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Transcript of Writing Abstracts
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Created by Tom Lindsay
Last updated by Tom Lindsay, May, 2013
Information, writing help, teaching resources, and
Make an appointment (
Or walk in.
Be sure to bring...
The writing prompt or assignment description,
Your brainstorming notes,
Your current draft,
And/or any other materials related to the piece of writing.
Bank of stock frames:
What is an abstract?
A brief, compelling, stand-alone summary of a longer work.
What gets an abstract?
Academic, scientific, critical, professional, logistical, and/or technical works offered up to be read, published, or otherwise considered by some outside audience.
Who reads abstracts?
Academic or professional journal editors
Book publishers and editors
Corporate and non-profit professionals
Government officials and committees
Your academic or professional peers
Other researchers or scholars in your field
Why write an abstract?
Introduce and summarize your longer work
Inform your readers about the work's content
Enable key-word database searches
Most importantly, compel your readers to...
Read your work in its entirety
Consider your work for publication
Consider your work for incorporation into a conference or event
Act on your work's information or recommendations
Advance you in your academic, institutional, or professional career
Learning to write an abstract will help you learn to...
Condense complex information
Generally, abstracts need to answer
issue or topic does your work deal with?
should your audience care about this issue or topic?
does your work explore this issue or topic?
does your work conclude from this exploration?
should we go from there?
You might think of these questions differently, depending on the
of work being abstracted:
How do I generate content for my abstract?
Read your entire work, keeping those five questions in mind.
How do I compose my abstract?
Take those five questions and answer them in 1-2 sentences each.
One-two paragraphs to one-two pages.
Abstract Sentence-Level Style
The "rules" of sentence-level style in abstracts often change depending on who you ask, and depending on the abstract's audience and context. Here are some basic principles to keep in mind:
1. Consider your audience when grappling with specialized language.
Specialized audiences will expect specialized language.
3. Follow the stylistic conventions you observe in your longer work.
For instance, in the hard and social sciences, observe if/when you use passive vs. active voice, and if/when you use the first person pronouns.
Do the same in your abstract.
4. Clarity and concision are always best.
Avoid passive voice as much as your field-specific conventions allow.
2. Use language and phrasing that mirrors your longer work.
Abstract "Dos" and "Don'ts"
Other Tips and Tricks
Read examples of abstracts that other people have written for your particular context/audience.
I've been describing the most common form of abstract: the informative abstract, which answers all five of the aforementioned questions.
If you're writing for a non-specialized audience, but use specialized language in the longer work, define that language in the longer work and use the language of the definition in your abstract.
100-250 words = descriptive abstract
250+ words = informative abstract
Accordingly, you should consider your abstract as a act of
And as with any act of
, different audiences and contexts will require you to meet different
and follow different
So, learn as much as you can about your
, and their
for reading your abstract.
The government and some companies request executive summaries at the beginnings of long reports.
The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL):
Find resources for journal abstracts, technical report abstracts, science abstracts, and more.
Other Abstract-Writing Resources
Such works include...
books and articles in various academic disciplines or fields of research;
professional, technical, or governmental reports;
academic dissertations and theses;
conference presentation proposals; etc.
Read and evaluate other peoples' abstracts
Perform research efficiently
Participate in scholarly or professional conversations
Highlight any material that answers one of those questions.
And/or, summarize the main point or purpose of each paragraph.
Use your highlighted or outlined material as the raw stuff of your abstract.
For short abstracts, these sentences may be roughly sufficient.
For long(er) abstracts, expand on those sentences depending on which questions are more important and/or compelling.
If you're writing an abstract that will be longer than one paragraph, carefully consider where the paragraph break(s) should go.
All audiences/contexts will have particular expectations for length.
Abstract paragraphs should be fully coherent.
Follow the chronology of your longer work, especially when summarizing data-driven research.
Abstracts should be coherent in the way longer works are coherent: introduction-body-conclusion structure.
Non-specialized audiences will expect non-specialized language.
Write direct, active sentences:
Subject/actor + verb/action + object/acted-upon.
Withhold important information. Doing so will not entice your audience.
Be explicit about your results, main claims, and conclusions.
Refer the reader to parts of the longer work for more information.
Construct a summary that can stand alone as a coherent document.
Mirror the language and structure of your longer work.
Introduce new information, write extensively about outside sources, or discuss your references.
Highlight the most salient and compelling aspects of your longer work.
Include nitty-gritty details from your methods, data, evidence, main claims, analysis, etc. (unless you're using them as illustrative examples).
Seek out mentors, supervisors, peers, and other resources to confirm the conventions you should follow for your particular context/audience.
If you know the person you're writing for (e.g. your professor, your boss, etc.) ask them about their specific expectations.
Allow yourself time and space to write, seek feedback on, and revise your abstract. They're short, but they're not easy to write.
Descriptive abstracts only cover the first three questions: problem/research question, motivation/relevance, approach/methodology.
Descriptive abstracts leave results and conclusions to the longer work itself.
Descriptive abstracts are more like outlines or previews than summaries.
If you're not sure which kind of abstract to write, ask your intended audience, if you can (e.g. your instructor, supervisor, potential publisher, etc.).
If you receive or can access context-specific abstract guidelines, consult the word limit:
Executive summaries should be one page long.
They should cover: the problem being addressed, the purpose of the communication, and a summary of results, conclusions, and recommendations.
When writing executive summaries, use the same strategies you would when writing an abstract.
And observe the same considerations of audience and context.
UNC Chapel Hill Handouts:
Read concise rules for abstract writing
See examples: descriptive abstract, informative humanities abstract, informative science abstract.
Not a review or an evaluation of that work, nor a passage excerpted from it.
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