An abstract is a short and comprehensive summary of the contents of a larger work. It is normally located after a title page or contents page and right before an introduction, it might or might not have its own dedicated page. Abstracts are extensively used both in academia, in US educational or scientific institutions, and outside it to summarize articles meant to be published in scientific journals, books, presentations at conferences, lab reports, speeches but also other types of work so that readers can get a brief content overview.
Given their widespread use, it is important to learn about the purpose, types, and content of abstracts but also about some useful guidelines on correctly writing these short summaries. Below we explore in greater detail how to write an abstract for a lab report but note that this knowledge is generally applicable to other papers/works.
Purpose and Definition
The purpose of an abstract is to present readers with a very condensed summary of the entire work. In the case of academic articles, a general rule is that readers first evaluate abstracts and decide whether corresponding articles are worth or not reading. Whether these fall within their fields of expertise/interest, whether they bring significant results or novel perspectives/ understandings in a given field, etc. Hence, the purpose is to present all these informative elements according to which judgments are made in a clear and concise manner.
The aim of a lab report has less to do with scientific discovery/innovation rather than with re-validating already known principles or laws (physical, chemical, biological, etc.). Although results are generally predictable and do not advance scientific knowledge, all these help familiarize students with the scientific method in general and with various research techniques in particular. Hence, the purpose of a lab report abstract is almost exclusively focused on presenting research carried and its results (without any innovation element).
Length and Content
The typical length of an abstract across various work types, whether it is a lab report, literature review, or even a capstone paper varies from 100 to 500 words, and this is normally directly correlated to work volume. Abstracts for lab reports are typically shorter but length can still vary to some extent. Thus, according to the Writing Studio, an abstract for a lab report has typically between 50 and 150 words.
As for elements that make up an abstract for a lab report, they are as follows:
- experiment research motivation. Why was it performed? Why is it important? Some brief additional context is typically provided as a kind of mini-introduction.
- research question/hypothesis/purpose. What was researched? What problem was addressed?.
- what general methods/strategies/approaches were used. How were experiments performed? – remember that this description should be very brief considering overall length – oftentimes, it suffices to just mention methods by name, especially if they are fairly standard in a field.
- key findings/results and their significance. What was observed and how reliable is this? – given that this is perhaps the most important section, somewhat more space would be dedicated to it.
- What main conclusions were reached? Was the hypothesis confirmed or rejected? Sometimes conclusions might be joined with results or might even be implicit. Author recommendations might also be presented here.
Types of Abstracts – Informative and Descriptive
A descriptive abstract only indicates the type of information contained in a work, without presenting any results and conclusions and also without any judgments. Thus, it focuses on research purpose, scope, and methods, essentially introducing readers to the type of content they might expect. Due to these reasons, it may look very much like an outline. Such abstracts are very short – typically, up to 100 words.
Most lab report abstracts, at least inexact or natural sciences, are informative (informational) and they can be viewed as short substitutes for works they summarize, which means they cover all important parts of these works, including results, discussions, and even recommendations. Thus, it can be stated that an informative piece contains all elements a descriptive one contains. It is typically longer, reaching the upper limits described earlier, up to 200 words for a lab report.
Most of the time when you’ll be asked to write an abstract for your laboratory report, it would be an informative one, given that it is a more complete version, you are on the safer side opting for this one apart from situations when word count is very strict. Nevertheless, it is always good to clarify the format before writing your paper. If no other indications are available, length can suggest the type expected.
5 Tips for Writing a Good Abstract for a Lab Report
Below are some hints/recommendations on how to write a lab abstract:
- One particular challenge is to find the right balance between generalizing too much or writing too little, and between offering too much detail for any particular section and writing too much. Hence, a perfect balance is needed between how general information is and how comprehensively it describes the content. This balance is suggested by the expected number of words – knowing which elements need to be covered, you can estimate in advance how many sentences could be allocated to each content element. Check some sample abstracts for lab reports for inspiration.
- It should be common sense that an abstract is produced only after the entire lab report is written including conclusions. This is because they draw information from all sections – if any of these sections is significantly altered, this should reflect in it as well requiring multiple edits. Hence, efficiency-wise, it makes sense to write it once, when finishing everything else.
- Abstracts should not contain extraneous information, outside information that is not mentioned/discussed in a lab report. They should also not contain any tables, graphs, charts, images, or bibliographic references.
- Lab report abstracts should be self-contained so that any reader not familiar with your research/experiments can understand what you did, why, and what you obtained. Obviously, given a limited number of words, definitions or explanations of discipline-related concepts are almost always inappropriate – these are normally found in an introduction. Nevertheless, it could be useful to expand abbreviations (especially uncommon ones) and do everything to increase readability and comprehension.
- Be sure to use appropriate keywords since this is the very essence of your lab report and the only piece a potential reader might evaluate, it must ring all potential bells and create appropriate associations with your subject. Using good keywords is a habit that is especially important in our digital era when search results depend so much on keywords.
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