Abstract Writing - Student Development Services - University of ...


Abstract Writing - Student Development Services - University of ...

Abstract WritingGradWRITE! WorkshopStudent Development ServicesThe Writing Support CentreUniversity of Western OntarioAbstract writing is a highly specialized form of academic writing. It requires a clear and concise writing style that conveys complicated information in a limited amount of space. Abstractsreach a more broad audience than almost any other form of academic writing. Approximately 10 to 500 times more people will read an abstract than the associated article or attend apresentation.1

OutlineComponents of an AbstractWriting an AbstractWriting a Good AbstractThis presentation will detail the components of typical abstracts, provide step-by-step abstract writing instructions and give advice on turning average abstracts into exceptional ones.2

Abstracts: DefinitionA brief representation of a larger document orpresentationHere, starting with abstract for a research-centredjournal articleAn abstract is a brief representation of a larger document or presentation. For the remainder of this presentation, we will focus on the components of abstracts associated with researcharticles. The unique aspects of abstracts for literature reviews and presentations will be addressed later.3

PurposeHelp reader decide whether to read the text or notSummarize the findings of the textHelp scholars find your articleAbstracts serve three specific purposes. The first, and most important, is to help the reader decide whether to read the entire article. By writing an academic abstract, you are not trying totrick someone into reading your paper. You are trying to be as clear and informative as possible, so that the reader knows what to expect in the content of the paper. Abstracts alsosummarize the findings of the paper. Reading an abstract should give the reader a clear indication of the importance of your research. Positioned at the beginning of the text, abstractsintroduce readers to the content of your article.Finally, academic search engines use the content of abstracts to find relevant articles. It is essential to use key words specific to yourdiscipline, so that scholars can find your article when looking for research in your field.4

Qualities of an AbstractOne or more well-developed paragraphsShort (100-300 words; 3-5%)Stands aloneIncludes all the major elements of the larger text(in order)No new informationAbstracts of research articles are usually one well-developed paragraph, although some cases require multiple paragraphs. They are characterized by their brevity, and while spacerestrictions vary, most abstracts range from 100 to 300 words or approximately 3 to 5% of the word count of the associated text. Most journals give clear guidelines for abstract length.Abstracts should contain enough information to stand separate from their associated texts. To accomplish this, abstracts should address all of the major sections and elements of the text.They should also not contain any information that is not included in the associated text.5

Structure of an AbstractTopicResearch QuestionMethodsResultsConclusionAbstracts should follow the same clear and logical structure of their associated text. Begin the abstract by introducing the topic of the article and quickly address the research questionbeing investigated. Next, detail the methods used to answer the question. Finally, outline the key results from your research and make a final statement to conclude the abstract.6

Writing an AbstractFinish your paperTake a breakRead over your paper and identify the key pointsfor each sectionBefore sitting down to write an abstract, you need to complete the associated article. How can you expect to give a clear summary of the important aspects of a text if you have not finishedwriting the text? After finishing off your article, the next important step is to take a break. As the last component of a manuscript, abstracts are often written late at night by exhaustedwriters. Because abstracts are read by so many people and are so important to how your research is received, it is essential that they receive your best effort. While not always possible,leaving the text for a few days will also give your writing some necessary distance. While the abstract is the last component you write, it is the reader first exposure to your research.Coming back to the text with relatively fresh eyes will help you understand the perspective of your intended audience.With a clear and relaxed mind, your first step towards actually writingyour abstract should be to read over your paper and identify the key points from each section. Underlining, highlighting or jotting down some notes are effective methods to point out theimportant elements of a text.7

Writing an AbstractOne to two sentences for:Topic and research questionMethodsResults/findingsConclusions/recommendationsFrom here, you should write down one or two sentences covering each section of your paper. Make sure you address the most important aspects of each section. We will address thecontents of each section later when we discuss the qualities of good abstracts. Notice the absence of the literature review. Abstracts summarize your key findings and should not wasteprecious space discussing what others have found.8

Writing an AbstractConnect the ideas with appropriate transitionsAdd and remove text as neededRevise, edit and proofreadWith a rough abstract in place, you should use some transitions to connect your content and smooth off the edges.Finally, look at your abstract as a whole and determine whether there aresegments that could be omitted or any aspects of your paper that should be included.You should have as many people as possible read over your abstract. Both people within yourdiscipline and those outside of it will be able to give you valuable feedback on how your abstract will be received by your audience. Abstracts are short, so asking someone to read it overwill not require a large investment in time.9

