Writing Abstracts

Abstract

Definition­

The word abstract comes from the Latin abstractum, which means a condensed form of a longer piece of writing.

Why do we write abstracts?

The abstract section is:
  • Published in conference proceedings
  • Sent to potential referees to check if they are interested to review the manuscript
  • Viewed for readers via electronic databases such as PubMed and Scopus
  • Helps the readers to decide if they should read the full article
  • Required for journal submissions
  • Required for applying for research grants
  • Required to complete the Ph.D. dissertation or thesis
  • Required when writing a book proposal

Types of Abstracts

There are two main types of abstract: the descriptive abstract and the informative abstract.

Descriptive Abstracts

Descriptive abstract only describes the manuscript being abstracted. It is more likely a table of contents in a paragraph rather than a summary of the work. It is mostly very brief; 100 words or less. It gives a brief idea about the manuscript that helps the reader decide whether to read the entire document. However, it -unlike the informative abstract- never alternates reading the whole document.

This type of abstracts is usually used in papers in psychology, humanities, and social sciences. It has certain key parts:

  • Background
  • Purpose
  • Interest/focus of the paper
  • Overview of contents (not always included)

Informative Abstracts

Informative abstracts act as a substitute and sufficient summary for the whole document. Readers can identify all the key areas in the presented work such as background, purpose, methods, findings, and conclusion. Through reading an informative abstract, the reader can decide whether or not to complete the entire work. It is usually written in 200-250 words.

Most of the abstracts are informative. It is used commonly in papers in science, medicine, engineering, and technology. It has certain key parts:

  • Background
  • Aim of study
  • Methods
  • Findings/results
  • Conclusion

Difference between Descriptive and Informative Abstracts

 

Descriptive Abstracts
Informative Abstracts
Table of content paragraph Summary of the whole document
Doesn’t alternate the reading of the whole document The reader can get the whole point via reading the informative abstract
Very short: less than 100 words From 200-250 words
In psychology, humanities, and social sciences In science, medicine, engineering, and technology
Key parts: background, purpose, the focus of the paper, overview Key parts: background, aims, methods, findings, and conclusion

Abstract Sections

Background

In this section, the author writes what is previously established in the subject of the manuscript and what is new the current work is going to add to the readers. Moreover, the author should state what is significant in the current study to be of interest to the readers. It is the shortest part of the abstract.

Methods

In the methods, the authors explain to the readers what was done in the study and how in details.

Results

It is the most crucial part of the abstract in which the author should clearly describe the findings of the current study. It should be the longest part of the abstract and must contain sufficient information about the results.

Conclusions

  • The main message
  • How does this work add to the body of knowledge on the topic?
  • The additional outcomes
  • Are there any practical or theoretical applications from your findings or implications for future research?

Dos and Don’ts

  • Always write a solid and concise abstract.
  • Make the abstract self-contained, readable, and understandable.
  • Meet the word count limitation. An abstract word limit of 150 to 200 words is common
  • Incorporate most common and related keywords and key terms that researchers may use in their search.­
  • Summarize the presented paper rather than quote from the paper.
  • Use common abbreviations, symbols, terminologies, and acronyms (explain them as much as possible), and do not use jargons or colloquialisms.
  • Use complete sentences
  • Use active voice
  • Do not rephrase the title
  • Do not refer to the author (e.g., “Dr. A. D.”)
  • Do not use I or we, instead, you can say this study presented….

Revise (Ask yourself)

  • How precise is my abstract?
  • Is it based on the provided information in the original document?
  • How brief is my abstract?
  • Does it provide a thorough view to the readers?
  • How clear is my abstract? Can it be understood by a non-specialized reader?
  • Proofread it for errors, typos, and spelling mistakes.

References & Further readings

[1] How to write a good abstract for a scientific paper or conference presentation. Indian J Psychiatry. 2011;53(2):172-5. [PubMed Central]

[2] How to Write an Abstract. Philip Koopman, Carnegie Mellon University. October 1997.

[3] https://wts.indiana.edu/writing-guides/writing-abstracts.html. last accessed 25 October 2018.

[4] https://services.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/471274/Writing_an_Abstract_Update_051112.pdf. last accessed 25 October 2018.

[5] http://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/types-of-writing/abstract. last accessed 25 October 2018.

[6] https://www.uib.no/en/rs/grieg/21543/guidelines-writing-abstractslast accessed 25 October 2018.

[7] https://writing.colostate.edu/guides/page.cfm?pageid=1252&guideid=59last accessed 25 October 2018.

[8] https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/abstractslast accessed 25 October 2018.

[9] https://www.adelaide.edu.au/writingcentre/sites/default/files/docs/learningguide-writinganabstract.pdflast accessed 25 October 2018.

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