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How to write an abstract--descriptions of the different types, components, and examples of successful abstracts.

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An excellent step-by-step guide to writing an abstract

The Writing Studio, Colorado State University

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Sarah Dick
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Abstract

An abstract is:

  • The essential first impression; perhaps the most important paragraph
  • Informs a potential reader
    •  of content or topic
    • specific information the reader can look for or expect to find
  • Can serve as a pre-reading outline

What is an abstract?

  • It is a brief summary of all the main points of the writing.
  • Uses the same language as within the article itself
  • Often follows a specific format
    • Hint--even if not required it maybe helpful to write it structurally similar to the article format
  • It is concise, accurate, and comprehensive
  • Write your abstract last--though thinking through or sketching an outline might help with the article itself
  • A good abstract should be:  (Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed., p. 25-27)
    • ACCURATE -- be sure to clearly state
      • the purpose of the article 
      • a description of the content in the article.
    • COHERENT -- write in
      • clear, concise language
      • use the active rather than the passive voice (e.g., investigated instead of investigation of).
    • CONCISE -- be brief but
      • make each sentence extremely informative, especially the first sentence.
      • begin  with the most important points. An abstract should be dense with information.
  • Regardless of type, most abstracts are follow this format
    • Introduction
      • What problem did you study and why is this important
    • Body
      • What method(s) did you use?
      • What were the main results?
    • Conclusion
      • What conclusions can be made?

 

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Types of abstracts with examples

The research analyzes the different approaches to reducing traffic congestion in the UK and provides conclusions and recommendations for future implementation.

A descriptive abstract:

  • outlines the topics covered in a piece of writing so the reader can decide whether to read the entire document
    • only the main topic, purpose, along with an overview of the contents
  • Very short--only a sentence or two
  • is like a table of contents only in paragraph form
  • does not capture the content of the piece--unlike an informative abstract
  • does not fulfill the other main goals of abstracts as well as informative abstracts do.
  • therefore descriptive abstracts are less and less common.

 

 

 

Subjects’ car clocks were set ten minutes fast in order to determine if deliberately setting a clock ahead will reduce lateness. One group of subjects knew their clocks had been set ahead, while a second group of subjects was not informed of the change. Over a four-week period, the subjects who were aware of the clock change regularly arrived on time or late for their scheduled appointments. Over the same period of time, the subjects who were unaware of the clock change tended to arrive early or on time for their appointments. Data suggest that intentionally setting a clock to run fast does not reduce lateness because one accounts for that extra time in his or her schedule.

A technical/scientific abstract would also include key statistical detail.

An informative abstract

  • provides detail about the substance of a piece of writing
  • makes clear what the research is about
  • gives key information from each section of the article or report
  • indicates how it was carried out
  • summarizes the main findings and conclusions

Example of format

  1. Identifying information (bibliographic citation or other identification of the document)
  2. Concise restatement of the main point, including the initial problem or other background
  3. Methodology (for experimental work) and key findings
  4. Major conclusions

 



 

Informative:  Based on an exhaustive review of currently 
                    available products, this report concludes that 
                    none of the available grammar-checking software 
                    products provides any useful function to writers.

Descriptive:  This report provides conclusions and recommendations
                    on the grammar-checking software that is currently 
                    available.

From Consortium Library of UAA / UAP

Abstracts may also vary depending on the type of study or project being described.  A few examples include:

  • Empirical study -- describes (1) the problem under investigation (2) the participants, identifying characteristics such as age, sex, ethnic group (3) essential features of the study method (4) basic findings (5) conclusions and implications or applications.
  • Literature review or meta-analysis  -- describes (1) the problem under investigation (2) study eligibility criteria (3) types of participants (4) main results, including the most important effect sizes, and any important moderators of these effect sizes (5) conclusions, including limitations (6) implications for theory, policy, and practice.
  • Theory-oriented paper -- describes (1) how the theory or model works and the principles on which it is based and (2) what phenomena the theory or model accounts for and linkages to empirical results.
  • Methodological paper -- describes (1) the general class of methods being discussed (2) the essential features of the proposed method (3) the range of application of the proposed method (4) in the case of statistical procedures, some of its essential features such as robustness or power efficiency.
  • Case study -- describes (1) the subject and relevant characteristics of the individual, group, community, or organization presented (2) the nature of or solution to a problem illustrated by the case example (3) questions raised for additional research or theory.
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