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How To Write the Abstract of Your Development Economics Paper
Last year, I claimed that you win or lose readers with the introduction of your economics paper. That might have been generous. A lot of people will read no further than the abstract of your paper to decide whether it’s worth reading, sharing, or citing. (Some people may read no further than the title!) So how do you write a compelling abstract?
First, let’s look at empirical work in this area. Dowling and others examined abstracts of papers in Economics Letters and found that abstracts with simpler words and shorter sentences (i.e., more readable abstracts) were associated with more citations later. As Bellemare writes with respect to abstracts, “Do not make the mistake of confusing lack of intelligibility with intellectual rigor.” In a new paper, Dowling and others examine 500+ articles published in The Energy Journal (the journal for energy economics) and find no impact on readability, although they do find that readability has grown dramatically over time. They also don’t find much in terms of length, although comparing abstract length among articles in a single journals can be tricky since most journals have word limits (e.g., 150 words for The Energy Journal ) and so variation may be limited. Outside of economics, longer abstracts have more citations in psychology, mathematics , medicine, and physics, but not in sociology . My takeaway from this is to use all the words you’re allowed and use them wisely.
One challenge in economics is that journals vary in how many words you’re allowed: the American Economic Review (AER) and the various American Economic Journals (AEJ) give just 100 words, whereas the Quarterly Journal of Economics (QJE) and the Journal of African Economies give 250. The Journal of Development Economics strikes a middle ground with 150 words. For the AER/AEJ abstracts, authors use their words for about 4-5 sentences. For the longer, QJE abstracts, authors use them for 6-7 sentences.
How should you use those 4-7 sentences? I diagrammed the abstracts of a number of empirical development papers in top economics journals to see if they follow a pattern.
In my introduction advice (adapted from or related to the introduction advice of others ), I lay out five main ingredients to the introduction: motivation, research question, empirical approach, detailed results, and value-added relative to the related literature.
Abstracts of development papers in top journals follow a compressed version of this formula. They tend to follow the following structure:
(Often) Start directly with the research question and empirical approach
(Sometimes) Start with one sentence of motivation before jumping into the research question and empirical approach
(Almost always) Spend most of the space on a detailed discussion of the results
(Sometimes) Include one sentence discussing the implications of the results
Below I provide more detail and examples.
Use your first sentence to jump right into the research question and empirical approach (or, less commonly, give a single sentence of motivation)
The most common opening for either longer or shorter abstracts is to jump right into the research question. Papers often incorporate a mention of the design in the same sentence. (And no, they’re not all randomized controlled trials.) Here are examples:
“We study the impact of a personalized technology-aided after-school instruction program in middle-school grades in urban India using a lottery that provided winners with free access to the program.” ( Muralidharan et al. , 2019, AER)
“I exploit a natural experiment in Indian schools to study how being integrated with poor students affects the social behaviors and academic outcomes of rich students.” ( Rao , 2019, AER)
“To show how fast Internet affects employment in Africa, we exploit the gradual arrival of submarine Internet cables on the coast and maps of the terrestrial cable network.” ( Hjort and Paulsen , 2019, AER)
“We embed a field experiment in a nationwide recruitment drive for a new healthcare position in Zambia to test whether career benefits attract talent at the expense of prosocial motivation.” ( Ashraf et al. , 2020, AER)
“We use a randomized controlled trial to study the response of poor households in rural Kenya to unconditional cash transfers from the NGO GiveDirectly.” ( Haushofer and Shapiro , 2016, QJE)
The other opening I saw repeatedly is a single sentence of motivation. (I didn’t see any papers with more than one sentence dedicated to motivation.)
“Despite massive investments in teacher professional development (PD) programs in developing countries, there is little evidence on their effectiveness.” ( Loyalka et al. , 2019, AEJ: Applied)
“Relative-pay concerns have potentially broad labor market implications.” ( Breza et al. , 2017, QJE)
“The delivery of basic health products and services remains abysmal in many parts of the world where child mortality is high.” ( Björkman Nyqvist et al. , 2019, AEJ: Applied)
Use most of your abstract to describe your results in detail
On average, the small sample of abstracts I looked at used at least half of their sentences (54 percent) to describe results. Only about half include specific point estimates, but most still go into great detail.
For example, Ashraf et al. (2020, AER)—in their paper on attracting health workers in Zambia—dedicate three of their four sentences to results. First, the main result: “In line with common wisdom, offering career opportunities attracts less prosocial applicants.” (See how they tied it into the literature there?) Second, the heterogeneity: “However, the trade-off exists only at low levels of talent; the marginal applicants in treatment are more talented and equally prosocial.” (Oh ho: the conventional wisdom often doesn’t apply!) Finally, more detail on that result, including an easily citable point estimate: “These are hired, and perform better at every step of the causal chain: they provide more inputs, increase facility utilization, and improve health outcomes including a 25 percent decrease in child malnutrition.”
Romero et al. (2020, AER)—writing about outsourcing education to private schools in Liberia—use the last three of their five sentences to describe results. First, the average results: “After one academic year, students in outsourced schools scored 0.18σ higher in English and mathematics.” Then, heterogeneity in the results: “We do not find heterogeneity in learning gains or enrollment by student characteristics, but there is significant heterogeneity across providers.” Finally, unintended consequences in the results: “Some providers engaged in unforeseen and potentially harmful behavior, complicating any assessment of welfare gains.”
Barrera-Osorio et al. (2019, AEJ: Applied)—writing on alternative cash transfer designs in Colombia—use three of their four sentences for results. First, a result and some interpretation: “Forcing families to save one-third of the transfer increases long-term human capital accumulation by means of additional tertiary education—which is not incentivized—, casting doubt on conditionalities as a driving mechanism.” Second, an additional result: “Directly incentivizing on-time tertiary enrollment does no better than forcing families to save a portion of the transfer.” Finally, some detail on where the results are concentrated: “Whereas forcing families to save increases enrollment in four-year universities, incentivizing tertiary enrollment only increases enrollment in low-quality colleges.”
If you have the space, use a final sentence for the implications of your results
Most of the papers I looked at describe their results right to the end of the abstract. But a subset used a final sentence to lay out what those results mean.
