I. Types of Abstracts
To begin, you need to determine which type of abstract you should include with your paper. There are four general types.
A critical abstract provides, in addition to describing main findings and information, a judgement or comment about the study’s validity, reliability, or completeness. The researcher evaluates the paper and often compares it with other works on the same subject. Critical abstracts are generally 400-500 words in length due to the additional interpretive commentary. These types of abstracts are used infrequently.
A descriptive abstract indicates the type of information found in the work. It makes no judgments about the work, nor does it provide results or conclusions of the research. It does incorporate key words found in the text and may include the purpose, methods, and scope of the research. Essentially, the descriptive abstract only describes the work being summarized. Some researchers consider it an outline of the work, rather than a summary. Descriptive abstracts are usually very short, 100 words or less.
The majority of abstracts are informative. While they still do not critique or evaluate a work, they do more than describe it. A good informative abstract acts as a surrogate for the work itself. That is, the researcher presents and explains all the main arguments and the important results and evidence in the paper. An informative abstract includes the information that can be found in a descriptive abstract [purpose, methods, scope] but it also includes the results and conclusions of the research and the recommendations of the author. The length varies according to discipline, but an informative abstract is usually no more than 300 words in length.
A highlight abstract is specifcally written to attract the reader’s attention to the study. No pretence is made of there being either a balanced or complete picture of the paper and, in fact, incomplete and leading remarks may be used to spark the reader’s interest. In that a highlight abstract cannot stand independent of its associated article, it is not a true abstract and, therefore, rarely used in academic writing.
II. Writing Style
Use the active voice when possible, but note that much of your abstract may require passive sentence constructions. Regardless, write your abstract using concise, but complete, sentences. Get to the point quickly and always use the past tense because you are reporting on research that has been completed.
Although it is the first section of your paper, the abstract, by definition, should be written last since it will summarize the contents of your entire paper. To begin composing your abstract, take whole sentences or key phrases from each section and put them in a sequence that summarizes the paper. Then revise or add connecting phrases or words to make it cohensive and clear. Before handing in your final paper, check to make sure that the information in the abstract completely agrees with what your have written in the paper.
The abstract SHOULD NOT contain:
- Lengthy background information,
- References to other literature [say something like, "current research shows that..." or "studies have indicated..."],
- Using ellipticals [i.e., ending with "..."] or incomplete sentences,
- Abbreviations, jargon, or terms that may be confusing to the reader, and
- Any sort of image, illustration, figure, or table, or references to them.
Abstract. Writing Center. University of Kansas; Abstract. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College; Abstracts. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Borko, Harold and Seymour Chatman. "Criteria for Acceptable Abstracts: A Survey of Abstracters' Instructions." American Documentation 14 (April 1963): 149-160; Abstracts. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Hartley, James and Lucy Betts. "Common Weaknesses in Traditional Abstracts in hte Social Sciences." Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 60 (October 2009): 2010-2018; Procter, Margaret. The Abstract. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing Report Abstracts. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Abstracts. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Koltay, Tibor. Abstracts and Abstracting: A Genre and Set of Skills for the Twenty-First Century. Oxford, UK: 2010
Abstract vs Introduction
The last time you wrote a paper for high school or college, you were told to make sure that the beginning of the paper gave the reader sufficient warning as to the contents therein. Depending on what level you were writing, you probably heard that warning referred to as either an introduction or an abstract. Today, when you are reading papers and books, you may still notice that every well-written paper gives the reader advanced notice about what to expect. Depending on the purpose of the work, this will either be an abstract or an introduction (in fact, you are reading an introduction right now!).
Definition of Abstract and Introduction
Abstract ‘“ is a short summary that is written at the beginning of a scholarly article or thesis that states the purpose of the paper and its main conclusion.
Introduction ‘“ is found at the beginning of any piece of writing that whet the reader’s appetite to read further and give a taste as to what will be in the rest of the pages. In a novel an introduction is naturally more creative than in an academic paper.
Where You Will Find Abstracts and Introductions
Abstract ‘“ if you are attending a conference, you will get abstracts of all the lectures being presented. A masters and PhD thesis will begin with an abstract, as will any scholarly article that you find in a journal from sociology to medicine.
Introduction ‘“ is literally the beginning of any body of writing. Non-fiction books have introductions, as do novels. Even newspaper and magazine articles start with an introduction to draw you in. High school and undergraduate research papers have introductions that act as an abstract, but are included in the body of the work.
Main Purposes of Abstracts and Introductions
Abstracts ‘“ are there in many ways to save the time of their readers. The people who read academic journals generally do a lot of specialized reading and therefore want to make the most of their time. Reading a one page abstract will tell them if it is worth their while to continue to read the rest of the sixty page paper.
Introductions ‘“ are meant to excite a general reader and entice him to read on. They may be anecdotal in nature or contain a captivating quote. They can also be factual, but should be presented in such a way that the reader will want to know what happens next. Often they will combine all three elements.
1.Both abstracts and introductions are found at the beginning of a piece of written work.
2.Abstracts and introductions want to prepare the reader for reading further.
3.Abstracts accomplish point 2 by stating the purpose of the paper, whereas introductions accomplish it by drawing the reader’s interest.
4.Abstracts are generally at the beginning of scholarly work, while you will find introductions at the beginning of any kind of written work. With this in mind, an abstract is a de facto introduction.
Manisha Kumar. "Difference Between an Abstract and an Introduction." DifferenceBetween.net. October 27, 2009 < http://www.differencebetween.net/language/difference-between-an-abstract-and-an-introduction/ >.