The abstract is often considered one of the most challenging paper sections to write. It should be concise, but also give a complete summary of your work. But which parts of your work are abstract-worthy? We analyzed 250,000 abstracts from our database of scientific texts to find out.
To determine what structure an abstract usually follows, we divided all 250,000 abstracts into four parts and extracted the most frequent four-word combinations from each. We filtered out phrases with too much overlap (this study shows that and study shows that the) or that were not meaningful for this analysis (that there was a).
Distribution of phrases
The figure on the sheet below shows the most frequently used phrases, and how these are distributed across the four parts of the abstract. This clearly shows us that phrases like in the present study and purpose of this study usually appear at the start of the abstract (in orange - part 1), while phrases like effectiveness of the proposed and these results suggest that tend to appear at the end (dark blue - part 4). Parts 2 and 3 overlap, covering phrases such as 95% confidence interval, in the control group, and between the two groups, indicating that the middle of the abstract usually covers the methods, analysis, and results.
Useful phrases for your abstract
Looking for words to use at the beginning, middle, or end of your abstract? The sheet below shows what pieces of information usually go into each part, with the most frequently used phrases for each. For more guidance, try Writefull’s Sentence Palette, which offers a set of sentences that you can directly paste into your own abstract!
About the author
Hilde is Chief Applied Linguist at Writefull.