How to write and format an APA abstract

This article reflects the APA 7th edition guidelines. Click here for APA 6th edition guidelines.

An APA abstract is a comprehensive summary of your paper in which you briefly address the research problem, hypotheses, methods, results, and implications of your research. It’s placed on a separate page right after the title page and is usually no longer than 250 words.

Most professional papers that are submitted for publication require an abstract. Student papers typically don’t need an abstract, unless instructed otherwise.

How to format the abstract

APA abstract example

APA abstract (7th edition)

Formatting instructions

Follow these five steps to format your abstract in APA Style:

  1. Insert a running head and page number.
  2. Set page margins to 1 inch (2.54cm).
  3. Write “Abstract” (bold and centered) at the top of the page.
  4. Place the contents of your abstract on the next line.
    1. Do not indent the first line.
    2. Double-space the text.
    3. Use a legible font like Times New Roman (12pt.).
    4. Limit the length to 250 words.
  5. List 3-5 keywords directly below the content.
    1. Indent the first line 0.5 inches.
    2. Write the label “Keywords:” (italicized).
    3. Write keywords in lowercase letters.
    4. Separate keywords with commas.
    5. Do not use a period after the keywords.

How to write an APA abstract

The abstract is a self-contained piece of text that informs the reader what your research is about. It’s best to write the abstract after you’re finished with the rest of your paper.

The questions below may help structure your abstract. Try answering them in one to three sentences each.

Check out our guide on how to write an abstract for more guidance and an annotated example.

Guide: writing an abstract

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Which keywords to use

At the end of the abstract, you may include a few keywords that will be used for indexing if your paper is published on a database. Listing your keywords will help other researchers find your work.

Choosing relevant keywords is essential. Try to identify keywords that address your topic, method, or population. APA recommends including three to five keywords.

Example: Identifying relevant keywords
Journal article title: Social comparisons on social media: The impact of Facebook on young women’s body image concerns and mood

Keywords: Facebook, social media, magazine, appearance-related social comparison, body image concerns, mood.

Frequently asked questions

What is the purpose of an abstract?

An abstract is a concise summary of an academic text (such as a journal article or dissertation). It serves two main purposes:

  • To help potential readers determine the relevance of your paper for their own research.
  • To communicate your key findings to those who don’t have time to read the whole paper.

Abstracts are often indexed along with keywords on academic databases, so they make your work more easily findable. Since the abstract is the first thing any reader sees, it’s important that it clearly and accurately summarizes the contents of your paper.

How long should an APA abstract be?

An APA abstract is around 150–250 words long. However, always check your target journal’s guidelines and don’t exceed the specified word count.

Where does the abstract go in an APA paper?

In an APA Style paper, the abstract is placed on a separate page after the title page (page 2).

Can you cite sources in an abstract?

Avoid citing sources in your abstract. There are two reasons for this:

  • The abstract should focus on your original research, not on the work of others.
  • The abstract should be self-contained and fully understandable without reference to other sources.

There are some circumstances where you might need to mention other sources in an abstract: for example, if your research responds directly to another study or focuses on the work of a single theorist. In general, though, don’t include citations unless absolutely necessary.

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Raimo Streefkerk

Raimo is an expert in explaining plagiarism and citing sources. He has been writing helpful articles since 2017 and is continuously improving Scribbr's Citation Generators.

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