All About Abstracts

By Chelsea Weller

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What is an abstract?
An abstract is a concise, stand-alone summary of the work at hand. The specific content within an abstract can vary depending on the style of abstract you are writing. The three styles of abstracts are descriptive, informative, and critical:

  • Descriptive Abstracts are generally for shorter papers and are around 100 words long. These are written to outline the content and give the reader an idea of what to expect in the paper. These should include all of the major parts of the content, including the purpose or thesis, methodology, and scope of the work.
  • Informative Abstracts are usually for longer, more technical research and can range from one paragraph to one page depending on the length of the document that the abstract is written for. These abstracts include all of the main content points with explanations. In addition to everything that is included in a descriptive abstract, informative abstracts should also include the results, conclusion, and recommendations.
  • Critical Abstracts are the least common out of the three types. These will critique an article and often compare it to the writer’s own research, kind of like a really short reading response paper.

Considerations
If you are writing an abstract for scholarly purposes, you likely have some requirements provided to you by your professor or the publication. These requirements may include length restrictions (min or max), intended audience, or style. The various styles often dictate the content of the abstract. If the style of the abstract is not provided to you, you may want to consider asking what information is desired.

Techniques
Try these techniques to make writing an abstract easier:

  • Don’t write the abstract until you have finished writing the rest of the paper.
    • Since you probably only want to write this abstract once, do it after the ideas and text of the document are finalized.
  • Reverse outline your paper to identify the main points and critical information.
    • Identify the purpose of what you are writing and what the most crucial supporting ideas are.
  • Try explaining your paper to someone who is unfamiliar with the topic and record it.
    • From my experience, it is much easier to talk about my ideas than to write about them. This helps my writing to be less repetitive.

Abstract Template
For descriptive abstracts, simply address the question. For informative abstracts, explanations and some elaboration is necessary. The following template may be utilized directly for scientific research or modified for other applications. The typical formatting of an abstract is double-spaced 12 pt Times New Roman font.


Abstract

Firstly, say the topic that your work is going to address and reference existing research or

work if relevant. Second, introduce what problem you are addressing or what your thesis

is. Third, why hasn’t this been specifically addressed yet? Fourthly, give some insight into

your approach or new perspective and how it is enabling this research to become possible.

Fifth, summarize the methods utilized in addressing the problem. Sixth, describe the

implications of this new research.


Conclusion
Abstracts are essential not only for publishing work but for readers to determine the relevance of an article to their research. No one is going to read an entire article unless they have read the abstract and identified that article as something relevant to their research. You don’t have to memorize exactly what goes into each type of abstract, but it is important to understand the use and usefulness of abstracts in general.

Bibliography
Abstracts. (n.d.). The Writing Center. Retrieved from http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/abstracts/

How to Write a Scientific Abstract in Six Easy Steps. (2010, January 26). Serendipity. Retrieved from http://www.easterbrook.ca/steve/2010/01/how-to-write-a-scientific-abstract-in-six-easy-steps/

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