How to write abstracts in MLA

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An abstract is a concise summary of a finished research paper that motivates readers to keep reading. It is a reduced form of a lengthy piece of writing that highlights the key points and briefly describes the content and scope of the paper. An abstract in MLA format generally aims to summarize the objective, methods, discussions, and conclusions of a paper.

Abstracts are usually between 100-250 words or 5-7 sentences, depending on the type. They can include short descriptions of your motivations, objective, methods, findings, discussion, and conclusion of the paper. You can also include why you wrote the paper and why readers should be interested.

Why do you need an abstract?

Abstracts allow for a quick summary of your paper for other researchers. Busy researchers don’t have time to read everything, so they rely on the abstract to help them decide whether or not they will read the paper.

Although MLA style doesn’t require an abstract, the MLA style abstract is the most commonly used style in the humanities. If you are writing a paper for a class in literature, religion, philosophy, or other similar subjects, you should use MLA Style. Check with your professor to see if an abstract is required for your paper.

Different types of abstracts

There are two different types of abstracts: descriptive and informative.

  • Descriptive abstracts are approximately 100 words and give a brief overview of the paper. They do not include a full analysis and may not include the results and/or conclusions.
  • Informative abstracts are longer and are approximately 150-250 words. They are a condensed version of your writing that contains information from every part of the paper.

How to write an abstract in MLA style

To write a high-quality abstract in MLA style, you will need an explanation of what research was done and what the outcomes were. Write in a clear, simple, and direct style. The abstract gives readers the information they need to decide whether to read the complete paper or not.

Format for an MLA abstract

Works cited

Cannon, Christopher. “From Literacy to Literature: Elementary Learning and the Middle English Poet.” PMLA, vol. 129, no. 3, 2014, pp. 349–364., www.jstor.org/stable/24769474.

MLA Handbook. 8th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2016.

O’Neill, Bonnie Carr. “The Personal Public Sphere of Whitman’s 1840s Journalism.” PMLA, vol. 126, no. 4, 2011, pp. 983–998. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41414171.

Sealey-Morris, Gabriel. “The Rhetoric of the Paneled Page: Comics and Composition Pedagogy.” Composition Studies, vol. 43, no. 1, 2015, pp. 31–50. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43501877.


Published October 25, 2020.

By Catherine Sigler. Catherine has a Ph.D. in English Education and has taught college-level writing for 15 years.


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