When you write an abstract, you are marketing your own work--you act as your own PR agent. You've already done the work of writing your article, and now you must do the good work of presenting your research Lite-style to articles editors. Aside from your school's letterhead, it's the most influential aspect of your paper. Think of it as intellectual plastic surgery: you augment the exterior to convey to others how you think you should be seen. (See, Jocelyn Wildenstein)
We've seen fabulous advice on other blogs about writing a really good abstract (Dudziak and Volokh). They are great for achieving the appropriate tone and style that will impress student editors. Missing from these instructions is a MadLib-style skeleton. Sometimes, it's nice to sit back and be uncreative in your creativity. (See, "Sh!t [insert very specific demographic here] People Say" meme. If you have no idea what this is, click here.) First time writers or seasoned scholars all can benefit from a 1040-EZ approach to abstract writing that conveys scholarly import without seeming overtly boastful.
After all, your paper is the most important thing ever written, right? The other people that wrote on the same thing tried to do it right, but your new idea is so amazing too? And you have a recommendation for improvement or a different way of seeing things? Just like my new way of writing abstracts?
Here is is: short and sweet. Fill in the blanks and Voila! You are on your way to publication. Follow this abstractoskeleton, and you will have an excellent abstract. Other people may have their own way of doing it, or disagree with my ordering...but then they should write their own abstracts.
#2: State the problem--What's wrong with that landscape you just mentioned? What will happen? Paint a bleak, end-of-days picture.
#3: Quickly say what you think needs to be done. This is the most important single sentence in your abstract. You should be able to describe your entire paper here. You must do it in one sentence.
#4: What have others written about this? Choose someone big with a well cited book or paper.
#5: What are those other arguments missing?
#6: SECOND PARAGRAPH: How would you do it differently? Do you have a theoretical lens that would make for an interesting analysis?
#7: Why is this paper important? In one sentence, you should end by stating the intellectual contribution that your paper makes.