Student Abstract Guide


An abstract conveys essential information about your paper in a clear, concise manner. Remember that SWAA requests that paper, poster, film, and organized session abstracts be 100–250 words.

As you are writing your abstract, there are several factors to keep in mind:

  1. the purpose and audience of the abstract,
  2. the basic components of a paper/poster abstract, and
  3. the elements that make a good abstract

1. Purpose and Audience of the Abstract

The SWAA program review committee will read dozens of abstracts and decide which papers, posters, and films will be presented. The review committee is your primary audience. Hence, the abstract should be clear and direct but also interesting and compelling. Do not leave the audience guessing at what you mean; tell them. Also, make sure they understand why your work is important enough for a slot at the conference.

Once selected, the abstract will be printed in the conference program. Conference attendees read the program to decide which panels, papers and films to attend. Hence, conference attendees are a secondary audience for your abstract.

2. Basic Components of a Paper/Poster Abstract

The four components of an abstract are:

  1. Introduction—Start with a sentence that clearly expresses the purpose of your study or presentation. What was your research problem and objectives?
  2. Methods—Briefly review the methodology you used to do your research. What did you do, and how did you do it?
  3. Findings—Briefly state your main findings. What did you discover in your research?
  4. Conclusions—Address the significant of your research. In the context of other work on your topic, what do your findings mean? Why are they important?

3. Qualities That Make a Good Abstract

A good abstract is:

  1. Concise—Each sentence of your abstract must support the concise expression of your research goals, methods, findings and significance. Cut anything that is not essential.
  2. Self-contained—Except for standard abbreviations (e.g. vs. for versus), define all abbreviations and acronyms. Do not expect the readers to be specialists in all four fields of anthropology. Define any specialized terms or usages.
  3. Accurate—Only describe information that will actually appear in your presentation.
  4. Readable—The review committee may read dozens of abstracts in a sitting. If your abstract has stilted sentences, misspellings, faulty grammar, poor transitions, or fuzzy logic it will not be viewed favorably.


Write multiple drafts well ahead of the deadline. When revising, edit for organization and wording, and check the grammar, spelling and punctuation. It may help to read it out loud. Seek advice from peers and professors. The abstract is not just a bit of busywork to get past, but an integral part of your presentation.