“Our results suggest that unconditional pay increases are unlikely to be an effective policy option for improving the effort and productivity of incumbent employees in public-sector settings.” ( De Ree et al. , 2018, QJE)
“These findings help inform our understanding of when pay compression is more likely to arise in the labor market.” ( Breza et al. , 2019, QJE)
“Our results show that (i) the poor are able to take on the work activities of the nonpoor but face barriers to doing so, and, (ii) one-off interventions that remove these barriers lead to sustainable poverty reduction.” ( Bandiera et al. , 2017, QJE)
Writing a clear abstract isn’t rocket science. But when I looked at a handful of abstracts in lower ranked journals, they were less likely to follow this simple formula, usually by dedicating a couple of sentences to the existing literature. I realize there may be circularity to this: less novel results are published in lower ranked journals and also require more situating within existing literature. But all those AER and QJE papers also exist within literatures. The abstract is the place to sell your results. There is space in the introduction to situate your findings within a broader literature.
I’ll end with a gem from Bellemare’s paper on writing economics papers: “If your title is not repellent, and if your abstract is intelligible to people who are not experts in your field and to people in other disciplines, you have just expanded the scope of your citations tenfold, because whether one likes it or not, a lot of people cite stuff they have only read the abstract of.” True.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.
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How to Write an Abstract or Synopsis
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Economics and Finance
I. The Heading
At the top of the page give the article's full citation.
EXAMPLE: Rousseas, Stephen. "Can the U.S. Financial System Survive the Revolution?" Challenge, Vol 32, no. 2 (March-April, 1989), pp. 39-43.
Don't forget to put your name at the top.
II. The First Paragraph.
First sentence. Statement of theme or argument. One or two sentences that convey a sense of the overall argument. This might be a conclusion, an important theoretical implication, or a policy suggestion.
EXAMPLE : Highly leveraged debt combined with bank deregulation and financial innovation has rendered the U.S. financial system increasingly unstable and vulnerable to recession.
The remainder of the first paragraph is an overview of the argument itself.
EXAMPLE : Deregulation weakened both commercial banks and S&Ls by allowing them to enter more risky markets at a time when two major sources of high-risk borrowing, LDC debt and leveraged buy-outs, were booming. Financial innovation loosened much of the remaining regulatory system, and frustrated monetary policy. A recession, whether of exogenous or domestic origin, would leave in shambles a financial system that is heavily exposed to bad LDC debt and unsecured "junk-bond" lending.
Summarize the argument; do not attempt to summarize each paragraph.
III.The Second and Third Paragraphs.
"Flesh-out" the argument presented in the first paragraph. In the example, points that might be mentioned are: Deregulation resulted in fewer banks; ill-conceived monetary policy; financial deregulation and innovation tend to trigger and reinforce each other; leveraged buy-outs. DO NOT LIST these points. Write them in prose.
IV. Miscellaneous writing tips.
Economy of style is in order. Try to express an idea in as few words as possible, without doing it violence.
Avoid using the first person ("I" and "We"), second person ("you"), and phrases like "the author believes..."
Avoid the passive voice. The phrase "the monetary base was increased by open market actions" (passive voice) can be shortened to "open market actions increased the monetary base" (active voice).
Use gender-neutral pronouns. Do not use "he" or "man" when referring to people in general or to unspecified individuals. Instead use, for example, "people," "him or her," or "S/he."
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Writing an Abstract for Your Research Paper
Definition and Purpose of Abstracts
An abstract is a short summary of your (published or unpublished) research paper, usually about a paragraph (c. 6-7 sentences, 150-250 words) long. A well-written abstract serves multiple purposes:
- an abstract lets readers get the gist or essence of your paper or article quickly, in order to decide whether to read the full paper;
- an abstract prepares readers to follow the detailed information, analyses, and arguments in your full paper;
- and, later, an abstract helps readers remember key points from your paper.
It’s also worth remembering that search engines and bibliographic databases use abstracts, as well as the title, to identify key terms for indexing your published paper. So what you include in your abstract and in your title are crucial for helping other researchers find your paper or article.
If you are writing an abstract for a course paper, your professor may give you specific guidelines for what to include and how to organize your abstract. Similarly, academic journals often have specific requirements for abstracts. So in addition to following the advice on this page, you should be sure to look for and follow any guidelines from the course or journal you’re writing for.
The Contents of an Abstract
Abstracts contain most of the following kinds of information in brief form. The body of your paper will, of course, develop and explain these ideas much more fully. As you will see in the samples below, the proportion of your abstract that you devote to each kind of information—and the sequence of that information—will vary, depending on the nature and genre of the paper that you are summarizing in your abstract. And in some cases, some of this information is implied, rather than stated explicitly. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association , which is widely used in the social sciences, gives specific guidelines for what to include in the abstract for different kinds of papers—for empirical studies, literature reviews or meta-analyses, theoretical papers, methodological papers, and case studies.
Here are the typical kinds of information found in most abstracts:
- the context or background information for your research; the general topic under study; the specific topic of your research
- the central questions or statement of the problem your research addresses
- what’s already known about this question, what previous research has done or shown
- the main reason(s) , the exigency, the rationale , the goals for your research—Why is it important to address these questions? Are you, for example, examining a new topic? Why is that topic worth examining? Are you filling a gap in previous research? Applying new methods to take a fresh look at existing ideas or data? Resolving a dispute within the literature in your field? . . .
- your research and/or analytical methods
- your main findings , results , or arguments
- the significance or implications of your findings or arguments.
Your abstract should be intelligible on its own, without a reader’s having to read your entire paper. And in an abstract, you usually do not cite references—most of your abstract will describe what you have studied in your research and what you have found and what you argue in your paper. In the body of your paper, you will cite the specific literature that informs your research.
When to Write Your Abstract
Although you might be tempted to write your abstract first because it will appear as the very first part of your paper, it’s a good idea to wait to write your abstract until after you’ve drafted your full paper, so that you know what you’re summarizing.
What follows are some sample abstracts in published papers or articles, all written by faculty at UW-Madison who come from a variety of disciplines. We have annotated these samples to help you see the work that these authors are doing within their abstracts.
