Page updated: 21-Aug-2012 02:25 AM

The most important thing to remember about your abstract is that it is essentially a written outline of your research essay.  To construct this abstract, first carefully map out your essay by outlining the main body.  You should have 2 sections in the main body.  The first section should contain 4-6 central arguments/reasons that advance or prove your position that you take in your thesis statement.  Each of these 4-6 arguments/reasons will require a separate paragraph to develop; consequently,you will have at least 4-6 paragraphs in this first section.

The second section should contain 2-3 of the main counter-objections that the opposition would raise to quarrel with your thesis.  Your job is to fairly and accurately represent those 2-3 views and also to refute them.  By refuting these 2-3 opposing arguments, you must try to challenge them, show them to be wrong, reveal what is logically problematic with them.  In essence, you want to do your best to dismantle them.  You will in all likelihood, however, discover that at least one of these 2-3 counter-objections will be pretty hard to refute.  In this case, the best argumentative strategy is to acknowledge that it's indeed a pretty good argument and concede that it is a good point.  In any controversy, no side is ever always right about each point in the debate, so an occasional concession is appropriate.

Having understood what your essay should accomplish in its main body section, you just need to condense all of this for your abstract into single-sentence statements.  You should not elaborate or go into any detail or explanation; that's what your essay is for.  Overall, keep in mind that your abstract just gives the reader an overview, a bird's eye view of the landscape of your essay.

The abstract must include the following 5 elements (but do not enumerate them in your abstract like I've done here!):

  1. State the controversial issue that your essay will discuss

  2. Indicate your position on the controversial issue.  This is the same thing as your thesis.  (Copy your issue and your thesis as you have written them on your proposal you sent me.  We both should have an identical copy of your thesis and proposed controversial issue.)

  3. Summarize the multiple arguments/reasons that you will use to advance your thesis.  You must have 4-6 of these arguments/reasons in your essay.  Ultimately these will become your topic sentences in your paper, so these arguments/reasons must assert a claim that advances your thesis.

  4. Acknowledge the 2-3 main/substantial counter-arguments and briefly refute them.  (The best way to do this is in the form of a single sentence that uses subordination.  See the example below.)

  5. Write a concluding sentence for the abstract. Try to capture the essence of your concluding paragraph in your controversial essay.

Requirements for the research essay abstract:

  1. Use the MLA format for manuscripts (margins, spacing, heading, title, font face and size).  The best thing to do is to use your essay template or else religiously follow the guidelines in the "Manuscript Conventions" sheet.

  2. The abstract must be written in a single paragraph.  (I will not read anything that exceeds one paragraph.)

  3. Length: 1/2 to 1 page long.  (I will not read anything that exceeds 1 page.)

Sample Abstract:

The following is part of my abstract on the controversial issue of the morality of zoos.  I have color coded all of the sentences so that you can match them to the 5 elements above so that you can see how to write the various parts of the abstract. 

     One of the less publicly debated issues, but nonetheless an important one, is the question of whether it is moral to keep animals in zoos.  This essay argues that it is immoral to keep animals in zoos.  First, it is immoral to keep animals in zoos because zoos teach us a false sense of our place in the natural order.  Secondly, zoos establish an unnecessary hierarchy between humans and animals.  Additionally, animals are not really studied in zoos, but instead they are paraded as show pieces or trophies. Finally, zoos are irrelevant in this age of the Internet where virtual zoos can teach students and the general public as much about the animal world without caging animals that should be allowed to live freely in the wild.  Although opponents defend zoos on the grounds that they "preserve" and "protect" animals, humans actually are interfering with the natural order of nature.  Also, many supporters claim that zoos elevate the visibility of animals on the endangered species list, yet there is no documented evidence that keeping animals in zoos helps to ensure a species' survival.  Unwaveringly, this essay rejects the notion that zoos serve any valuable function in society and encourages people to boycott them.

Take note of two aspects of this abstract.

First, notice that the thesis talks about the essay as if the essay were a separate piece of work.  That's okay here because it is an entity separate from the abstract.  If you read published abstracts that you have encountered in the course of your research, you'll find that this practice is common.  (However, it is not acceptable to announce your thesis statement like this within your research essay when you turn it in!)

Notice also that in the counter-argument section, I write the objection in the subordinate clause and then put my refutation in the main clause of the sentence (note the italics).  This is the most effective--and economical--way to write both the counter-argument and my own refutation of it.  Since you don't have a lot of room to work with, try this method in your own abstract so that you economize on your language.