APA Abstract (2020) | Formatting, Length, and Keywords
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
Follow these five steps to format your abstract in APA Style:
- Insert a running head (for a professional paper—not needed for a student paper) and page number.
- Set page margins to 1 inch (2.54 cm).
- Write “Abstract” (bold and centered) at the top of the page.
- Place the contents of your abstract on the next line.
- Do not indent the first line.
- Double-space the text.
- Use a legible font like Times New Roman (12 pt.).
- Limit the length to 250 words.
- List 3–5 keywords directly below the content.
- Indent the first line 0.5 inches.
- Write the label “Keywords:” (italicized).
- Write keywords in lowercase letters.
- Separate keywords with commas.
- 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.
- What is the problem? Outline the objective, research questions, and/or hypotheses.
- What has been done? Explain your research methods.
- What did you discover? Summarize the key findings and conclusions.
- What do the findings mean? Summarize the discussion and recommendations.
Check out our guide on how to write an abstract for more guidance and an annotated example.
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.
Frequently asked questions
- What is the purpose of an abstract?
- 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?
- Can you cite sources in an abstract?
- 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.