Choosing Verb Tenses within Your Abstract
The social science sample (Sample 1) below uses the present tense to describe general facts and interpretations that have been and are currently true, including the prevailing explanation for the social phenomenon under study. That abstract also uses the present tense to describe the methods, the findings, the arguments, and the implications of the findings from their new research study. The authors use the past tense to describe previous research.
The humanities sample (Sample 2) below uses the past tense to describe completed events in the past (the texts created in the pulp fiction industry in the 1970s and 80s) and uses the present tense to describe what is happening in those texts, to explain the significance or meaning of those texts, and to describe the arguments presented in the article.
The science samples (Samples 3 and 4) below use the past tense to describe what previous research studies have done and the research the authors have conducted, the methods they have followed, and what they have found. In their rationale or justification for their research (what remains to be done), they use the present tense. They also use the present tense to introduce their study (in Sample 3, “Here we report . . .”) and to explain the significance of their study (In Sample 3, This reprogramming . . . “provides a scalable cell source for. . .”).
Sample Abstract 1
From the social sciences.
Reporting new findings about the reasons for increasing economic homogamy among spouses
Gonalons-Pons, Pilar, and Christine R. Schwartz. “Trends in Economic Homogamy: Changes in Assortative Mating or the Division of Labor in Marriage?” Demography , vol. 54, no. 3, 2017, pp. 985-1005.
Sample Abstract 2
From the humanities.
Analyzing underground pulp fiction publications in Tanzania, this article makes an argument about the cultural significance of those publications
Emily Callaci. “Street Textuality: Socialism, Masculinity, and Urban Belonging in Tanzania’s Pulp Fiction Publishing Industry, 1975-1985.” Comparative Studies in Society and History , vol. 59, no. 1, 2017, pp. 183-210.
Sample Abstract/Summary 3
From the sciences.
Reporting a new method for reprogramming adult mouse fibroblasts into induced cardiac progenitor cells
Lalit, Pratik A., Max R. Salick, Daryl O. Nelson, Jayne M. Squirrell, Christina M. Shafer, Neel G. Patel, Imaan Saeed, Eric G. Schmuck, Yogananda S. Markandeya, Rachel Wong, Martin R. Lea, Kevin W. Eliceiri, Timothy A. Hacker, Wendy C. Crone, Michael Kyba, Daniel J. Garry, Ron Stewart, James A. Thomson, Karen M. Downs, Gary E. Lyons, and Timothy J. Kamp. “Lineage Reprogramming of Fibroblasts into Proliferative Induced Cardiac Progenitor Cells by Defined Factors.” Cell Stem Cell , vol. 18, 2016, pp. 354-367.
Sample Abstract 4, a Structured Abstract
Reporting results about the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy in managing acute bacterial sinusitis, from a rigorously controlled study
Note: This journal requires authors to organize their abstract into four specific sections, with strict word limits. Because the headings for this structured abstract are self-explanatory, we have chosen not to add annotations to this sample abstract.
Wald, Ellen R., David Nash, and Jens Eickhoff. “Effectiveness of Amoxicillin/Clavulanate Potassium in the Treatment of Acute Bacterial Sinusitis in Children.” Pediatrics , vol. 124, no. 1, 2009, pp. 9-15.
“OBJECTIVE: The role of antibiotic therapy in managing acute bacterial sinusitis (ABS) in children is controversial. The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of high-dose amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate in the treatment of children diagnosed with ABS.
METHODS : This was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Children 1 to 10 years of age with a clinical presentation compatible with ABS were eligible for participation. Patients were stratified according to age (<6 or ≥6 years) and clinical severity and randomly assigned to receive either amoxicillin (90 mg/kg) with potassium clavulanate (6.4 mg/kg) or placebo. A symptom survey was performed on days 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 20, and 30. Patients were examined on day 14. Children’s conditions were rated as cured, improved, or failed according to scoring rules.
RESULTS: Two thousand one hundred thirty-five children with respiratory complaints were screened for enrollment; 139 (6.5%) had ABS. Fifty-eight patients were enrolled, and 56 were randomly assigned. The mean age was 6630 months. Fifty (89%) patients presented with persistent symptoms, and 6 (11%) presented with nonpersistent symptoms. In 24 (43%) children, the illness was classified as mild, whereas in the remaining 32 (57%) children it was severe. Of the 28 children who received the antibiotic, 14 (50%) were cured, 4 (14%) were improved, 4(14%) experienced treatment failure, and 6 (21%) withdrew. Of the 28children who received placebo, 4 (14%) were cured, 5 (18%) improved, and 19 (68%) experienced treatment failure. Children receiving the antibiotic were more likely to be cured (50% vs 14%) and less likely to have treatment failure (14% vs 68%) than children receiving the placebo.
CONCLUSIONS : ABS is a common complication of viral upper respiratory infections. Amoxicillin/potassium clavulanate results in significantly more cures and fewer failures than placebo, according to parental report of time to resolution.” (9)
Some Excellent Advice about Writing Abstracts for Basic Science Research Papers, by Professor Adriano Aguzzi from the Institute of Neuropathology at the University of Zurich:
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How to write an abstract
Being able to synthesise your ideas in a clear way and using few words is a valuable skill
In order to engage people with your research it’s important to start with a strong abstract. This not only summarises all the main points of your work but also outlines its relevance and what the reader can learn from it.
If you’re interested in taking part in the LSE Student Research Conference then you may be wondering how to write an abstract that stands out. Dr Jillian Terry and Dr Chris Blunt share some useful tips to guide you in this process.
Invite the reader
An abstract should be both informative and academic. However, you must acknowledge that not everyone is familiar with your research area. Providing some general background about the topic of your work and avoiding the use of jargon will make your abstract more accessible to readers from different disciplines.
Being able to synthesise your ideas in a clear way and using few words is a valuable skill for writing an abstract. Take the time to choose the right wording and eliminate any unnecessary words. Keep in mind that for the for the LSE Student Research conference the abstract should not exceed 250 words.
Sentence 1: Introduce the topic to your target audience. In this part you should consider defining the key concepts in your study.
Sentence 2: Define the gap in the literature by briefly describing the main existing theories or arguments about your topic and identifying their limitations.
Sentence 3: Explain how your research can fill in a gap in the knowledge and what value it adds to previous literature.
Sentence 4: Outline the specific details of your project. Include the data, the theories, the methodology and the case studies that you used in your research.
