Unit 3 Content of abstract

Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should:

  • know the difference between informative and indicative abstracts
  • understand the five common rhetorical moves used in abstracts
  • know the four submoves commonly used in introductions

Activity 1 Indictive and informative abstracts


Abstracts may be broadly grouped into two types: indicative and informative.

Indicative abstracts provide some details of the research, but only enough to encourage curious readers to read the accompanying article or attend the associated conference presentation. Promissory abstracts are often indicative, since the introduction and method tend to be included, but as the results are not yet known a vague promise is given in their place, e.g. Preliminary results will be shared.

Informative abstracts provide details of the method and results, and where applicable or necessary include introduction and discussion sections. Informative abstracts are typically used in computer science.

Activity 2 Rhetorical moves


Five common rhetorical moves (shown in yellow) and four common sub-moves (shown in white) can be identified in research abstracts. The moves and sub-moves are listed below.

  1. Introduction: Why do this research?
    1. Problem
    2. Research gap
    3. Research niche
    4. Overview
  2. Purpose: What is the aim of the research?
  3. Method: How were the results obtained?
  4. Results: What was found or produced?
  5. Discussion: So what?

Although there are five possible rhetorical moves and four possible sub-moves, it is not necessary to include all the moves and sub-moves. Conventions vary among disciplines. For example, in medical research abstracts the four moves of Purpose, Method, Results and Discussion tend to be included. In linguistics, the Introduction move is usually included to orientate readers to the research. However, in many subdomains of computer science and information science, introduction moves may be very brief or omitted.


Decide which of the moves and and submoves listed below you should include in your abstract. Then, work out their relative importance.

  1. Introduction
    1. Problem
    2. Research gap
    3. Research niche
    4. Overview
  2. Purpose
  3. Method
  4. Results
  5. Discussion