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Abstracts

An abstract is a quick-reference guide to your paper that can help your readers know what to expect and decide whether or not to read the entire document. In the abstract, you need to introduce the research/experimental problem, describe your main findings/results, and show the significance or implications. Western Carolina University Graduate School recommends an abstract length for theses and dissertations of 250-500 words. For academic classes and journal publications, the limit is frequently 100-200 words. Regardless of word limit, your abstract should be clear, concise, and accurate.

Depending on whether your research is experimental or non-experimental (theoretical), the sections of your document will vary. Consequently, the distribution of information within your abstract will also vary. Your abstract should strictly follow the structure of your paper. For each section, you will write a sentence or two that best summarizes the main point. Together these sentences will become your abstract.

The following chart details the order and length for each section within an abstract of either an experimental or non-experimental research paper:

 

Experimental

Non-experimental

1. Background/Existing Theory

2-3 sentences

1. Thesis/Problem  Statement

1 sentence

2. Hypothesis

1 sentence

2. Background information

1-2 sentences

3. Methodology

1-2 sentences

3. Focus and scope

1-2 sentences

4. Results

1-2 sentences

4. Supporting evidence

2-3 sentences

5. Conclusion and Implications

2-3 sentences

5. Conclusion and Implications

2-3 sentences

Below are sample abstracts for both experimental and non-experimental research papers. In each example, bold heading indicate the start of a new section, but do not include these headings in your abstract.

Experimental research paper:

 Background Nearly a third of employers find their employees do not meet expectations of adequate written communication (Read, 2004, B7). College writing centers, like WCU's Writing and Learning Commons (WaLC), offer a non-threatening place for students to improve their writing and their papers. Hypothesis This study seeks to quantify the benefits received by the WaLC's clients. Methodology In addition to interviews about their experiences, students' average grades (n=50;  GPA=2.87) on written coursework were compared before and after a single WaLC appointment. Results 82% of students (n=41) improved their written coursework by at least one letter grade, and 96% of students (n=48) indicated that they found the appointment useful and would return for future assignments. Conclusion This study found that students not only benefit scholastically from writing tutoring but also are willing to return to the WaLC on their own. Writing centers like this need support and funding to continue improving the communication skills of future employees. (155 words)     

Non-experimental research paper:

 Thesis At best, calls for accountability in America's higher education system have produced mixed results. Background information Standardized testing has been the norm in K-12 schools for nearly twenty years but has only recently become evident in post-secondary education. Various systems in place tend to evaluate quantitative data rather than assess student learning. Focus and scope A review of current literature about different kinds of assessment, how other countries handle accountability, and examples of student-centered accountability can point to possible solutions for this recent call for standardized assessment. Supporting evidence Research based on the programmatic perspective makes up the majority of accountability studies, which are primarily performance-based and overly simplistic. In Europe, however, a pluralist perspective has dominated, particularly in England. In America, some schools have found success with electronic portfolios that demonstrate the quality of student work. Conclusion Since graduation and retention rates do not present an accurate picture of an institution, America's higher education system should consider adopting a pluralist approach like that found in Europe. (159 words)

 

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