How to Write the Abstract for a Sociology Paper

Your abstract draws out the most important information from your paper, including methods and findings, for quick evaluation.

Drafting an abstract can be the first run at an outline of a sociology paper. The word comes from Latin roots meaning "out" and "draw" -- as in pull. A sociological abstract that stands on its draws out the most important points of each section in an academic paper that studies human interaction. You will want to come back and refine the abstract when you have finished the paper.

State the question your paper will address. This may be stated as a formal hypothesis, but should be concise rather than detailed. The first sentence of an abstract is often also the topic sentence for the first paragraph of the paper. Say what you were researching and why you went looking for it.

Summarize in a sentence or two your review of other papers and books you used as background, with something like "Longitudinal studies exploring this question across the last quarter of the 20th century confirmed the hypothesis, but the latest of those studies reported a third strongly correlated variable that has not yet been thoroughly explored." Save the details of who did those studies, how many subjects they studied, and their statistics for the body of your paper unless your literature review revealed a significant disagreement among other researchers.

Review the methodology for your research, but again save the details. If you collected original data, state simply how many subjects were in the study and whether you collected qualitative data, designed your own survey or assessment instrument, or employed a previously validated instrument. If you analyzed an existing database, identify it as it is known in the discipline. For example, if your method was a systematic comparison of those 15 longitudinal studies conducted over 25 years, state in your abstract how you selected the studies to be included and how you resolved inconsistencies among them.

Focus a brief statement of your findings on what your study adds to what was known before about this question, even if it's only to say that you were able to replicate earlier studies or to arrive at similar findings using a different methodology or a new data set. If you have one or two very strong findings you can state them, but put the detailed statistical analysis in the paper itself.

Restate your hypothesis as either confirmed or nullified. The abstract might say no more than that, since the conclusion of the paper will briefly summarize the findings. You might, however, include in the abstract a brief "teaser" for whatever next research step may be motivated by your findings.

Barbara Kellam-Scott has written since 1981 for print publications including "MassBay Antiques" and the award-winning corporate science magazine "Bellcore EXCHANGE." She writes as an advocate and lay Bible scholar in the Presbyterian Church. Kellam-Scott holds a Bachelor of Arts in intercultural studies from Ramapo College of New Jersey and conducted graduate work in sociology, theology and Biblical Hebrew.