How to Write a Good Title, Abstract, and Introduction

Writing the title and abstract can be the easiest and most frustrating part of writing a research paper. There are two major things to keep in mind when writing your title and abstract:

  • Be clear and concise. You want everyone to know exactly what your paper is about simply by reading the title.
  • Write the title, abstract (and introduction) last. This may seem a little strange to a lot of people but it makes the most sense to write them once you understand what you studied, what your results were, and what you want your audience to take away from reading it.

Writing Your Title

The title should describe what you are studying and to what effect. For example, my thesis was called: The Hero Soldier: Portrayals of Soldiers in War Films (You can access it here if you are interested) This title hits all the main points:
What: soldiers as heroes
Where: war films
Concept: the way they are portrayed

This covers the basics and only the basics, don’t include your research methods, your results, or your pet’s name (seriously). Hit the main points that people will:

  1. Be searching for (Google, Library Databases, etc.)
  2. Catch their attention
  3. Tell the audience exactly what the study is about

That’s all. I didn’t call my thesis: A Qualitative In-depth Analysis of the Conception of the the Hero as Portrayed by Soldiers in War Films. I could have, because that’s what it is about, but it impedes comprehension. It needs to be to the point and convey exactly what that person will read.

Writing a Good Abstract

Outside the title the abstract is the only place where someone can get a quick overview of your study, think of the title as the abstract-lite, without the conclusions or big words. Basically your abstract should only be a paragraph long (that’s 3-4 sentences MAX!). Don’t ramble on for 15 sentences. There are only a few basic things you need to cover in your abstract:

  1. What you are studying + why it’s important
  2. How you are studying it (method)
  3. What you learned/found/argue and its significance

That’s it! The point of an abstract is to summarize your entire paper in a paragraph so someone looking at it can get a brief idea what it is about and determine if they want to keep reading the entire paper. If you can’t write a brief and succinct abstract then you clearly don’t know what your own paper is about.

Writing a Good Introduction

The introduction should cover the same topics as your abstract but in a bit more detail.
You also need to include:

  • Thesis statement
  • Overview of the study methods
  • Theoretical framework (if you have one)
  • The reasons why the study has value to the research area you’re contributing to
  • If you’ve finished your research be sure to give us a good idea about your findings

Many times, when beginning any writing project it is suggested that you start with a “hook” to get your reader interested in your topic, this is not necessary in a research paper. It can however, add to your paper. It’s acceptable but not required. After covering everything mentioned above, provide a one paragraph roadmap of your paper. This gives us an idea of how you will attack the rest of the document we are about to read. For example:

“In the following pages I will first discuss the relevant literature and previously
conducted studies that relate to my study about goldfish and their love for beer. Second, I then outline the method by which the research was conducted, followed last by a discussion of the results as well as future implications of the goldfish/beer relationship.” You’ll notice that I use “I” in that statement. It is perfectly acceptable to use “I” from time to time in a paper as long as you don’t overuse it.

Protip: Don’t write your introduction first. As it is a preview of the study it’s usually best to write your introduction and abstract last.

This is an excerpt from my eBook: How to Write a Research Paper, Proposal, or Thesis (grab it today, it’s free and I don’t ask for your email address to get it!)

About these ads

How to Write a Research Paper, Proposal, or Thesis eBook now free!

Here is the overview of everything contained in the ~40 page eBook. It contains detailed sections on how to write:

    • Title
    • Abstract
    • Introduction
    • Analysis/Discussion
    • Background/Literature Review
    • Select and define your concept
    • Study purpose and Relevance
    • How to write good qualitative and quantitative research questions
    • Research design
    • Data collection (surveys, analysis, etc.)
    • Ethics, Budget
    • Brief overview and quick guide on citing sources
    • How to describe your results and write your conclusion
    • Witty commentary and general jack-assery.

Download the eBook here

Writing Good Quantitative Research Questions

Note: this is an excerpt from How to Write a Research Paper, Proposal, or Thesis eBook. Buy it now!

