Positioned at the head of a paper, the abstract is usually "the first thing that individuals read and, as such, decide whether to continue reading. It is also what is most accessed by search engines and researchers conducting their own literature reviews" (Dan W. Butin, The Education Dissertation, 2010). See Observations, below.
Etymology:From the Latin, "away" + "draw"
- "A good quality abstract should accurately reflect the purpose and content of your project. . . . It is very important to note that an abstract should never contain information that is not included in the body of your project itself."
(Jennifer Evans, Your Psychology Project: The Essential Guide. Sage, 2007)
- "A good abstract will tell you what the key issue that's addressed is, it'll give you an idea of the methods that have been used and the conclusions that have been arrived at. So that abstract ought to tell someone whether it's worth them spending part of their life reading this paper."
(David Gilborn, quoted by Pat Thomson and Barbara Kamler in Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for Getting Published. Routledge, 2013)
- Problem, Solution, Benefit
"Each proposal you write will focus on unique ideas. Therefore, the content of your abstracts will differ. Nonetheless, abstracts should focus on the following: (a) the problem necessitating your proposal, (b) your suggested solution, and (c) the benefits derived when your proposed suggestions are implemented. . . .
"The purpose of the abstract is to provide your readers with an easy-to-understand summary of the entire proposal's focus. Your executives want the bottom line, and they want it quickly. They don't want to waste time deciphering your high-tech hieroglyphics. Therefore, either avoid all high-tech terminology completely or define your terms parenthetically."
(Sharon J. Gerson and Steven M. Gerson, Technical Writing: Process and Product. Pearson, 2003)
- Descriptive Abstracts and Informative Abstracts
"Depending on the kind of information they contain, abstracts are often classified as descriptive or informative. A descriptive abstract summarizes the purpose, scope, and methods used to arrive at the reported findings. It is a slightly expanded table of contents in sentence and paragraph form. A descriptive abstract need not be longer than several sentences. An informative abstract is an expanded version of the descriptive abstract. In addition to information about the purpose, scope, and research methods used, the informative abstract summarizes the results, conclusions, and any recommendations. The informative abstract retains the tone and essential scope of the report, omitting its details."
(Gerald J. Alred, Charles T. Brusaw, and Walter E. Oliu, Handbook of Technical Writing. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2006)
- Characteristics of an Effective Informative Abstract
"[A]n informative abstract is not an introduction to the topic, and it should not be seen as an introduction to the report. . . .
"Given this, we advocate that a good abstract should (1) give a high-level presentation of the area studied, (2) reason about the importance and why it is an interesting area worthy to be studied, (3) present a high-level description of the approach, and (4) summarise the contribution. An informative abstract should summarise all the major sections of the report, the key concepts, contributions, and conclusions. A typical abstract is about 250-500 words. This is not more than 10-20 sentences, so you will obviously have to choose your words very carefully to cover so much information in such a condensed format."
(M. Berndtsson, et al., Thesis Projects: A Guide for Students in Computer Science and Information Systems, 2nd ed. Springer-Verlag, 2008)
- Heading Abstracts
"Today, most scientific journals print a heading abstract with each paper. It generally is printed (and should be submitted) as a single paragraph. . . . Usually, a good abstract is followed by a good paper; a poor abstract is a harbinger of woes to come.
"When writing the abstract, examine every word carefully. If you can tell your story in 100 words, do not use 200. . . . [T]he use of clear, significant words will impress the editors and reviewers (not to mention readers), whereas the use of abstruse, verbose constructions might well contribute to a check in the 'reject' box on the review form."
(Robert Day and Barbara Gastel, How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, 7th ed. Cambridge University Press, 2012)