Sentence 5: Clearly state your main argument. This sentence should summarize the key findings of your work and their contribution to the field.
Sentence 6: Last but not least, end your abstract with a strong conclusion that defines the relevance of your study and that entices the reader to continue learning more about your research.
Submit your abstract to the LSE Student Research Conference to showcase your research and improve your communication skills!
* The deadline for abstracts submission has been extended until 3 May.
Visit the conference webpage for more information and to submit your abstract.
Contributed by Carolina Bernal, LSE Student Futures Ambassador.
Print or share
Ready to submit your abstract? Use our submission form on the conference webpage
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June 20th, 2011
Your essential ‘how-to’ guide to writing good abstracts.
38 comments | 202 shares
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Article abstracts typically say little about what the researcher has discovered or what the key findings are, what they are arguing as a ‘bottom line’, or what key ‘take-away points’ they want readers to remember. Here we present a simple ‘how-to’ guide to writing good abstracts.
Abstracts tend to be rather casually written, perhaps at the beginning of writing when authors don’t yet really know what they want to say, or perhaps as a rushed afterthought just before submission to a journal or a conference. Once an abstract exists, authors are also often reluctant to reappraise them, or to ask critically whether they give the best obtainable picture of the work done and the findings achieved. To counteract these problems the checklist below offers a structured set of suggestions for what an abstract should include, and what should be kept to a small presence.
1. How long is the abstract? [Generally it should be 200 words minimum, 350 maximum] Does it have paragraphs? [No more than 2]
2. Does the abstract systematically follow the sequence of elements in 2 to 6 above? [good] Or does it have some other sequence? [bad] Is the progression of ideas clear and connected?
3. How many theme/theory words from the article title recur in the abstract? Does the abstract introduce any new theme/theory words, that are not present in the article title? Do the two sets of words fit closely together? [good] or suggest different emphases? [bad]
4. Style points: How many words are wasted on ‘This article sets out to prove..’ or ‘Section 2 shows that…’ Is the description of your own research in the present tense? [good] or the future tense?[bad]
5. Look carefully at the ‘ordinary language’ words in the title. Are they ‘filler’ words only? In which case, are they needed? If not, do they have a clear and precise meaning or implication that you want your title to express? (Most ordinary language words with substantive content will have multiple meanings).
6. Suppose that you have read on the Web (in a long list of other articles and items) the article title and the first three lines of the abstract. Do they make you want to download the full article? What kind of academics elsewhere will be able to reference this article usefully in their own work, from the information given in the title and abstract alone?
7. Type the whole title (in double quotes “ ”) into Google Scholar and check against the table below. Then type the three or four most distinctive or memorable title words separately into the search engine, and check again.
Note: Articles have compound identities because the journal title itself often gives many clues to what the work is about. Hence article titles need to be less distinctive than books. It is fine for your title to havesome of the key words used by other authors, but preferably in some distinctive combination with other words. Your title must include some key words likely to be typed into search engines by potential readers.
About the author
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>It is fine fore your title to havesome
It is a damned sight finer for your guide to merit a human proofreader, rather than relying on spell-check software…
Thanks for pointing the spelling error out, Ted! Have fixed now. – Sierra (Editor)
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This is a really helpful guide, which we have used in training sessions for Ph.D. students in Archaeology and Ancient History in 2018 and again in 2021. I hope you’ll maintain the page!
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Kristin A. Van Gaasbeck
Department of economics, college of social sciences and interdisciplinary studies, california state university, sacramento, writing in economics :: components of a research paper.
An economics research paper includes the parts listed below. Some of these may be, and often are, combined into sections of the research paper. Depending on the nature of the research question, some parts may be emphasized more than others.
I've condensed information from several different sources. This is cursory content on how to write in economics, please make use of the additional resources . Also, every researcher has his or her own opinion about the best way to proceed. The information I've collected below is one of many possible ways to approach an undergraduate or graduate research project in Economics.
The abstract is a description of your research paper. The writing style of the abstract is very condensed - it should be no more than 350 words (or 5-6 sentences). The abstract is designed to identify the following to a potential reader:
- The research question What is the question that is the focus of your research? A good research question is one that (i) doesn't have an obvious answer (otherwise, why bother researching it?) and (ii) is testable using data.
- Your contribution to the research on the subject What has the previous literature found and what is your contribution to general understanding of the economic problem/question.
- How you answer the research question How you use theoretical and/or empirical analysis to answer the research question.
- Results Your findings based on the aforementioned analysis
The abstract is written when the paper is completed. It should not be the same as your introduction - the audience is different.
The introduction is designed to both identify and motivate your research question. Like an essay you would write in other subjects, the introduction begins with a broad statement, and then narrows down to your specific research question.
In the end, make sure that you've done the following in your introduction:
- State your research question
- Motivate why the subject of your research is important to economists and other stakeholders
- Explain to the reader where your research fits into the subject.
- Identify your contribution to general understanding on the subject/research question
- Summarize how you intend to answer the research question
- State your general results and answer to your research question.
The first paragraph of the introduction is used to motivate why this research is important and of interest to economists and other stakeholders (e.g., parents and teachers in education economics, central bankers in monetary policy, and residents and businesses affected by pollution). It may conclude with a statement of your research question, followed by a discussion of who is affected by the economic issue under study. It is not appropriate to include personal anecdotes in a written research paper. Remember, you are motivating why the research should be of interest to the reader.
The second paragraph typically has more detail about how you plan to answer the research question, possibly citing other work closely related to your own research. In fact, many authors combine the literature review with the introduction in order to streamline this discussion. This paragraph may conclude with your general findings.
You should be able to write the first paragraph when you begin your research. The second paragraph can be written as you are concluding your research, as it draws on information from subsequent sections of your paper.
The literature review serves two main purposes:
- motivate why your research question is important in the context of the broader subject
- provide the reader with information on what other researchers have found (highlighting your contribution)
If someone has done a similar analysis to yours, tell us, and then explain how yours is different. Explain their findings, and then follow up with what you expect to find in your own research, and compare.