Literature Reviews andCritical EssaysStructure:Problem/Topic you are investigatingThesis statementYour conclusions based on the literature review*Methods for review if novelAbstracts for literature reviews and critical essays share the same spirit as research articles: that is to stand as complete and concise representations of larger works, but since the structureof these texts differ from research articles, their abstracts will also be different.These abstracts should begin by introducing the topic and problem and problem being investigated.The thesisstatement, if a component of the associated article, should be clearly and completely included at near the beginning. The author should then detail the original evidence that supports themain purpose or argument of the paper. Again, the emphasis is not placed on the referenced literature but on the conclusions you made as an author based on these outsidereferences.Finally, writing some reviews and essays involve unique methods, be they meta-analysis of statistical data or traveling to exotic locations to examine ancient texts. If themethods required to write an article are particularly novel, they should be included in the abstract in the same order as they appeared in the text. Otherwise, the methods for review shouldnot appear in the abstract.10

Conference AbstractsTwo Purposes:‘Should I attend this talk/reading?’‘What was that great talk/reading about?’Abstracts for conferences serve slightly different purposes than those for written articles. An individual reading an abstract in a conference booklet is deciding whether or not to attend yourpresentation or reading. In a sea of academic ideas, your abstract should give prospective attendees an accurate idea of the content of your presentation. After the fact, your abstract maybe the only document of your research to an attendee of your presentation. Individuals will often consult conference proceedings months or years after the fact, as they recall a shortpresentation only now relating to their current research. A complete conference abstract allows researchers to refresh their memories about your findings.11

Conference AbstractsUsually written before the results are in or thepaper is finishedWrite as though you are doneLess formal than journal abstractsUse only the space needed, not givenConferences usually involve the presentation of new and in-progress research. Additionally, many conferences require abstracts months before the actual presentation. As such, abstractsfor conferences are often written before the research is complete. This can complicate writing an abstract for a conference presentation.As much as possible, a conference abstract shouldbe written as though the presentation or associated paper is completed. Your intended audience is composed of individuals at a conference hoping to get an accurate idea of the ideas thatwill be covered during your presentation.The atmosphere at most academic conferences is generally less formal than that in the academic publishing industry, and this relaxed atmospherecan leech into your abstracts, but it is important to maintain most of the conventions of professional communication.Conference abstracts should adhere to the format guidelines set out bythe organizers. In some cases, authors are given more space than should be needed for an abstract (for example, a whole page of single spaced text). Authors should only use theamount of space needed to convey the key components of a presentation. Filling up the extra space with unnecessary details will only bore the reader. Leaving that blank space providesthe attendee an opportunity to write his or her own notes regarding your presentation.12

Good Abstracts:ContentSeamlessly blend the elements of the associatedtext into one coherent paragraphInclude only relevant informationUse a clear and concise writing styleWe have talked about the characteristics of typical abstracts, and surely writing an abstract that meets these requirements should not be difficult to write after completing a whole article onyour research. But what makes a good abstract? What are the characteristics of mediocre abstracts?A good abstract seamlessly blends the elements of the associated text into a coherentand powerful paragraph. Each section contains only the most relevant information. We will now go through the different components of writing an effective abstract.13

Good Abstracts:Topic/PurposeMake thesis/hypothesis/objectives stand outAvoid repeating information from the titleIf possible, avoid referencesIntroduce specific terminology (e.g. definitions,scientific and chemical names)It is important to set the stage very early in your abstract with a clear statement of your purpose. Your thesis, hypothesis or objectives should be very clear.While the abstract is usually thefirst component of the text read by the audience, we forget that the title is actually the reader first exposure to the text. To save some space, information clearly laid out in the title neednot be repeated in the abstract.Because your abstract should focus on the findings of your research, it should not contain any outside references.You should also use this section tointroduce discipline-specific terminology essential to understanding your research. This helps researchers contextualize your article, introduces the major topic and helps the searchengines place your work in relevant search fields. You should avoid using too many terms here. Just focus on the main concepts explored in your article.14

