn't specify.

And if I should, where are some resources that I could use to write an abstract correctly?

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6 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I wouldn't try to guess on this one, and I wouldn't trust the opinions of people on the internet, unless for some reason you can't get your information from the most logical source - your instructor!

Is there some reason you can't ask him/her for clarification on the expectations of the assignment? You need to know if you even need an abstract, and if you do, you need to ask for clarification on the format.

If for some reason you can't communicate with your teacher, you could probably get a more accurate answer here if you told us your level and field of study, and maybe your general location - academic traditions vary.

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I think you're being over-paranoid. If there are no actual requirements specified, then choose a solution that you think feels right-- essentially you want some kind of "introduction" that summarises the purpose of what you're writing and the main thrust of your discussion/results.

An "abstract" is usually associated with a paper/thesis in a fairly standard format (e.g. introduction-methodology-results-discussion-conclusion or variants thereof) and will usually try to summarise elements of all of these sections (or at least as far as the results). Its purpose is broadly to allow the reader to decide if the article is truly going to talk about the matter that they're interested in. But depending on the context, an abstract could be a 150-word paragraph at the beginning of a journal article or a 1000-word submission to a conference etc. There's no single 'correct template'. There's also no mystery-- you can look at the abstract of practically any recently-published journal article free on the Internet, so why not just have a look at some actual examples?

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If no abstract is specified and you go to the trouble of writing a 200-250 word abstract, then you're not going to do yourself a disservice

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Does your academic institution follow a style guide? If so, it's probably APA or MLA. Check with either of those. Purdue University has an excellent Online Writing Lab (OWL), which you should explore for definitive answers to questions like these.

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It is common practice to include a summary/abstract at the beginning of your document especially if it is going to be for academic purposes. Almost all peer review journal articles have them.

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The abstract should have an opening that identifies that particular subject matter and how the research that you have done will provide a solution. It is very important to make this clear in the initial sentence or two of the abstract as people want to know immediately what the essay is about. An abstract is usually no more than 250 words. It is important to keep the word count in mind when writing an abstract. Include Information on Methods and Results - Part of the abstract should briefly mention the methods and results that pertain to your topic. At the close of the abstract it is important to briefly mention how results affect the initial problem that was mentioned in the opening of the abstract. Review and Update the Abstract.

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