An abstract is a short summary of a longer paper. It’s like looking at a map before taking a journey – the map doesn’t tell the whole story of what happens, but it does clue you in to the major turns and sites along the way so you know what to expect. What’s more, a good abstract can save readers time, which they will appreciate. They are often written in the American Psychological Association (APA) style because scientific researchers add abstracts to their papers more often than in other disciplines. However, providing an abstract of a research paper can be helpful no matter what part of academia you’re writing in. Below, you’ll find steps to take when writing an abstract in MLA style.
Part One of Three:
Outlining Your Abstract Edit
Write down the main points of your finished paper. The very first thing to do to create a useful, on-point abstract is to take notes to summarize your paper. One way to begin this process is to go through and summarize each paragraph. That way, you know you’ve included all the main ideas throughout your paper.
- Remember, a summary gives the general idea; you don’t have to provide every detail. Imagine you’re in a lecture hall and only have time to write down the key words before your professor moves on. When taking notes on your abstract, stick to what you actually need to keep the process quick, easy, and effective.
- If you have an outline of your paper, that can be a great way to see the summary of your main points and ideas, as it should include everything.
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Think about the key ideas, concepts, and methods used in your paper.
What is your main thesis? What are the main points you are trying to make? What conclusions did you draw at the end? If you’re summarizing an experiment or clinical research, what were your methods and subjects? Each of these will need to be included in your abstract.
- Is there anything in the larger picture of your paper that needs to be addressed? Make sure you take notes on each important point but also the consequences, implications, and results of the points you make.
Jot down notes and ideas as you go. You don’t need to make it cohesive just yet. Simply start a list of the things your abstract will talk about in a roughly chronological order that isn’t far off from your paper. You want those who do choose to read your entire paper to be able to follow along with what they’ve already gathered from your abstract.
Part Two of Three:
Making A Cohesive Abstract Edit
Turn your notes and ideas into complete sentences. Now you simply need to make your summary into a cohesive paragraph. Put all of your ideas into complete sentences, if you haven’t already. Make sure each idea makes sense on its own.
- If it feels like you’ve essentially written your paper twice now, go through and weed out what you don’t need. The abstract is essentially useless if it’s too long. While there technically isn’t an MLA length requirement, most abstracts are somewhere between 150-250 words. 
Organize the ideas by placing them in the same order you have them in your paper.
Add transitions as necessary to make sure the sentences flow together and don’t come off piecemeal and choppy. It should make sense to an audience that hasn’t read your paper and can’t fill in gaps on their own.
- If there are any leaps you have to make between sentences or any assumptions your audience would have to make to understand your abstract, take it as a cue that you missed a main point from your paper and fill it in as necessary.
Read through the summary you’ve just constructed. Take a step back from your abstract for a second, finish another task or two, and then come back and read your summary. Here’s what you should be looking for:
- Cut out anything that’s unnecessary. If it bulks up your abstract and it doesn’t lead to a greater end, cut it. You don’t need it.
- Add transitions in places if it still seems jarring.
- Check to make sure you’ve included all your main ideas, though each main idea doesn’t need to be its own sentence.
- View it as a whole. Does it make sense overall? Does it answer the main questions your paper sets out to ask?
Part Three of Three:
Formatting Your Abstract to MLA Style Edit
Get your indentations and spacing correct. An abstract in MLA style is not that different from any other style. Here’s what you should keep in mind when adding the final finishing formatting touches:
- Only use one space after end punctuation, like periods.
- Use paragraph indentations by tabbing over once at the beginning of each paragraph.
- Make your abstract double-spaced by highlighting the section and clicking on “Paragraph.” Go down to “Spacing.” Under “Line Spacing,” select “Double.” Click “OK” at the bottom of the window.
- Use 1-inch margins. Select the “Page Layout” tab, and use the margin drop-down menu to select 1-inch margins (generally labeled “Normal”).
Always use the serial or Oxford comma. This means that if you are making a list of more than three items, put a comma before the “and,” such as in this sentence: “The children ate ice cream, cupcakes, and sprinkles.”
- The sentence, “We saw two elephants, William, and Kate” can mean something entirely different than, “We saw two elephants, William and Kate.” In the first sentence, we saw four things: two elephants and two people. In the second sentence, we saw two things: two elephants (with the names William and Kate). For this reason, the Oxford comma is very important!
Spell out acronyms the first time you use them. Unless it is used as a word itself (such as RADAR), always spell out the acronym and then put the acronym in parenthesis. After the first explanation, you can use the acronym alone.
- This is similar to pronouns. You would never start off a story saying “He went to the store.” Who’s he? Without saying what the acronym stands for, your audience may not know what you’re talking about.
Give it a final read-through yourself or with a friend. Basically, you want to make sure you cover all the main points, and that your abstract is concise and to the point. Don’t cloud it up with overly complicated language, as your reader is trying to judge your article in one quick take. If your abstract meets this requirements and is formatted in line with MLA guidelines, you’re good to go.
- Two sets of eyes are always better than one. Once you have your finished product, ask a friend (or two) to read your abstract. Do they notice any grammar mistakes? Do they understand the topic at hand? This can be especially useful since they aren’t already familiar with your paper and their eyes are fresh on the page.
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