Writing an Abstract


When writing a scientific paper, one of the hardest parts to write is the Abstract. Usually, it is the last thing written even though it is placed first in the finished document. In Biology 112 and 113 Lab, students will be asked to design, conduct, and write a formal report on their own independent research projects. Invariably the one portion of the write-up that gives students the most difficulty is the Abstract. Thus, over the course of Biology 111, you may be asked to write abstracts for selected experiments to aid you in learning how to do so effectively. Following completion of the experiment and distribution and discussion of class data you may be asked to turn in a typed (using a word processor) Abstract for some of the following (due dates will be set for each):

An Abstract is a brief, concise summary of an experiment in one SHORT (aim for 100 words or less) paragraph. It should include a statement of the overall experimental procedure which was followed; this should be in enough depth so a reader can understand what was done, but without details. There should also be a summary statement of the results obtained, pointing out any noteworthy data gathered, and a summary statement of what those results prove.

Citation Line:

The Abstract should be written in accepted scientific format. When writing an abstract, the first line or two (single-spaced rather than double-) should include the proper citation of the paper: Author (you), last name first. Date. Title of paper (which, if this was a whole paper, should exactly match the title on the title page). If this was a published paper, the journal name, etc. would follow.

Summary of What Was Done:

Then, starting on the next line and double-spaced, the abstract should follow. This is a short, concise summary in one paragraph (many journals limit the number of words - aim for 100 words or less) of the experiment. Why was it important that this work be done – what was being tested (for example, “Because of interest among students and law enforcement officers, the alcohol content of lab brew was determined from the specific gravity of a same-strength distillate.”)? Briefly, yet concisely, what was done, what overall experimental procedure was followed (for example, “All volunteers were asked to take two grams of vitamin C and collect hourly urine samples. These samples were analyzed for vitamin C content.”)?

Summary of Data/Results:

A brief summary of the findings, the results obtained, pointing out any noteworthy data gathered should be included. This should be a concise summary of the data, not a detailed presentation thereof (for example, “XYZ Pop was found to contain 12 tsp. of sugar per can, the highest of any of the brands tested.”).

Summary of Conclusions:

Also, a summary statement commenting on the significance of those results – what conclusions can be made – should be included (for example, “Because XYZ Pop was found to contain the most sugar per can of all the brands tested, it is the worst choice for diabetics who must restrict their sugar intake.”).

Grammar and Composition Guidelines:

Many of the examples given below are based on text included by past students in their abstracts for the first experiment. These items are typically “problem areas” for students.

One really good way to see if what you’ve written makes sense is to read it out loud to someone else, or better yet, have someone else read it out loud to you. If it doesn’t make sense to you and the other person when read aloud, it needs to be re-written. When I was in grad school, my major professor was in the process of having a paper published in a scientific journal, and was at the point where he had received the galley proofs to proofread. While he, personally, read over the proofs, he also asked two people from his lab (who were less familiar with what he had written) to help, with one of them reading the proof out loud to the other, so that he had two, additional sets of ears and eyes helping with the proofreading. Ask for help from friends or family members who are not enrolled in this class.

Not as an official part of the abstract, but it would be most helpful if you would indicate your lab section and seat number in the upper right-hand corner of your paper. For example, if you use “2” to represent the 2:00 lab or “4” to represent the 4:30 lab, then for example, “4-15” could be used to represent seat #15 in the 4:30 lab section.

Sample Abstract

Here is a sample Abstract for an experiment we will be doing. My software tells me this is 100 words long (it counts things like “20° C” as two words). You are NOT to copy this, but do your own work:

Carter, J. L. S. 24 October 1994. Accuracy and precision of various glassware.

A 250-mL beaker, 100-mL graduated cylinder, and 100-mL volumetric flask were filled in triplicate with 100 mL of 20° C distilled water. The average weight of water and standard deviation were calculated for each vessel. The average water weights were 96.75 g for the beaker, 100.85 g for the cylinder, and 99.66 g for the flask (closest to the theoretical value of 99.82 g at 20° C, indicating greatest accuracy). Standard deviations of 0.14 g, 0.02 g, and 0.00 g, respectively, indicate greatest precision was obtained with the volumetric flask. Thus the volumetric flask was both the most accurate and the most precise.

Use of the word “respectively” implies that items are referenced in the same order as previously listed. Thus, the 0.02 g mean deviation was obtained using the graduated cylinder, since both are second in the listings.


Abstracts will be worth 10 points towards your total for the quarter. They will be graded on the following areas (2 pt. each):

  1. Is there a concise summary of the procedure?
  2. Is there a concise summary of the data, pointing out important findings?
  3. Is there a concise summary of the results/conclusions which highlights the significance/implications of the findings?
  4. Is there proper grammar, format, verb tense, use of passive voice, and spelling?
  5. Was a word processor used?

Other Things to Include in Your Notebook

Make sure you have all of the following in your lab notebook:

Copyright © 2010 by J. Stein Carter. All rights reserved.
Based on printed protocol Copyright © 1994 J. L. Stein Carter.
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