How do I cite an abstract?

Note: This post relates to content in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook. For up-to-date guidance, see the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook.

Very few circumstances call for citing an abstract.

Never cite an abstract as a short-cut, a way of avoiding reading and citing the full published work. This is akin to citing the summary of a work that you would find on a book jacket or on a site like CliffsNotes. If you cite an abstract in lieu of the work it summarizes, you are shortchanging both the author and yourself: you are not accurately representing the author’s complete work, which may contain key information that is missing from the abstract, and you lose the experience of reading and engaging with the author’s extended argument and the evidence that supports it.

If you are doing most of your research online, it may be tempting to cite an abstract because many online journals and databases allow you to see an article’s abstract but won’t let you read the full article without a subscription. When you run into this barrier, you’ll have to access the full article some other way—either in hard copy at a library or through a university or other institution’s subscription to an online database that contains the essay in full.

It only makes sense to cite an abstract if you are writing about the abstract as an abstract and not about the work it summarizes: for instance, if you are writing about different styles of writing abstracts used in the sciences and humanities.

If you do need to create a works-cited-list entry for an abstract, follow the MLA format template. List the author of the abstract followed by a description in place of a title. Then list the title of the publication in which the abstract appears as the title of the container. Then list the publication details:

“One abstract effectively piques the reader’s interest with its opening question: ‘What does it mean to be a reader of a novel?'”(Ong).

Work Cited

Ong, Yi-Ping. Abstract of “Anna Karenina Reads on the Train: Readerly Subjectivity and the Poetics of the Novel.” PMLA, vol. 133, no. 5, Oct. 2018, p. 1302.

You will find an example of a justifiable, and necessary, citation of an abstract in a recent Style Center post that discusses how to write an abstract.