You are on page 1of 3

Abstract

An abstract is a brief summary of a research article, thesis, review,


conference proceeding or any in-depth analysis of a particular subject
or discipline, and is often used to help the reader quickly ascertain the
paper's purpose. When used, an abstract always appears at the
beginning of a manuscript, acting as the point-of-entry for any given
scientific paper or patent application. Abstraction and indexing
services are available for a number of academic disciplines, aimed at
compiling a body of literature for that particular subject.

The primary purpose of an abstract is to guide readers.

An abstract is a summary of a body of information in a paragraph—


100-350 words for a descriptive abstract, 100-250 words an
informative abstract. An abstract expresses the main claim and
argument of a paper. In most disciplines, it never includes
bibliographic citations. An abstract concisely highlights or reviews the
major points covered along with the content and scope of the writing.

An abstract can also be a useful tool for writers to check that they
have a clear grasp of their thesis and argument. If the writer can state
the thesis and argument clearly in a few sentences—and in such a way
that someone who doesn't know the subject will still be able to
understand the main idea—then the writer knows she has a good grasp
of the ideas she is trying to express. An abstract says everything of
central importance in a way that gives the reader a clear overview of
what is contained in the essay.

Purpose and limitations


Academic literature uses the abstract to succinctly communicate
complex research. An abstract may act as a stand-alone entity instead
of a full paper. As such, an abstract is used by many organizations as
the basis for selecting research that is proposed for presentation in the
form of a poster, platform/oral presentation or workshop presentation
at an academic conference. Most literature database search engines
index only abstracts rather than providing the entire text of the paper.
Full texts of scientific papers must often be purchased because of
copyright and/or publisher fees and therefore the abstract is a
significant selling point for the reprint or electronic form of the full text.

An abstract allows one to sift through copious amounts of papers for


ones in which the researcher can have more confidence that they will
be relevant to his research. Once papers are chosen based on the
abstract, they must be read carefully to be evaluated for relevance. It
is commonly surmised that one must not base reference citations on
the abstract alone, but the entire merits of a paper.

Structure
An academic abstract typically outlines four elements germane to the
completed work:

• The research focus (i.e. statement of the problem(s)/research


issue(s) addressed);
• The research methods used (experimental research, case
studies, questionnaires, etc.);
• The results/findings of the research; and
• The main conclusions and recommendations

It may also contain brief references.

Abstract length varies by discipline and publisher requirements.


Typical length ranges from 100 to 500 words, but very rarely more
than a page. An abstract may or may not have the section title of
"abstract" explicitly listed as an antecedent to content, however, they
are typically sectioned logically as an overview of what appears in the
paper (e.g. any one of the following: Background, Introduction,
Objectives, Methods, Results, Conclusions).

In journal articles, research papers, published patent applications and


patents, an abstract is a short summary placed prior to the
introduction, often set apart from the body of the text, sometimes with
different line justification (as a block or pull quote) from the rest of the
article.

When are abstracts used?

• Ordinarily part of a research article in a journal


• For chapters in a book, especially if each chapter has a different
author
• Library reference tools, such as Biological Abstracts
• For presentations at scientific meetings (often the "published
abstract" is the only written record of such a presentation)
• Dissertations, some papers in the sciences and social sciences
require abstracts
Descriptive Abstract

A descriptive abstract outlines the topics covered in a piece of writing


so the reader can decide whether to read the entire document. In
many ways, the descriptive abstract is like a table of contents in
paragraph form. Unlike reading an informative abstract, reading a
descriptive abstract cannot substitute for reading the document
because it does not capture the content of the piece. Nor does a
descriptive abstract fulfill the other main goals of abstracts as well as
informative abstracts do. For all these reasons, descriptive abstracts
are less and less common. Check with your instructor or the editor of
the journal to which you are submitting a paper for details on the
appropriate type of abstract for your audience.

Descriptive Abstracts

• Tell readers what information the report, article, or paper


contains
• Include the purpose, methods, and scope of the report, article, or
paper
• Do not provide results, conclusions, or recommendations.
• Are always very short, usually under 100 words.
• Introduce the subject to readers, who must then read the report,
article, or paper to find out the author's results, conclusions, or
recommendations

Descriptive Abstracts are very short—usually a brief one- or two-


sentence paragraph (sometimes appear on the title page of a journal
article).
The descriptive abstract does not say something like this-- Problem:
Based on an exhaustive review of currently available products, this
report concludes that none of the available grammar-checking
software products provides any useful function to writers. (This is the
style of summarizing you find in the informative abstract.)
Instead, the descriptive abstract says something like this-- Revision:
This report provides conclusions and recommendations on the
grammar-checking software that is currently available.