Good Abstracts:MethodsMention novel techniquesBe specific“20 and 40 kg/acre of nitrogen” rather than“two treatments of nitrogen”Aside from detailing the general methods used for you study, abstracts should bring attention to any novel techniques that you employed. Unique methods are sometimes the only reasonsome people will read an article.Where possible, it is important to be specific when detailing the methods used. In this example, it did not take much more space to describe the exacttreatments. This gives the reader a much better indication of what actions were performed.15

Good Abstracts:ResultsIf many results, only present the most importantBe specificExample: “...increased by 50%” rather than“...increased.”For content related to the results, you should only present the results that directly address your thesis, hypothesis or objective statements.Like the methods section, being specific insentences describing your results can give the reader a much better indication of the results of your study. In this example, we see how big an effect the experiment had, not just that it hadan effect. The extra words are not wasted here; they contribute to a better understanding of the findings.16

Good Abstracts:ConclusionsJust the major implicationsRelate back to your purpose and researchquestionAgain, only the major implications or your results should be included here.You should relate your results back to the content addressed in the first few sentences of your abstract.17

Good Abstracts:Writing StyleClear and conciseRemove or shorten any unnecessary words orphrasesWhile including the right content is essential for an abstract, using an appropriate writing style will help you effectively convey that content. Effective abstracts have a clear and concisewriting style. Complicated ideas must be conveyed in as few words as possible. There simply isnʼt the room for long and convoluted sentences.Removing or shortening any unnecessarywords or phrases is at the essence of clear and concise writing. If anything can be removed while maintaining the same meaning, then your text is probably better off.18

Active VoiceAvoid the passive voiceExample:Gasoline was sweetened by iron bauxites in air.Iron bauxites sweetened gasoline in air.The level of sweetening was measured by...Writing in the passive voice lessens the impact of your writing. It also uses more words. Converting sentences into the active voice can make your writing more forceful.However, it is not acure-all. There will be some cases where the passive voice is the most effective way to convey information.19

MiscellaneousAvoid abbreviations, acronyms and jargonIf necessary, define unfamiliar terms, introduceacronymsE.g. ...rapid eye movement (REM).Abbreviations, acronyms and other non-essential jargon should be avoided. You do not want to spend too much of your limited space explaining terminology. Because an abstract is meantto stand on its own, you must define each term you introduce.For additional help on achieving a clear and concise writing style, take a look at the GradWRITE! Workshop on writing forclarity and conciseness.20

Mediocre AbstractsMediocre abstracts read like a table of contents insentence formExample:The behavior of editors is discussed. What shouldbe covered by an abstract is considered. Theimportance of the abstract is described. Dictionarydefinitions of “abstract” are quoted. At theconclusion a revised abstract is presented.From “The Scrutiny of the Abstract” by K.K. Landes in Thebulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists 35, 1951.Writing an effective abstract is about more than simply writing a few sentences summarizing each section of an article. Mediocre abstracts are not much different than a table of contents insentence form. They refer the reader to the information found in the associated article but do not give the reader any indication of its findings. Read this abstract to see an extremeexample of the ʻTable of contents’ abstract. Oddly enough, it is an abstract for an article about writing abstracts. At first glance, the choppy sentence structure might be the first aspect thatjumps out at you, but reading it closely reveals an abstract that gives little information about the arguments and findings of the associated article.21

Mediocre AbstractsAn improved example:The abstract is of utmost importance, for it is readby 10 to 500 times more people than hear thepresentation or read the entire article. It should notbe a mere recital of the subjects covered, repletewith such expressions as “is discussed” and “isdescribed.” It should be a condensation andconcentration of the essential qualities of thepaper.From “The Scrutiny of the Abstract” by K.K. Landes in Thebulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists 35, 1951.Now read an improved abstract associated with the same article. Notice the concrete arguments and examples used throughout the abstract. After reading this example, you should get amuch clearer idea of the arguments and details of the associated article, not just the contents.22

ResourcesInstructions to AuthorsAmerican National Standard for Writing Abstractshttp://www.niso.org/standards/resources/Z39-14.pdfThe Instructions to authors outlined by each journal, conference or department will have specific guidelines to follow for each of your abstracts. For more guidance on writing abstracts,check out this .pdf.23

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