Some things to keep in mind for your literature review:
- Conduct a comprehensive search of the research on your subject Familiarize yourself with search engines in Economics (ECONLit is the most comprehensive) - do not rely on Google or other general search engines because they will link to you information that is not peer-reviewed research. A good general rule is as follows: if it is a paper not listed on ECONLit, it is probably not appropriate for a research paper in economics. Of course, there are exceptions. See my ECON 145 resources for more information on search engines .
- Create an annotated bibliography for the papers you plan to cite in your research paper. More information on annotated bibliographies is given below . This is a good step to take early on in your literature review search because it helps you keep track of the papers you plan to cite, and helps you to summarize information in one place. This will help you with the subsequent steps below.
- Identify which papers are most relevant to your research question It is easy to find lots of articles on one topic, but difficult to sort out which ones are important and relevant to your specific topic. You need to find the most relevant articles for your topic, and tell the reader why these are relevant articles for your topic specifically.
- Make an outline of your literature review Write an outline of your literature review. When writing your literature review, you want to organize the research of others into themes that you want to convey to the reader. Do not simply list papers chronologically and summarize the results of others. You should group papers by common themes.
- Critically read research papers You cannot read research papers like novels or the newspaper. Economics research papers are often dense and technical, requiring carefully reading. If you are not actively engaged as a reader, taking notes and writing questions to yourself as you go along, you are making poor use of your time and will not get much out of your literature review. See my page on Critical Reading for more information on strategies for how to read economics research papers.
- Be aware of plagiarism. This is very difficult for the novice researcher because some information is generally taken as known, while other information is not. The best way to get a sense for how to appropriately cite and attribute material is to read economics research articles. Avoiding plagiarism doesn't mean rewriting someone else's ideas in your own words. If you are using someone else's idea, whether in quotes or not, you must cite it. When in doubt, cite.
- common research questions in the subject (introduction),
- economic models used to answer related research questions (economic model),
- empirical methodologies common in the field (empirical methodology),
- data sources you may use in your analysis (data description),
- how to report your results (empirical analysis), and
- how to identify your contribution to understanding of the research question/subject (conclusion/analysis).
Economic Model/Empirical Methodology
This section (or sections) or your paper are designed to show how you intend to answer your research question using economic theory (economic model) and empirically (using statistical tests). For the novice researcher, it is useful to think of these two approaches as separate. This avoids the temptation to confuse them.
This is what you have studied in most of your other economics classes. For example, what happens to the price of housing when the population increases? Using demand-supply model, we know that an increase in population leads to an increase in the demand for housing, increasing the equilibrium price. In reading economics research papers, the economic model is often not identified because it is assumed the reader (economic researchers) are familiar with the underlying model. However, to the novice researcher, the model may not be obvious, so it is important to outline the model and include it in your research paper.
Your economic model is how you make predictions of what you expect to find in the data. Based on the simple example above, we'd expect to see a positive relationship between housing prices and population, ceteris paribus (e.g., holding all other variables in the demand-supply model unchanged).
Another important point is that your economic model is what implies a causal relationship between the economic variables. While you may detect a positive or negative relationship in the data, this alone tells you nothing about which variable is causing a change in the other variable. The economic model can be used to model this relationship. In the example above, we assume that in the model, a change in population causes a change in the housing price.
The economic model should make no mention of data, regression analysis, or statistical tests. The model is a purely theoretical construct, based on an abstract notion of how the world works. The empirical methodology section of your paper is how you plan to test these relationships in the data. An economic model is NOT a regression equation.
Finally, you should use an economic model that is common in the literature on your subject. Unless you are proposing a new model, you should rely on those used by other researchers in the field. This will allow you to use your literature review to justify your choice of model. Also, this is why the economic model is often embedded in the literature review of the paper. For novice researchers, I recommend keeping it separate, to make sure you understand how to use your economic model to conduct theoretical analysis.
This is where you describe to the reader how you plan to test the relationships implied by your economic/theoretical model. First, you want to identify your dependent variable. This is the variable you are seeking to explain the behavior of. Next, you want to identify possible explanatory variables. These are the variables that could potentially affect your dependent variable.
Often in economic models, there are abstract notions of how some variables affect others. For example, human capital affects production, but how would we measure human capital in the data? You can find suitable proxies for a variable like human capital by familiarizing yourself with the literature.
So, how could a researcher go about testing the relationship between housing prices and population? First, we know that housing price is the dependent variable. Population is one explanatory variable, but are there others that affect housing prices? Yes. We know this from the demand and supply model that there are other variables that shift demand for housing (income, prices of substitutes and complements, expectations, tastes and preferences, etc.) and the supply of housing (input costs, expectations, the number of sellers, etc.). In order to isolate the effect of population on house price, we need to control for these other factors.
The most common strategy for empirical work regression analysis because it allows the researcher to isolate the correlation between two variables, while holding other explanatory variables constant (e.g., ceteris paribus from the model above). Often in the empirical methodology section, the researcher will point out potential estimation issues, highlighting the need for more advanced econometric techniques that go beyond ordinary least squares (OLS).
This section does not actually do any statistical analysis, but it may include a description of the data (see below). In advising students on research papers, I usually recommend the following breakdown for the empirical methodology section:
- Data description This is a description of the data you plan to use for your analysis. It usually includes a citation of the primary source, data frequency, how the data are measured, the frequency of the data, etc. The amount of detail depends on the nature of the data. Also, this is the section where you would report any modifications you make to the data.
- Preliminary data analysis This section reports summary statistics, histograms, time series plots, and other similar information. This section is designed to give the reader a sense of what your sample looks like. In reporting this information, you should be selective - more is not always better. You need to decide which information you need/want to convey to the reader and how to best convey it. See my Empirical Methods in Economics page for ideas on basic statistical analysis.
- Regression Equation Now, you're ready to remind the reader of your particular test and how you are going to go about using regression to test it. This section should include a regression equation, a discussion justifying this equation, and a description of the expected signs on the coefficients for each of the explanatory variables (spending more time on those that are of particular interest for your study). Remember, the regression coefficient measure the marginal effects of the explanatory variable on the dependent variable (holding the other variables constant, ceteris paribus). When justifying your regression equation and discussing the expected signs for the coefficients, you should make some clear connections back to your theory section and the literature review section of your paper. Also, make sure that you are using your regression equation to answer your research question. What is the testable hypothesis? Does this test answer your research question? See my Empirical Methods in Economics page for a simple primer on regression analysis.
