How to Write an Abstract for the Social Sciences

How to Write an Abstract for the Social Sciences


An abstract is essentially a short summary of the author’s research article and/or paper. If done correctly, an abstract summarizes the main parts of the paper, allowing the read to get a feel for what they will be reading. Generally, the abstract should not be more than 150 words, and should give some indication of the study’s purpose, methods used, results and implications of those results. Abstracts allow the reader to decide whether or not a paper is worth reading based on its general content; thus, keywords and phrases should that allow for easy searching should be included.

Individuals write abstracts in the social sciences when they are:

  • submitting articles to journals
  • applying for research grants
  • completing a Ph.D. dissertation
  • writing a proposal for a book chapter or conference paper

Two types of abstracts exist – descriptive and informative. The former makes no judgment about the work; rather, it only reports the purpose, methods, and findings. It is more or less a summary of the work. The other type of abstract, informative, goes beyond describing the work by including main arguments and evidence. This type is more common than descriptive, especially for the social sciences. When writing an abstract, two or so sentences should be allotted for each section, and the abstract should later be edited for clarity.

Components of an Abstract

Writing an abstract is fairly straightforward, and most abstracts contain the same key elements. When writing an abstract, students should be sure to answer and include these key questions:

  1. What is the importance of the research? Why should the reader care?
  2. What problem does this research attempt to solve? What is the main argument?
  3. What types of methods are being used?
  4. What were the results, and what do they mean?
  5. What are the study's implications?

All abstracts should furthermore contain:

  • The most important information first.
  • The same style of language as the paper.
  • Key words and phrases that aid in quick searching.
  • Same chronological structure as the work.

Abstract Example

Below contains an abstract from the field of psychology from which to follow:

"The use of self-help resources is a growing trend among Americans. More than 80% of psychologists recommend specific self-help books to their clients, contributing to the estimated 2,000 self-help books published each year. However, an electronic literature search revealed few studies on the success of self-help treatments for people suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The purpose of this study was to obtain expert evaluations of self-help films and books on PTSD in order to guide both consumers and professionals in selecting meritorious resources. Two national samples of clinical and counseling psychologists rated 7 films and 28 self-help books on PTSD.The most highly valued films were The Accused and Fearless; the top rated books were Reclaiming Your Life After Rape, Rebuilding Shattered Lives, Trauma and Recovery, and The PTSD Workbook."

Taken from Healing Trauma: Psychologists’ Evaluations of Self-Help Resources for PTSD Jessica B.Agnello1, Dennis Reidy1, John Norcross1, and Linda F. Campbell2 University of Scranton1 & University of Georgia2 

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