|After completing this lesson, you will be able to:
In the first unit, we learned about two methods of condensed writing – summary and precis. In this unit, we will look into another method: how to write an abstract. In order to write it, we should have an idea about what we are going to present, its relevance and timeliness. An ideal abstract should contain the research aim, the methodology used, the results found during the research and a conclusion. It thus becomes a miniature of the larger document. As students as well as aspiring professionals, you will also come across a number of moments, when you have to present an abstract. For example, a paper presentation in a conference, publishing an article in a journal, or writing a dissertation. So in this unit, we will focus on how to accomplish the skill of writing an abstract.
Abstract, Summary, Structured Abstract, Unstructured Abstracts, Process, Tips
If you had read a research thesis, you would have come across a short paragraph titled ‘Abstract’. It is a brief summary or write-up that gives an overview of the given text. Usually, we write an abstract for a dissertation/thesis, research papers, books, journals or sometimes to apply for research grants. The purpose is to have an understanding about the text that follows it. This enables a reader to decide whether to read the text or not, depending on reading the abstract.
Image credit: From the book Abstracts and Writing of Abstracts
An abstract is different from the usual introduction we write for papers. In an introduction, we provide a detailed discussion on the background of the work, the aims and the objectives of conducting the study. An introduction prepares you for reading the further content of the work. On the other hand, an abstract is “a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of the paper” (American Psychological Association [APA], 2020, p. 38).
However, writing an abstract within the stipulated word limit is a serious task. It is shorter than a summary and it must highlight the purpose, scope of the study, and significance of the original document. It should not be a mere extract from the original work, but a self-contained text. It helps the readers to remember the key points of the text. Therefore, there should not be any compromise on the clarity of the content.
Features of a Good Abstract:
- An abstract is a stand-alone text and comprehensible enough without any external references.
- It should summarise the original text with maximum efficiency, clarity and economy of words.
- It functions as a screening device, helping potential readers to understand the importance of the text in their work.
- It includes indexing terms (key-words or key phrases) used for providing indexing, searches and retrieval mechanisms, in an era of information explosion. That is, the title, abstract, and keywords employed are used by the search engines. This makes your work easily accessible and findable. So what you write in your abstract is crucial for helping other potential readers to find out their desired information in your paper during their searches.
Let’s now see how an abstract differs from a summary.
|Does not generally exceed 300 words||Lengthier than an abstract|
|More relatable to people from the same domain of knowledge||Meant for interested general readers|
|Presents only the crux of the text||Presents the entire text in a nutshell|
|Cannot help in taking decisions||Can help in taking quick decisions, if required|
|Does not include illustrations||May include illustrations|
Format of an Abstract
There is no fixed format for an abstract. However, for ease of understanding, two general formats are widely accepted – “structured” and “unstructured.”
Although both are similar in their content, style and organisation, structured abstracts explicitly label these arrangements under sub-sections, for example, background, objective, methods, results and conclusions. One of the major advantages of structured or sectioned abstracts is that it helps to find the desired information quickly. Also, a structured abstract can remind oneself of keeping the word limit. Disciplines coming under ‘science’ generally employ this type of format while writing abstracts.
On the other hand, unstructured or traditional abstracts have no well-demarcated subsections. It summarises all the above-mentioned sections in just one paragraph. Generally, disciplines under ‘humanities’ fall into this category. However, you need to check the guidelines before submitting your abstract.
The Process of Writing an Abstract
The specifications for writing an abstract may vary according to the disciplines. However, the general guidelines to be followed while writing an abstract are given below:
- If you plan to write an abstract for a given text, then read the text thoroughly.
- If you have to write an abstract for your thesis, then finish your thesis first and then write the abstract. So it is the last thing you write because an abstract is the summarised version of what you did so far. But after having finished writing the abstract, you don’t forget to place it before your detailed work, that means, it is the first thing that a reader will see after the title and acknowledgement pages.
- An abstract must include relevant information such as the purpose of the text, its scope of the study, methodology used, the major findings, and essence of the text.
- While defining the purpose of your work, you need to ensure that this part is written in the simple present or past tense, and not in the future tense, as the work is already completed.
- Concentrate on the central argument of the text.
- The length of an abstract is to be very short. Ideally, it should not exceed 300 words.
- Also remember to include the keywords after writing the abstract, which ensure easy access to the work. However, you don’t forget that misleading keywords can adversely affect the integrity of your work.
- Avoid long sentences and complicated syntax while writing. It should be concise and precise.
- It is preferable to use inanimate subjects (This paper suggests….., The findings of this research…., etc) instead of human subjects (I, We, etc.) to highlight the significant takeaways of your work. For example, “The paper shows the reality of gender equality in schools”.
Tips for Writing an Abstract:
- Read abstracts written by other researchers or that got published in journals, as much as you can. It will help you to understand the structure and style of writing an abstract.
- Make your abstract concise and clear. Avoid detailed descriptions, obscure jargon, and unnecessary words that make sentences lengthier. Each sentence should communicate a point.
- Check the guidelines and follow the stipulated formatting style, such as APA format, MLA format, etc., as recommended by the submitting authority.
- As an abstract is your brainchild, you must avoid citing sources.
Image credit: From the book Abstracts and Writing of Abstracts
A Few Examples of Abstracts:
- This paper examines the role of silent movies as a mode of shared experience in the US during the early twentieth century. At this time, high immigration rates resulted in a significant percent-age of non-English-speaking citizens. These immigrants faced numerous economic and social obstacles, including exclusion from public entertainment and modes of discourse (newspapers, theater, radio)
Incorporating evidence from reviews, personal correspondence, and diaries, this study demonstrates that silent films are an affordable and inclusive source of entertainment. It argues for the accessible, economic and representational nature of early cinemas. These concerns are particularly evident in the low price of admission and in the democratic nature of the actors’ exaggerated gestures, which allowed the plot and actions to be easily grasped by a diverse audience despite language barriers.
Keywords: silent movies, immigration,public discourse, entertainment, early cinema, language barriers.
Source: Shona McCombes, “How to Write an Abstract, Steps and Examples”. 28 February 2019.
- Short-eared owls (Asio flammeus) are capable of crossing long stretches of open water and have been successful colonizers of islands. In the central and western Pacific, two established populations (on Hawai’i and on Pohnpei in Micronesia) seem to be the foci of repeated dispersal events. The paper re-views the historic and linguistic record for the occurrence of short-eared owls on the scattered atolls of the Marshall Islands, the easternmost group of Micronesia.
Keywords: short-eared owls, population levels, Micronesian islands.
Source: A 2004 letter titled “The Occurrence of owls in the Marshall Islands” from an ornithology journal.