An alternative to the ordering mentioned above is as follows. You can begin with a regression equation, then provide a detailed description of the data, along with some preliminary data analysis. It is most common to have the data description as its own section of the paper - mainly to make it easier for readers to reference it if they plan to do similar research. You could then follow this Data section with an Empirical Methodology section that consists of the #3 Regression equation described above.
This section is often titled "Results" in economic research papers, as it reports the results from your regression analysis above. There are commonly-used templates for reporting regression results. The best way to familiarize yourself with these templates is from the papers you cite in your literature review. You will see that it is common to report multiple regressions in one table, with the explanatory variables listed vertically on the left. See my page on Empirical Methods in Economics for more details.
The empirical analysis should include a table with your regression results, and your written analysis of these results. Note, this does not mean repeating the information in your regression tables. It means interpreting these coefficients in light of your economic model and comparing your findings to other papers from your literature review.
The conclusion usually consists of about three paragraphs. The first begins with a restatement of the research question, followed by a description of what we know about this research question from the literature (very concisely). Then the paragraph concludes with a brief description of the theoretical answer to the question.
The second paragraph begins with an answer to the research question, based on your empirical analysis. The researcher then proceeds to compare his/her findings to the consensus in the literature, pointing out possible reasons for differences and similarities. For example, perhaps you studied a different time period, or a different country. Perhaps you used a different measure of the dependent or explanatory variables.
In the final paragraph, it is common to draw policy implications from your research. In a practical sense, who cares about this research question (remember the stakeholders from the introduction..) and what can they do with this knowledge? Often the conclusion will point toward directions for future research, based on possible extensions to your research.
The bibliography contains complete references of the works that cited and referred to in your research.
It is essential that you give proper credit to all works that you cite, even if they are not included in your literature review. For example, if you obtained data from a publication that is not easily available, it would be appropriate to cite it in your data description and include it in your bibliography. Incomplete or inaccurate citations are akin to plagiarism, so please be sure to carefully check your references and keep track of them while completing your literature review.
In economics, it is most common to use APA style in citing references in the text of your paper and in creating a bibliography. For more information, see the APA style guide provided by the Library , or simply pick up a copy of the APA style guide if you will be using it frequently.
Annotated Bibliography An annotated bibliography is one that includes the reference (mentioned above), along with a few sentences describing the research and how it relates to your research paper. Often the description will begin with a statement of what the research found, followed by one or two sentences that are relevant to the research question you are studying.
Even though APA style calls for a double-spaced annotated bibliography, many researchers prefer a single spaced one. The Library has information on annotated bibliographies and I have posted an outstanding example from undergraduate Economic Research Methods .
The best annotated bibliographies are those written by students who have read the literature critically. See my page on Critical Reading for more information on strategies for how to read economics research papers. Even if an annotated bibliography is not assigned as part of your research project, it is a useful exercise for you to engage in, especially if you have to present your research orally or using a poster. If you are unable to write an annotated bibliography, then you are probably writing a poor review of the literature on your subject and a less than satisfactory research paper.
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How to Write a Research Paper Abstract | Structure & Examples
What is a research paper abstract?
Research paper abstracts summarize your study quickly and succinctly to journal editors and researchers and prompt them to read further. But with the ubiquity of online publication databases, writing a compelling abstract is even more important today than it was in the days of bound paper manuscripts.
Abstracts exist to “sell” your work, and they could thus be compared to the “executive summary” of a business resume: an official briefing on what is most important about your research. Or the “gist” of your research. With the majority of academic transactions being conducted online, this means that you have even less time to impress readers–and increased competition in terms of other abstracts out there to read.
The APCI (Academic Publishing and Conferences International) notes that there are 12 questions or “points” considered in the selection process for journals and conferences and stresses the importance of having an abstract that ticks all of these boxes. Because it is often the ONLY chance you have to convince readers to keep reading, it is important that you spend time and energy crafting an abstract that faithfully represents the central parts of your study and captivates your audience.
With that in mind, follow these suggestions when structuring and writing your abstract, and learn how exactly to put these ideas into a solid abstract that will captivate your target readers.
Before Writing Your Abstract
How long should an abstract be.
All abstracts are written with the same essential objective: to give a summary of your study. But there are two basic styles of abstract: descriptive and informative . Here is a brief delineation of the two:
Of the two types of abstracts, informative abstracts are much more common, and they are widely used for submission to journals and conferences. Informative abstracts apply to lengthier and more technical research and are common in the sciences, engineering, and psychology, while descriptive abstracts are more likely used in humanities and social science papers. The best method of determining which abstract type you need to use is to follow the instructions for journal submissions and to read as many other published articles in those journals as possible.
Research Abstract Guidelines and Requirements
As any article about research writing will tell you, authors must always closely follow the specific guidelines and requirements indicated in the Guide for Authors section of their target journal’s website. The same kind of adherence to conventions should be applied to journal publications, for consideration at a conference, and even when completing a class assignment.
Each publisher has particular demands when it comes to formatting and structure. Here are some common questions addressed in the journal guidelines:
- Is there a maximum or minimum word/character length?
- What are the style and formatting requirements?
- What is the appropriate abstract type?
- Are there any specific content or organization rules that apply?
There are of course other rules to consider when composing a research paper abstract. But if you follow the stated rules the first time you submit your manuscript, you can avoid your work being thrown in the “circular file” right off the bat.
Identify Your Target Readership
The main purpose of your abstract is to lead researchers to the full text of your research paper. In scientific journals, abstracts let readers decide whether the research discussed is relevant to their own interests or study. Abstracts also help readers understand your main argument quickly. Consider these questions as you write your abstract:
- Are other academics in your field the main target of your study?
- Will your study perhaps be useful to members of the general public?
- Do your study results include the wider implications presented in the abstract?
Outlining and Writing Your Abstract
What to include in an abstract.
Just as your research paper title should cover as much ground as possible in a few short words, your abstract must cover all parts of your study in order to fully explain your paper and research. Because it must accomplish this task in the space of only a few hundred words, it is important not to include ambiguous references or phrases that will confuse the reader or mislead them about the content and objectives of your research. Follow these dos and don’ts when it comes to what kind of writing to include:
- Avoid acronyms or abbreviations since these will need to be explained in order to make sense to the reader, which takes up valuable abstract space. Instead, explain these terms in the Introduction section of the main text.
