Writing An Abstract
Abstracts are formal summaries writers prepare of their completed work and. are important tools for readers, especially as they try to keep up with an explosion of information in print and on the Internet They act as a condensed version of a longer piece of writing that highlights the major points covered, concisely describes the content and scope of the writing, and reviews the writing's contents in abbreviated form.
This fact sheet helps beginners to format and write abstracts either for hardcopy writing or writing for the web.
Two types of abstracts are typically used:
Tell readers what information the report, article, or paper contains.
Include the purpose, methods, and scope of the report, article, or paper.
Do not provide results, conclusions, or recommendations.
Are always very short, usually under 100 words.
Introduce the subject to readers, who must then read the report, article, or paper to find out the author's results, conclusions, or recommendations
Communicate specific information from the report, article, or paper.
Include the purpose, methods, and scope of the report, article, or paper.
Provide the report, article, or paper's results, conclusions, and recommendations.
Are short - from a paragraph to a page or two, depending upon the length of the original work being abstracted. Usually informative abstracts are 10% or less of the length of the original piece.
Allow readers to decide whether they want to read the report, article, or paper.
Importance of Abstracts
The practice of using key words in an abstract is vital because of today's electronic information retrieval systems. Titles and abstracts are filed electronically, and key words are put in electronic storage. When people search for information, they enter key words related to the subject, and the computer prints out the titles of articles, papers, and reports containing those key words. Thus, an abstract must contain key words about what is essential in an article, paper, or report so that someone else can retrieve information from it. Writing for the web also involves using an abstract style of format as this lends itself more easily to the users needs than large tracts of text on a subject. Abstracts pay a key role for readers deciding if they need or want to carry on with a work.
Qualities of a Good Abstract
An effective abstract has the following qualities:
Uses one or more well developed paragraphs: these are unified, coherent, concise, and able to stand alone.
Uses an introduction/body/conclusion structure which presents the article, paper, or report's purpose, results, conclusions, and recommendations in that order.
Follows strictly the chronology of the article, paper, or report.
Provides logical connections (or transitions) between the information included.
Adds no new information, but simply summarises the report.
Is understandable to a wide audience.
Uses passive verbs to downplay the author and emphasise the information.
Steps for Writing Effective Abstracts
To write an effective abstract, follow these steps:
Abstracts begin with a one-sentence summary of the main point of your workr and often introduce the problem the work explores. The first sentence (or two) of the abstract announces the subject and scope of the work as well as the problem. That's quite a bit of information to condense into a sentence or two, and so the concise statement of the main idea often takes careful revision.
Most non-research papers can be summed up in a nutshell statement-a single sentence that boils down a paper to its essential main point and doesn't aim to capture details, supporting arguments, or types of proof.
Examples of One-sentence Summaries
Each of these non-research papers summarises its main point based on its overall purpose:
This paper argues that the "saving democracy" rhetoric surrounding the Gulf War was merely a mask for the U.S.’s interest in keeping oil prices down. (From a political science paper whose purpose was to construct an argument.)
Ethnography and ethnology are the preferred research methods of many anthropologists. (From an anthropology paper whose purpose was to inform others about a research methodology.)
Frequently, the best place to start writing an abstract is to first make an outline of the paper to serve as a rough draft of your abstract:
Read through each paragraph of your paper and write one phrase or sentence that answers the question "what does this paragraph do?"
Take your list of descriptions for each paragraph and look for connections: i.e., do these 3 or 5 paragraphs do something similar? What is it?
When you've reduced your outline to 4 or 5 accurate generalizations, you most likely have a descriptive abstract.
If you're writing an informative abstract, fill in key details about your content by taking your first column and generalise down to 4-5 sentences about what the paper does.
Use these sentences as topic sentences for the paragraphs in your abstract.
Go to your second column and choose appropriate content for each section you outlined. In other words, use the right-hand column to fill in details about what your paper says on each point outlined in column 1.
Avoid a narrow focus
No one who has ever written a concise restatement of a complex point will claim that the work was easy or straightforward. Usually, a writer needs to work back and forth between revising the restatement and re-reading the paper to be sure the main idea is stated accurately and clearly. Having worked so hard on that point, though, don't assume that you don't need to revise other parts of your abstract.
