Preparing an excellent abstract

An abstract is a concise summary of your paper.  By presenting the essence of your argument in a single paragraph of about 200 words, the abstract enables reviewers to assess the purpose and substance of your argument.

An abstract should include, in narrative form,

  • Your thesis statement
  • The main points of your argument, with a brief description of how each point is supported
  • Your concluding observations (what are the implications of your thesis?).


  • Make an outline of your paper, beginning with your thesis. Turn this into a long paragraph.
  • Edit the paragraph by consolidating ideas, combining sentences, and eliminating wordiness. Use active verbs wherever possible.
  • Make specific claims in support of your thesis.
  • Generally speaking, use third person (relate the argument itself; don’t talk in terms of your goals for the paper). 
  • Articulate your claim; don’t simply list topics or subtopics.
  • Avoid flowery introductions and background; get to the heart of your argument right away.
  • Avoid empty or vague words and phrases (beware of words like “various”, “certain” and “explore”).
  • Give the paper (and the abstract) a descriptive title, conveying useful information about the paper’s content and/or purpose.

Example abstract

“The Art of Magic: How Imagination Constitutes Reality in The Winter’s Tale

In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, impossibility is overcome again and again. Whether it is Polixenes’ departure, Perdita’s survival, or Hermione’s miraculous restoration, the bounds of the possible expand to include unbelievable events. What we see in the inexplicable madness of Leontes up to 3.2 is fundamentally a failure of the imagination that is portrayed in terms of disillusionment. Leontes believes he has at last encountered the ultimate reality and refuses to imagine other explanations. Additionally, the reversal of Leontes’ madness that begins in the third act is a reevaluation of the importance of imagining where the restoration Leontes feared to even dream of becomes the truth. While in the first three acts of the play we see a view of nature that tends toward entropy, the last two acts radically reimagine a reality in which imagination is not ornamental but constitutive. (141 words)

The Medieval and Renaissance Studies Consortium is a group of professors from eleven Michigan colleges who are committed to providing opportunities for undergraduate research in Medieval and Renaissance studies.