- Only use references to people or other works if they are well-known. Otherwise, avoid referencing anything outside of your study in the abstract.
- Never include tables, figures, sources, or long quotations in your abstract; you will have plenty of time to present and refer to these in the body of your paper.
Use keywords in your abstract to focus your topic
A vital search tool is the research paper keywords section, which lists the most relevant terms directly underneath the abstract. Think of these keywords as the “tubes” that readers will seek and enter—via queries on databases and search engines—to ultimately land at their destination, which is your paper. Your abstract keywords should thus be words that are commonly used in searches but should also be highly relevant to your work and found in the text of your abstract. Include 5 to 10 important words or short phrases central to your research in both the abstract and the keywords section.
For example, if you are writing a paper on the prevalence of obesity among lower classes that crosses international boundaries, you should include terms like “obesity,” “prevalence,” “international,” “lower classes,” and “cross-cultural.” These are terms that should net a wide array of people interested in your topic of study. Look at our nine rules for choosing keywords for your research paper if you need more input on this.
Research Paper Abstract Structure
As mentioned above, the abstract (especially the informative abstract) acts as a surrogate or synopsis of your research paper, doing almost as much work as the thousands of words that follow it in the body of the main text. In the hard sciences and most social sciences, the abstract includes the following sections and organizational schema.
Each section is quite compact—only a single sentence or two, although there is room for expansion if one element or statement is particularly interesting or compelling. As the abstract is almost always one long paragraph, the individual sections should naturally merge into one another to create a holistic effect. Use the following as a checklist to ensure that you have included all of the necessary content in your abstract.
1) Identify your purpose and motivation
So your research is about rabies in Brazilian squirrels. Why is this important? You should start your abstract by explaining why people should care about this study—why is it significant to your field and perhaps to the wider world? And what is the exact purpose of your study; what are you trying to achieve? Start by answering the following questions:
- What made you decide to do this study or project?
- Why is this study important to your field or to the lay reader?
- Why should someone read your entire article?
In summary, the first section of your abstract should include the importance of the research and its impact on related research fields or on the wider scientific domain.
2) Explain the research problem you are addressing
Stating the research problem that your study addresses is the corollary to why your specific study is important and necessary. For instance, even if the issue of “rabies in Brazilian squirrels” is important, what is the problem—the “missing piece of the puzzle”—that your study helps resolve?
You can combine the problem with the motivation section, but from a perspective of organization and clarity, it is best to separate the two. Here are some precise questions to address:
- What is your research trying to better understand or what problem is it trying to solve?
- What is the scope of your study—does it try to explain something general or specific?
- What is your central claim or argument?
3) Discuss your research approach
Your specific study approach is detailed in the Methods and Materials section . You have already established the importance of the research, your motivation for studying this issue, and the specific problem your paper addresses. Now you need to discuss how you solved or made progress on this problem—how you conducted your research. If your study includes your own work or that of your team, describe that here. If in your paper you reviewed the work of others, explain this here. Did you use analytic models? A simulation? A double-blind study? A case study? You are basically showing the reader the internal engine of your research machine and how it functioned in the study. Be sure to:
- Detail your research—include methods/type of the study, your variables, and the extent of the work
- Briefly present evidence to support your claim
- Highlight your most important sources
4) Briefly summarize your results
Here you will give an overview of the outcome of your study. Avoid using too many vague qualitative terms (e.g, “very,” “small,” or “tremendous”) and try to use at least some quantitative terms (i.e., percentages, figures, numbers). Save your qualitative language for the conclusion statement. Answer questions like these:
- What did your study yield in concrete terms (e.g., trends, figures, correlation between phenomena)?
- How did your results compare to your hypothesis? Was the study successful?
- Where there any highly unexpected outcomes or were they all largely predicted?
5) State your conclusion
In the last section of your abstract, you will give a statement about the implications and limitations of the study . Be sure to connect this statement closely to your results and not the area of study in general. Are the results of this study going to shake up the scientific world? Will they impact how people see “Brazilian squirrels”? Or are the implications minor? Try not to boast about your study or present its impact as too far-reaching, as researchers and journals will tend to be skeptical of bold claims in scientific papers. Answer one of these questions:
- What are the exact effects of these results on my field? On the wider world?
- What other kind of study would yield further solutions to problems?
- What other information is needed to expand knowledge in this area?
After Completing the First Draft of Your Abstract
Revise your abstract.
The abstract, like any piece of academic writing, should be revised before being considered complete. Check it for grammatical and spelling errors and make sure it is formatted properly.
Get feedback from a peer
Getting a fresh set of eyes to review your abstract is a great way to find out whether you’ve summarized your research well. Find a reader who understands research papers but is not an expert in this field or is not affiliated with your study. Ask your reader to summarize what your study is about (including all key points of each section). This should tell you if you have communicated your key points clearly.
In addition to research peers, consider consulting with a professor or even a specialist or generalist writing center consultant about your abstract. Use any resource that helps you see your work from another perspective.
Consider getting professional editing and proofreading
While peer feedback is quite important to ensure the effectiveness of your abstract content, it may be a good idea to find an academic editor to fix mistakes in grammar, spelling, mechanics, style, or formatting. The presence of basic errors in the abstract may not affect your content, but it might dissuade someone from reading your entire study. Wordvice provides English editing services that both correct objective errors and enhance the readability and impact of your work.
Additional Abstract Rules and Guidelines
Write your abstract after completing your paper.
Although the abstract goes at the beginning of your manuscript, it does not merely introduce your research topic (that is the job of the title), but rather summarizes your entire paper. Writing the abstract last will ensure that it is complete and consistent with the findings and statements in your paper.
Keep your content in the correct order
Both questions and answers should be organized in a standard and familiar way to make the content easier for readers to absorb. Ideally, it should mimic the overall format of your essay and the classic “introduction,” “body,” and “conclusion” form, even if the parts are not neatly divided as such.
