How to write an APA abstract

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You might not know it, but the APA abstract might be the most important paragraph of your research paper.

It’s more than just a summary. This is where your hypothesis, method, and results come to life. An effective abstract helps a reader decide if they are going to read the entire paper. By nailing your paper’s abstract, you are also creating credibility for yourself as the author and making it easier for new readers to find your work.

In this EasyBib formatting guide, students and authors will learn how to format an APA abstract. It begins with an overview of the key aspects included with an abstract and ends with a set of real APA abstract examples that you can look at.

The information in this guide comes straight from the source: The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th edition. Most of the relevant information comes from Section 2.9.

What is an APA abstract page?

While the abstract page plays an important role in getting the reader interested, it is not a sales pitch. It’s about reporting, not commenting. That means that it should accurately reflect each key aspect of your paper.  In other words, it is a concise, comprehensive summary of your paper.

This is where you describe the problem you were exploring, the methods you used to explore it, and the results or conclusions of your exploration. In some cases, you might also be required to state the significance of your conclusions.

Here are some of the key aspects of an APA abstract that might be requested by the publication:

  • Basic problem: Why did this work need to be done?
  • Clearly-stated hypotheses: What was your hypothesis?
  • Methods of investigation: How did you do your research? How did you design your experiment or argument? For scientific papers, include basic sample information.
  • Results: What was the result of your study?
  • Implications: What is the significance of your findings?

Remember, the specific sections or labels in your abstract might vary based on who you are submitting to.

Qualities of a good abstract

In addition to the formatting requirements, the Publication Manual also provides some guidance on what other qualities make for a good abstract.

Here are the qualities of a good abstract as defined by APA. You can find more information on how to formulate a great abstract in chapter 3.

  • Accurate: The most important thing is that your abstract accurately reflects the contents and purpose of your paper. The general rule of thumb for accuracy is, if it doesn’t appear in your paper, it should not appear in the abstract.
  • Non-evaluative: The APA instructs us to “Report rather than evaluate” (p.73). It is inappropriate to add any opinions or comments to the abstract.
  • Coherent and readable: Your abstract needs to be as clear as possible. Use concise, deliberate language. It helps to use verbs instead of nouns when possible (e.g., “investigated” rather than “an investigation of”).
  • Concise: Make sure every sentence is as informative as possible. There should be no “extra” words in an abstract; it’s all about getting the point across as efficiently as possible. Because abstracts are often used for academic search engines, it is good practice to use specific terms that you think people would use to find your paper.

How to format an APA abstract

In large part, the abstract page is formatted just like any APA paper. That means that it should be 12pt font and double-spaced the whole way through.

A properly formatted abstract will also be:

  • No more than 250 words in length.
  • Placed on its own page, immediately following the title page.
  • Labeled with a bold, center-justified “Abstract” at the top

It is important to note that some publications will have their own instructions on how to format the abstract. In addition, some publications require a statement of significance in addition to the abstract.

If you are submitting your paper to a journal, be sure to check the publication’s author instructions.

Paragraph format vs. structured format

The abstract page of an APA paper can be presented in two ways. As the author, you have the option of presenting your abstract in either paragraph format or structured format.

Paragraph format is more common with student papers. This is a single paragraph with no indentation on the first line. The objective, method, results, and conclusions are presented one after another in a simple, narrative manner.

Structured format is similar in formatting with one key difference. This format calls for the insertion of specific labels to identify the different parts of the abstract. In other words, “Objective,” “Method,” “Results,” and “Conclusions” are presented as labels before their corresponding sentences in the abstract.

It’s important to remember that some publications have different labeling requirements. If you’re submitting your paper to a journal, be sure to check the formatting standards.

APA abstract example: Paragraph format

Let’s move on to a specific example of a properly formatted APA abstract written in paragraph format.

The following abstract is from the paper “Movement, wildness, and animal aesthetics” by Tom Greaves. Note how the first line is not indented like a normal paragraph.

Abstract

The key role that animals play in our aesthetic appreciation of the natural world has only gradually been highlighted in discussions in environmental aesthetics. In this article I make use of the phenomenological notion of ‘perceptual sense’ as developed by Merleau-Ponty to argue that open-ended expressive-responsive movement is the primary aesthetic ground for our appreciation of animals. It is through their movement that the array of qualities we admire in animals are manifest qua animal qualities. Against functionalist and formalist accounts, I defend and develop an account of expressive-responsive movement as the primary perceptual sense of animals. I go on to suggest that the primacy of movement in the aesthetic appreciation of animals is also the primary sense of animal ‘wildness’, and that a key part of the rewilding paradigm should be the development of such appreciation.

In the paragraph above, Greaves uses his first sentence to explain the basic problem, and the next two sentences to describe the method. The fourth sentence presents the results, and the fifth sentence wraps things up with a conclusion.

It’s only five sentences, and it tells the reader everything they need to know about the contents of the paper.

APA abstract example: Structured format

Next up is an example of a properly formatted APA abstract written in structured format. This example uses the same abstract as above, with the addition of identifying labels.

Structured abstracts are only necessary when specifically requested by the class, institution, or journal you are submitting to. For all APA journals, these labels are bold, italicized, and capitalized.

Abstract

Objective. The key role that animals play in our aesthetic appreciation of the natural world has only gradually been highlighted in discussions in environmental aesthetics. Method. In this article I make use of the phenomenological notion of ‘perceptual sense’ as developed by Merleau-Ponty to argue that open-ended expressive-responsive movement is the primary aesthetic ground for our appreciation of animals. It is through their movement that the array of qualities we admire in animals are manifest qua animal qualities. Results. Against functionalist and formalist accounts, I defend and develop an account of expressive-responsive movement as the primary perceptual sense of animals. Conclusions. I go on to suggest that the primacy of movement in the aesthetic appreciation of animals is also the primary sense of animal ‘wildness’, and that a key part of the rewilding paradigm should be the development of such appreciation.

Adding a keywords section after your APA abstract

A paper’s keywords section is intended to help people find your work. These are the acronyms, phrases, or words that describe the most important elements of your paper. Any papers submitted to an APA journal should include three to five keywords.

The keywords section is generally only required for professional papers. However, some professors and universities specifically request that it be included in student papers.

Formatting the keywords section

The keywords are presented on the same page as the abstract, one line below the end of the abstract paragraph. It begins with the label “Keywords:”, and it is italicized and indented 0.5in from the margin.

Next comes a list of the keywords separated by commas. The keywords should be lowercase, unless the keyword is a proper noun. There is no punctuation at the end of a keyword list.

APA abstract with keywords example

Take another look at the abstract example that was provided above. Here is what a set of keywords might look like for that paper, pulling between 3-5 specific terms from the abstract itself.

The keywords are placed one line below the abstract without any additional spaces.

Keywords: animals, animal aesthetics, wildness, rewilding

About APA formatting and the APA style guide

The information in this guide came from the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). Chapter 2 of this book lays out the basic formatting elements for APA 7, including how to write an APA abstract.

You can also consult chapter 3.3 for more in-depth recommendations on how to formulate your abstract based on what type of paper you are writing.


Published October 27, 2020.


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