There are three main types of questions that a researcher can ask when writing a quantitative study. They are:

  • Causal
  • Descriptive
  • Predictive

Causal Questions
Causal questions are exactly what they sound like – a question that tries to compare two or more phenomena and determine (or at least suggest) a relationship between the two (or more).

For example: “Does reading the How To Write A Research Paper eBook increase the average research paper grades in a class?” (The answer, of course, is yes. Everyone gets an A++).

Quantitative questions rely on an independent variable or one that remains the same (the students reading the eBook, in the example above). These questions often involve the manipulation of an independent variable and the comparison of the outcome of this manipulation.

Generally the script for a causal question follows this formula:
Does the ________________ (change) in _________________ (independent variable) produce change (increase, decrease, not affect) the _______________ (a dependent variable)?

Descriptive Questions
Once again, these are pretty much what you would expect them to be: descriptive research questions ask “how often?”, “how much?”, or “what is the change over time or in a different situation?” questions.

Generally the script for a descriptive question follows this formula:
How often do ________________ (participants) do ________________ (variable being studied) at ________________ (research site)?

For example: “How often do college students need to use the bathroom during a test?” (Obviously the research site is implied here – at college).

Many times descriptive questions involve the degree or existence of relationship that exists between two or more variables. The script for a descriptive relationship question usually follows the below formula:
What is the relationship between ______________ (variable) and ____________ (variable) for _________________ (participants)?
For example: “How often do college students need to use the bathroom during a test as compared to during a normal class?”
Descriptive questions usually lead to further questions that your study was never meant to answer and it is a BIG MISTAKE to suggest so. In the example above one could deduce that if college students use the bathroom quite a bit more during tests that they may be cheating, or just more nervous, but you don’t know that! Don’t speculate until the very end and say exactly that: “This could mean may different things. However, more study is required to determine the reason(s).” The answer “why” is an entirely different study and almost always a qualitative one.

He predicted lots that he didn’t have empirical evidence for… we know how that turned out.

Predictive Questions
Predictive questions are questions that try to predict (no way!) whether one or more variables can be used to predict an outcome. Predictive questions and studies are always highly controversial, be sure to cover all your bases when trying to predict something, more often than not there are about 3,000 variables that come together to create an outcome and trying to link only a few of those to always get the same outcome can be a huge mistake (especially in social science).

Generally the script for a predictive question follows this formula:
Does ________________ (cause variable) lead to/create _____________ (outcome variable) in ________________ (setting)?
For example: “Does the color of a person’s hair lead to higher grades in school?”

As a general suggestion, especially early on, stay away from predictive studies. They can be some of the most fun, but more often than not people get far too excited and overstep the bounds of their study. For example, in answering the above question, you come to the conclusion that yes, people with black and very dark brown hair always get higher grades in school. But unless you explore the ALL possible variables you can’t claim that. Maybe IQ changes someone’s genes and smarter people always have darker hair. Maybe due to the “dumb blonde” stereotype teachers always give preferential treatment to non-blondes. You just don’t know – be very careful in these types of studies. (Obviously the example was meant to be humorous, but you get the point).

How to Write a Research Paper eBook Now Available!

Hey all, haven’t posted in a bit because I’ve been writing an eBook that combines all the research based knowledge that I have here on MCT and a TON more.

It’s titled: How to Write a Research Paper, Proposal, or Thesis.

Here is the over view of everything contained in the ~40 page eBook. It contains detailed sections on how to write:

    • Title
    • Abstract
    • Introduction
    • Analysis/Discussion
    • Background/Literature Review
    • Select and define your concept
    • Study purpose and Relevance
    • How to write good qualitative and quantitative research questions
    • Research design
    • Data collection (surveys, analysis, etc.)
    • Ethics, Budget
    • Brief overview and quick guide on citing sources
    • How to describe your results and write your conclusion
    • Witty commentary and general jack-assery.

Update: 4/1/13 (Not an April fools joke!) – The eBook is now free – thanks to everyone who supported it! Grab it:
Download the eBook here