What is an abstract? Do abstracts vary by discipline? What should an abstract include? What should each section of the abstract look like? What if my project isn’t finished or my results didn’t turn out as expected? How can I fit all of this into just 125 words? How should I start writing my abstract? What stylistic techniques will improve my abstract? What kind of feedback should I get on my abstract? On the “Abstracts: Examples” page, you will also find sample Undergraduate Symposium abstracts from a variety of disciplines. What is an abstract? Remember that your abstract is a description of your project (what you specifically are doing) and not a description of your topic (whatever you’re doing the project on). It is easy to get these two types of description confused. Since abstracts are generally very short, it’s important that you don’t get bogged down in a summary of the entire background of your topic.

As you are writing your abstract, stop at the end of every sentence and make sure you are summarizing the project you have undertaken rather than the more general topic. Do abstracts vary by discipline (science, humanities, service, art, or performance)? Abstracts do vary from discipline to discipline, and sometimes within disciplines. Abstracts in the hard sciences and social sciences often put more emphasis on methods than do abstracts in the humanities; humanities abstracts often spend much more time explaining their objective than science abstracts do. However, even within single disciplines, abstracts often differ. Check with a professor to find out about the expectations for an abstract in your discipline, and make sure to ask for examples of abstracts from your field. What should an abstract include? Despite the fact that abstracts vary somewhat from discipline to discipline, every abstract should include four main types of information. What should my Objective/Rationale section look like? What is the problem or main issue?

Why did you want to do this project in the first place? The first few sentences of your abstract should state the problem you set out to solve or the issue you set out to explore and explain your rationale or motivation for pursuing the project. The problem or issue might be a research question, a gap in critical attention to a text, a societal concern, etc. The purpose of your study is to solve this problem and/or add to your discipline’s understanding of the issue. Some authors state their thesis or hypothesis in this section of the abstract; others choose to leave it for the “Conclusions” section. What should my Methods section look like? What did you do? This section of the abstract should explain how you went about solving the problem or exploring the issue you identified as your main objective. For a hard science or social science research project, this section should include a concise description of the process by which you conducted your research. Similarly, for a service project, it should outline the kinds of service you performed and/or the process you followed to perform this service.

For a humanities project, it should make note of any theoretical framework or methodological assumptions. For a visual or performing arts project, it should outline the media you employed and the process you used to develop your project. What should my Results/Intended Results section look like? What did you find? This section of the abstract should list the results or outcomes of the work you have done so far. If your project is not yet complete, you may still want to include preliminary results or your hypotheses about what those results will be. What should my Conclusion section look like? What did you learn? The abstract should close with a statement of the project’s implications and contributions to its field. It should convince readers that the project is interesting, valuable, and worth investigating further. In the particular case of the Undergraduate Symposium, it should convince readers to attend your presentation. How should I choose my title?

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