What Is the Abstract in APA Format?

Updated July 19, 2017

American Psychological Association (APA) style is a format for documents written within the discipline of social sciences, but it may be utilized in any area that doesn't require a specific style. The style governs all aspects of the document's layout, specifying the manner in which citations are made, reference page organization and formatting, and many other features of the document. One characteristic of the APA style is the abstract, which is a summary of the contents of the document.

Abstract

Describing the abstract as a summary is accurate, but is also an understatement. Generally, an abstract contains the thesis of research conducted, the methods through which the thesis was tested, the findings of the research, and any final thoughts. An abstract should be as succinct as possible, and readers should not have difficulty comprehending the purpose of the research.

APA Style

According to the APA, abstract length is limited to 120 words. Abstracts longer than 120 words may be truncated when included in databases, limiting searchability. The information included in an abstract depends on the type of paper. A report of an empirical study should contain a statement of the problem, subjects, method, findings and conclusion.

Reviews and theoretical articles require the topic, purpose, sources and conclusions. Methodological paper abstracts describe the method, features of the method, range of application of the method and behavior of the method. Case study abstracts contain the subject of the case study and characteristics of the individual or organization presented, explanation of the problem exposed by the case study and its solution, if applicable, and questions raised for additional research.

Format

The abstract is on the second page of the document, following the title page. The word “Abstract” is centered on the first line with no quotation marks or additional formatting, and the abstract follows on the next line. The abstract is formatted as a single block of plain text, double-spaced and without indents. The abstract should not contain any information that is not written in the paper and should not be a critique or evaluation of the research, findings or methods.

Every word counts in an abstract; all numbers should be written as digits, unless they begin sentences. Abbreviations should be used whenever possible but should be defined on their first use. Abstracts should be written in active voice with no personal pronouns. Past tense should be used to describe tests and variables; present tense should be used to describe findings, conclusions and current applications.

Evaluation

Abstracts save researchers a lot of reading. Without an abstract, researchers would need to parse entire documents to determine the contents. An effective abstract names authors, contains the definitions of any unique terms, as well as abbreviations that are not units of measurement, dates of publication in citations, and the definitions of any acronyms. An abstract should be considered self-sufficient outside the context of the paper. An abstract should leave no questions about the contents of paper it represents.

Considerations

In-text citations should include authors' names and year of publication and should be fully cited on the references list. Avoid using quotations in the abstract to conserve space. If possible, paraphrase anything that must be included.

The rules governing the APA style change regularly; it is important to consult the latest edition of the APA style guide prior to writing a paper for publication or academic purposes. Incorrectly formatted papers may be rejected by publishers or instructors.

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About the Author

Mike Arneson is an adjunct professor of English. He's been a professional writer since 2003 and was chief editor of his English department's student literary magazine, "Notations." His other online publications include procedurals for various websites. He has a Bachelor of Science in professional writing and a Master of Arts in TESOL.