Write the abstract from scratch
Because the abstract is a self-contained piece of writing viewed separately from the body of the paper, you should write it separately as well. Never copy and paste direct quotes from the paper and avoid paraphrasing sentences in the paper. Using new vocabulary and phrases will keep your abstract interesting and free of redundancies while conserving space.
Don’t include too many details in the abstract
Again, the density of your abstract makes it incompatible with including specific points other than possibly names or locations. You can make references to terms, but do not explain or define them in the abstract. Try to strike a balance between being specific to your study and presenting a relatively broad overview of your work.
If you think your abstract is fine now but you need input on abstract writing or require paper editing , then head over to the Wordvice academic resources page, where you will find many more articles, for example on writing the Results , Methods , and Discussion sections of your manuscript, on choosing a title for your paper , or on how to finalize your journal submission with a strong cover letter .
How to Write an Economics Paper
Economics is a discipline that students of different majors take, as a basic understanding of how it works is necessary for an educated person. Therefore, it is important to know how to write an economics paper .
This discipline has its peculiarities, as being related to mathematics and calculations, it stays in the realm of humanitarian discipline aimed at conceptualizing global processes in the dynamics of wealth. Thus, in your work, you will need to be a little of a historian, philosopher, mathematician, and sociologist at the same time. Whether it is an essay on a narrow topic or complex research, you will need to take the following steps to complete an excellent paper in economics. By the way, you can actually just ask for help with economics homework from our professional writers.
How to write an abstract for an economics paper
Every comprehensive academic work should have an abstract or if it is an essay, an introduction, which is a self-explanatory word for what you should write in it. Nonetheless, writing an abstract or an introduction is a 101 on how to write an economics research paper. An abstract is the very first section of your work, in which you have to present the topic. However, just naming the topic is not enough. It must be presented in the context you view it and in relation to the current reality, which will make your work relevant and up-to-date. At the end of the abstract or the introduction, there must be a thesis statement—the central idea of your work that you are to prove throughout the whole paper.
It is controversial whether to write the abstract before the whole work or at the very end because you do not know for sure what the research will prove. In any case, the abstract must summarize your work for those who do not want to read all of it. Thus, make sure it includes a definition of the topic, the reason why it is relevant, the idea you want to prove, and the research methodology you are to use in it.
Why you need an outline
An outline is a kind of work that will not be included in your final submission but completing it is an activity that will simplify the whole thing for you. If you take your time and work on an outline, you will have a definite path in your research, reasoning, and writing. It will bring value to the quality of your paper, helping you to avoid gibberish and inconsistency in the macrostructure of your paper. If you are not required to write an elaborate and detailed outline, you can simply create one for yourself.
Write the main idea of the introduction (thesis statement) and the topic sentences of each body paragraph with the sources that you will use in them, and the conclusion you aim to arrive at. When you have an outline, you can see whether anything is missing or excessive, as well as if each argument has enough support so you do not have to conduct additional research. When your outline is done, you can start writing the paper itself, and it will be much easier, as you already have a plan.
As economics is a theoretical discipline, you need to include not only mathematical calculations but also the materials you base your ideas on. All of them must be in your literature review, which may be the most time-consuming part of the work. In the literature review, you collect relevant information on your topic and opinions of reputable figures. Additionally, you will need to include the initial economic theory you choose to base your research on. Nonetheless, make sure the literature on your topic is extensive, and there is still the relevance of your research as a contribution to what is already known.
Your literature review must not only refer to others’ works but signify the points of their scope that apply in your assignment. Additionally, make sure you choose sources that enlighten your topic from different facets, which will help you avoid biases.
Doing the research
This is the part where you demonstrate the calculations and develop your argument. However, depending on the particular topic you study, it may be part of no particular aim to describe something in digits. However, in this part, you have to mention every step you take in your research. Another important aspect of this section is that you do not need to interpret the results of what you have found. You only need to present the factual data you are using and will eventually obtain.
Be as detailed and unambiguous in this section as possible. If you need to find information, omit judgment or evaluation and focus on analysis, as you have the subsequent sections for them. This part is not supposed to have a direct connection with the thesis statement; however, it is a crucial step towards the connections you will establish further. Thus, the demonstration of your research must be as precise and objective as possible.
Discussing the findings
This is the part where you translate the data from the research part into human language. Take all the findings you have from the research section, give them an evaluation, and explain what they mean from the perspective of the purpose of your study. You may point out whether there is any statistical regularity in the findings of the research or if the results have any differences from the initial expectations of the research.
In the discussion section, you also need to explain what every step of the calculation part was taken for and how it translates to the context of the problem in your topic. Nonetheless, you also have to maintain objectivity and explain every finding.
This is the final part of your research paper. The main purpose of the conclusion is to say whether you were right in the introduction and why. Additionally, it is a simplified version of the interpretation and analysis of the results that answers your initial question from the research proposal. Another important part of the introduction is the summary of the work you did and how the theoretical part helped you with it. If you write it in an essay form, recall all the key arguments and explain whether they work.
Finally, a crucial part of the conclusion that students happen to forget is the speculation on further research. It is not probable that your assigned work covered the topic completely, but it is a study that contributes to its understanding. Thus, note the area of the topic that remains unstudied or understudied to complete your argument.
Format and bibliography
All the information in your research paper must be organized and systematized in accordance with a certain academic style. Depending on the requirements of your professor or institution, it can be the Chicago, Harvard, APA, or MLA format. You need to format your title page, page numbers, and bibliography accordingly. Do not forget that the in-text citation style and charts are also formatted differently in various styles. Additionally, make sure that all the sources you used are listed in alphabetical order.
This part of the assignment has little to do with the actual research. However, it matters for your submission, so you need to take some time and make sure that everything is in the right place.
Writing a complex paper that combines conceptual theory and applied mathematics is a natural part of the education of any undergraduate economist. Depending on the importance of the discipline in your major, the share of calculating in the course can be different. Nonetheless, if you break the assignment down into doable checkpoints, it will not be as challenging as it might look.
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Introduction · State your research question · Motivate why the subject of your research is important to economists and other stakeholders · Explain to the reader
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Because the abstract is a self-contained piece of writing viewed separately from the body of the paper, you should write it separately as well.
In any case, the abstract must summarize your work for those who do not want to read all of it. Thus, make sure it includes a definition of the