What is an abstract?

An abstract is your chance to “sell” your work to a reader, conference, or journal. Think of your abstract as a micro-paper. It’s a short (250-500 word) piece to summarise your project and convey the core findings and why they are valuable.

This post breaks down the features of a strong abstract to help you get your work out there.

1) Demonstrate a need

What was the point of your work? What problem were you solving? Without a need, why is your work worth listening to? Committing a few lines to outline the problem you were trying to solve is a good way to set the readers expectation and provide some context.

2) How did you investigate it?

What was your method? Did you run an audit? Was this a survey? Was it prospective? Was it retrospective? What did you do to answer the research question you developed in point 1).

3) What did you find?

Did you solve a problem? Have you answered a question? Maybe you’ve repeated results someone else has also shown - tell us what you’ve found early on! Including core results in your abstract makes it far more compelling than implying that you may have some results or trying to lure the reader to read more - they won’t. Give us the facts up front and a sneak peak at your findings.

4) Why did this matter?

Try to provide the reader with some context. Why are your results useful or important? Just listing results can mean their value and meaning can be lost in an abstract - explain them. They don’t have to be totally unique, findings that support or refute other pieces of work can be just as valuable as novel information. Try to explain what change or development could lead on from this work.


This is a totally fictional abstract of no academic value, purely to demonstrate the points above.

Title: The costa effect: does on-site barista coffee improve patient safety?

Keywords: patient safety, caffeine, human factors

Authors: R Nero, K Costa, M Starbuck


Adequate caffeine intake is a core variable in the adequate performance of hospital teams. Despite clear guidance that no patients should be seen prior to clinician coffee administration, cases of poorly caffeinated clinicians are commonplace, and likely to impact patient safety. We seek to evaluate whether clinician caffeination is affected by workplace setting.