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University of Toronto 
Health Sciences Writing Centre 
Writing an Abstract 
In the Health Sciences and Social Work

A good abstract is... 
  1. accurate
  2. self-contained
  3. concise and
  4. non-evaluative
  5. coherent and 

An abstract should be a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of a document; it allows the reader to survey the contents of the document quickly and decide whether to continue reading. It is also, like a title, used by abstracting and information services to index and retrieve articles. 

An abstract should represent as much as possible of the quantitative and qualitative information in your paper, and also reflect its reasoning. Typically, an abstract answers these questions in about 100-250 words: 

  • Purpose: What is the nature of your study/topic and why did you do it? 
  • Methods: What did you do, and how? 
  • Results: What did you find? 
  • Conclusions:What can you logically conclude through the analysis of your data? 
  • Relevance: How do your findings relate to the practice of your field? 
The abstract needs to be dense with information but also readable, well-organized, brief, and self-contained. Your readers expect you to summarize your conclusions as well as your purpose, methods, and main findings. Emphasize the different points in proportion to the emphasis they receive in the body of your paper. 

1. A good abstract is accurate:

Comparing your abstract with the outline of the paper's headings is a good way to verify your accuracy.

2. A good abstract is self-contained:

You can't ask your reader to go elsewhere for understanding of what you say in your abstract. Therefore,

3. A good abstract is concise and specific:

4. A good abstract is non-evaluative:

5. A good abstract is coherent and readable:


M. Procter, Coordinator, Writing Support, U of T; J. Hunter, Dept. of Physical Therapy, U of T; International Organization for Standardization, ISO 214: 1976; Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. (1994). Fourth Edition. 

Original version, October 1997 
Prepared by Dr. D. Taylor and J. B. Rose 
HTML edition by Dennis G. Jerz
For Distribution at the University of Toronto
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