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How to write an abstract for a research proposal

Updated June 16, 2017

An abstract is a brief summary written for a research study or proposal that is placed at the beginning of a paper. The abstract gives the reader a general idea of the proposed research, why it is being done, how it will be conducted and how it relates to past and future research in a given field. A good abstract makes the reader want to learn more about your research, and should fully encapsulate your paper or proposed study.

Formulate your hypothesis and review prior research. To create your hypothesis, make a succinct statement that predicts the expected results of your research. A hypothesis explains the relationship between two variables. Make this as clear as possible. Don't summarise prior research in your abstract, but you will need to have an idea of the work that has been done on your topic, and you may refer to one or two studies to support your research plan and hypothesis. Explain why you are making this prediction.

Detail your research methods. Understand what your methods of data collection will be. Explain why you would use these specific techniques. These should be based on methods used by prior researchers as well as the resources you have available to you and the type of research being conducted. For instance, if you are conducting a major research undertaking for a large university, in a subject that has a vast research history, you may plan to conduct a large-scale survey, using quantitative statistical analysis. However, if you planning to conduct an exploratory inquiry into a relatively unknown subject you might use a small-scale case study using qualitative analysis.

Summarise the information as concisely as possible. Introduce the general subject matter as well as your research question. Clearly state your hypothesis or if it is an exploratory study, what questions you will explore. Explain your intended methods of data collection and why you plan to use these specific methods. State what you expect to find and why. Make each of these sections is no more than one to two sentences long.

Tip

Write as clearly as possible, so that someone without any experience in your field would be able to read your abstract and understand what your study entails.

Warning

Stay within the word limit for your abstract. Traditionally these are set at about 150-200 words. The art of creating a good abstract is in making it short but informative.

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About the Author

Rebeca Renata has been writing since 2005 and has been published on various websites. She specializes in writing about clinical social work and social services. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Connecticut as well as a Master of Social Work from the Smith College School for Social Work.