After a summary of the main topic/problem/point of your paper or report, the abstract provides some detail on how you reached this point. The information provided in the abstract should follow the organisation of the paper/report itself, almost like providing an outline for the reader in text form. When abstracting a paper that doesn't have headings and sub-headings, you must depend on your sense of major "chunks" in the text
Details should be used judiciously in abstracts.
Determining the amount of detail to provide depends a great deal on what type of abstract you are writing (informative or descriptive), the complexity of the paper, the word limit for the abstract, and the purposes you imagine readers of your abstract have for reading. If you’re abstracting a report for technical managers, more detail is probably better.
Some publications limit the length of abstracts to no more than 75 words. Others allow abstracts of complex documents to run up to 350 words. Define your limit and if it is a low word limit, concentrate on capturing only main ideas from your paper. Don’t try to cut a 200-word abstract down to 125 words by simply cutting connecting words, articles, etc. Even the shortest abstracts need to be readable, not telegraphic.
Revise and Edit for Style:
When you work from your own texts, abstracts are usually easy to draft. After all, most writers begin by cutting and pasting from the text itself. But abstracts can be tricky to revise and edit, particularly if you need to reach a low word count.
When you cut and paste parts of your paper into your draft abstract, you may find that you initially include words and phrases that clarify the meaning in the paper but that simply add extra words in the abstract. Read your drafts carefully to cut unnecessary words.
After you revise for conciseness, you will also want to be sure that each sentence in your abstract leads smoothly into the next. Sometimes you need to add or change transitional words and phrases or repeat key words. You need to combine sentences so that the connections between ideas are logically clear. A highly condensed style can save money when you text but can make abstracts too dense.
Don’t cut articles (a, an, the) or connecting words that show relationships among ideas. Do repeat key words that show the content of your paper. Abstracts may be short, but they are meant to be readable.
A reader looks at a summary for the sole purpose of getting a quick indication of the merits of the article. As a result, she doesn't want to waste time with a lot of phrases and words that do not further the meaning, nor is she interested in the summary writer's opinion.
Use visual aids wherever they help you explain a point. One picture says more than.....
Depending on where your writing is printed and stored, you'll need to include different kinds of identifying information with your abstract
If your writing will be printed and disseminated as a book, part of a book, or an article in a journal or magazine, give a full bibliographic citation that includes all the publication information so that readers can find print copies of the article.
If your abstract is part of a corporate or government document that will not be printed or disseminated outside the organisation, you need only include your name, the title of the document, its completion date, a project name (if you produced the document as part of the work on a larger project), and an authorisation or organisational number (if there is one).
If your abstract will be circulated outside your organisation (for instance, if you work for a consulting company that writes reports for other companies), add to the information above: your company or organisation name, the name of the organisation that commissioned the document, a contract number (if there is one), a security classification (as appropriate for government documents), and key words to help in cataloguing your abstract.
If you're "publishing" your own work on the World Wide Web or if your writing will appear on the Internet as part of a full-text electronic database, you can save readers time by citing the Internet address for the full text. Typically, writers note both print publication information and the URL (universal resource locator) - the http or www address - with the abstract.
Reread the article, paper, or report with the goal of abstracting in mind.
Look specifically for these main parts of the article, paper, or report: purpose, methods, scope, results, conclusions, and recommendation.
Use the headings, outline heads, and table of contents as a guide to writing your abstract.
If you're writing an abstract about another person's article, paper, or report, the introduction and the summary are good places to begin. These areas generally cover what the article emphasizes.
After you've finished rereading the article, paper, or report, write a rough draft without looking back at what you're abstracting.
Don't merely copy key sentences from the article, paper, or report: you'll put in too much or too little information.
Don't rely on the way material was phrased in the article, paper, or report: summarize information in a new way.
Revise your rough draft to
Correct weaknesses in organization.
Improve transitions from point to point.
Drop unnecessary information.
Add important information you left out.
Fix errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
Print your final copy and read it again to catch any glitches that you find.