APA Abstract (2020) | Formatting, Length, and Keywords

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 (for a professional paper—not needed for a student paper) and page number.
  2. Set page margins to 1 inch (2.54 cm).
  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 (12 pt.).
    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.

Is this article helpful?
Raimo Streefkerk

Raimo has been writing articles for Scribbr since 2017. His areas of expertise are plagiarism and citation. Besides writing articles, Raimo works tirelessly on improving Scribbr's Citation Generator and Plagiarism Checker tools.


February 1, 2022 at 6:18 AM

Is it in order if the whole body of abstract is
1. italicized?
2. Single line spaced?


Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
February 1, 2022 at 12:26 PM

Hi Bello,

No, in APA Style the abstract should always be formatted according to the rules explained above, which include double spacing and no italics.


November 1, 2021 at 3:50 AM

Is it acceptable to use some exact sentences in our abstract that we used in our paper?


Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
November 1, 2021 at 3:46 PM

Hi Karlee,

APA Style doesn't specifically forbid you from doing this, but it's usually best to avoid it for the most part. Your abstract should be more concise than the rest of your paper, so the sentences, while they can certainly be similar to those used in the text, are usually best modified to make the abstract as direct as possible. That said, there are occasions where the phrasing was already very concise in the main text and reusing the same phrasing is appropriate. Just try to do so only when necessary.


September 6, 2021 at 5:31 PM


When i want to use a structured abstract, am I allowed to start a new line with each aspect (aim, method, results, conclusion), or do I continue in the same line?


Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
September 13, 2021 at 3:28 PM

Hi Linnea,

APA recommends writing the whole abstract as a single paragraph, just using the labels Aim, Method, etc. in bold italics to identify the different aspects. They do not recommend starting a new line for each aspect.


Michelle Quinsey
February 16, 2022 at 6:40 PM

Thanks for this info! I just want to clarify, with labels like Aim, Research Question, Method, do we only bold/italicize or is there a colon after?


Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
February 17, 2022 at 11:03 AM

Hi Michelle,

Unfortunately, the APA manual doesn't give specific guidance on this. They state that you should follow the guidance of the journal you're submitting to. They don't specifically state what punctuation is used for labels in their own style, but my guess is that you would follow each label with a period, e.g., "Method. To carry out this research, ..."


December 17, 2020 at 1:08 PM

Hi! I would like to know if I need to write an abstract in strict order? For example, first goes on purpose and objectives, etc. My abstract is a bit like storytelling and I am a bit confused, should I do it more academic?


Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr Team)
January 6, 2021 at 2:34 PM

Hi Bia,

The order of information may vary depending on your field and the type of research. But in general, a storytelling style isn't really appropriate for an abstract; you should aim to be as concise and direct as possible. That always means stating the main research problem or objective in the first sentence so that the reader immediately knows what to expect from the paper. The rest of the information should be presented in a logical order, and it should accurately represent the content of your paper. Since an abstract is very short, you need to make sure that every sentence tells the reader something essential.

I hope that answers your question!


November 24, 2020 at 6:03 PM

Is the abstract title supposed to be bold? Different sources said yes and no, so I am unsure which one is right.


Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr Team)
December 8, 2020 at 7:49 PM

Hi Ilana,

Yes, according to the 7th edition of APA Style, the section label "Abstract" appears in bold. Hope that helps!


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