How to Write an APA Abstract

Tips for writing an abstract

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee 

APA format is the official style of the American Psychological Association. It is used in writing for psychology and other social sciences. These style guidelines specify different aspects of a document's presentation and layout, including how pages are structured, how references are organized, and how sources are cited. This format also stipulates the use of an abstract designed to briefly summarize the key details contained in a paper.

While it is sometimes overlooked or only an afterthought, an abstract is an important part of any academic or professional paper. This brief overview serves as a summary of what your paper contains, so it should succinctly and accurately represent what your paper is about and what the reader can expect to find. The abstract is a critical component of an APA-formatted paper.

By following a few simple guidelines, you can create an abstract that follows the format. Done well, an abstract generates interest in your work and helps readers learn if the paper will be of interest to them.

APA Format Abstract Basics

The abstract is the second page of a lab report or APA-format paper and should immediately follow the title page. Think of an abstract as a highly condensed summary of your entire paper.

The purpose of your abstract is to provide a brief yet thorough overview of your paper. It should function much like your title page—it should allow the person reading it to quickly determine what your paper is all about. Your abstract is the first thing that most people will read, and it is usually what informs their decision to read the rest of your paper.

The abstract is the single most important paragraph in your entire paper, according to the APA Publication Manual.

A good abstract lets the reader know that your paper is worth reading. According to the official guidelines of the American Psychological Association, an abstract should be brief, but packed with information. Each sentence must be written with maximum impact in mind. To keep your abstract short, focus on including just four or five of the essential points, concepts, or findings.

An abstract must also be objective and accurate. The abstract's purpose is to report rather than provide commentary. It should accurately reflect what your paper is about. Only include information that is also included in the body of your paper.

How to Write an Abstract in APA Format

First, write your whole paper. While the abstract will be at the beginning of your paper, it should be the last section that you write. Once you have completed the final draft of your psychology paper, use it as a guide for writing your abstract.

  1. Begin your abstract on a new page. Place your running head and page number 2 in the top right-hand corner. Center the word "Abstract" at the top of the page.
  2. Know your target word count. An abstract should be between 150 and 250 words. Exact word counts vary from journal to journal. If you are writing your paper for a psychology course, your professor may have specific word requirements, so be sure to ask. The abstract should be written as only one paragraph with no indentation.
  3. Structure the abstract in the same order as your paper. Begin with a brief summary of the introduction, and then continue on with a summary of the method, results, and discussion sections of your paper.
  4. Look at other abstracts in professional journals for examples of how to summarize your paper. Notice the main points that the authors chose to mention in the abstract. Use these examples as a guide when choosing the main ideas in your own paper.
  5. Write a rough draft of your abstract. Use the format required for your type of paper (see next sections). While you should aim for brevity, be careful not to make your summary too short. Try to write one to two sentences summarizing each section of your paper. Once you have a rough draft, you can edit for length and clarity.
  6. Ask a friend to read over the abstract. Sometimes having someone look at your abstract with fresh eyes can provide perspective and help you spot possible typos and other errors.

Experimental Report Abstracts

The format of your abstract also depends on the type of paper you are writing. For example, an abstract summarizing an experimental paper will differ from that of a meta-analysis or case study. For an experimental report, your abstract should:

  • Identify the problem. In many cases, you should begin by stating the question you sought to investigate and your hypothesis.
  • Describe the participants in the study. State how many participants took part and how they were selected. For example: "In this study, 215 undergraduate student participants were randomly assigned to [the experimental condition] or [the control condition]."
  • Describe the study method. For example, identify whether you used a within-subjects, between-subjects, or mixed design.
  • Give the basic findings. This is essentially a brief preview of the results of your paper. 
  • Provide any conclusions or implications of the study. What might your results indicate, and what directions does it point to for future research?

Literature Review Abstracts

If your paper is a meta-analysis or literature review, your abstract should:

  • Describe the problem of interest. In other words, what is it that you set out to investigate in your analysis or review?
  • Explain the criteria used to select the studies included in the paper. There may be many different studies devoted to your topic. Your analysis or review probably only looks at a portion of these studies. For what reason did you select these specific studies to include in your research?
  • Identify the participants in the studies. Inform the reader about who the participants were in the studies. Were they college students? Older adults? How were they selected and assigned?
  • Provide the main results. Again, this is essentially a quick peek at what readers will find when they read your results section. Don't try to include everything. Just provide a very brief summary of your main findings. 
  • Describe any conclusions or implications. What might these results mean and what do they reveal about the body of research that exists on this particular topic?

Lab Reports and Articles

Psychology papers such as lab reports and APA format articles also often require an abstract. In these cases as well, the abstract should include all of the major elements of your paper, including an introduction, hypothesis, methods, results, and discussion.

Remember, although the abstract should be placed at the beginning of your paper (right after the title page), you will write the abstract last after you have completed a final draft of your paper. In order to ensure that all of your APA formatting is correct, consider consulting a copy of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

A Word From Verywell

The abstract may be very brief, but it is so important that the official APA style manual identifies it as the most important paragraph in your entire paper. Careful attention to detail can ensure that your abstract does a good job representing the contents of your paper. If possible, take your paper to your school's writing lab for assistance.

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Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nagda S. How to write a scientific abstract. J Indian Prosthodont Soc. 2013;13(3):382–383. doi:10.1007/s13191-013-0299-x

  2. American Psychological Association. APA Style Journal Article Reporting Standards: Reporting Standards for Studies With an Experimental Manipulation. Published 2020.

  3. American Psychological Association. APA Style Journal Article Reporting Standards: Quantitative Meta-Analysis Article Reporting Standards. Published 2020.

Additional Reading
  • American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). American Psychological Association; 2019.