How to Write an Abstract for a Paper
An abstract is a precise and powerful statement that describes a literary work. There is a two-fold approach and selection of the approach is dependent on the nature of the literary work. A Humanities abstract would take a different approach when compared to a scientific abstract. Whereas, the Humanities abstract would have a thesis, background and conclusion, the scientific abstract would include scope, purpose, results and conclusion. An abstract looks into the larger document rather than taking a narrow view or element of the document, as is the case with a review.
The purpose of an abstract is to allow easy reader selection and also to index the literary work. This would allow a reader of large literary work to quickly make a decision on whether to read the work or not. Online data are mostly indexed and therefore, for the sake of searching easily, it is important for abstracts to contain key words or phrases. The fields that commonly use abstracts include:
- PhD dissertations
- M.A theses
- Book proposals
- Research grant applications
- Book chapter proposals
- Conference paper proposals
Definitive and informative are most commonly used types of the abstract. Critical is the third type but it is rarely used.
A descriptive abstract reveals information you would get in the literary work. It does not pass any judgment on the author’s work. It demonstrates the content, intention and style rather than the conclusion or results of research. With reference to the reader, it essentially leaves the reader with an open mind. The reader is expected to make a conclusion after reading the author’s literary work.
An informative abstract will contain the scope, style and intention as well as the conclusion, resulting of the research and the recommendations of the author. Due to the detailed nature of the informative abstract, this type of abstract may be lengthy. However, this is also dependant on the length of the literary work.
The work being abstracted will determine the type of abstract to adopt. However, in principle, all abstracts must contain certain elements. In deriving an abstract, the following elements have to be taken in to consideration:
- Objective and significance of the thesis or research
- The thesis or problem statement
- The breadth and period of research
- The style adopted to achieve the literary work
- Results of the work
- Impact of the finding on the body of knowledge of the topic
How to write an abstract for a paper
a) Reverse outlining
This involves outlining the main idea statements. Those statements that are somewhat similar can then be merged to construct an abstract sentence. In case of informative abstracts, reverse outlining will be used to develop a central idea, which is pivotal in the development of the abstract.
b) Cut and Paste
This involves highlighting of key passages of the literary work. This can be utilized in descriptive abstracts derived from the literary work that has a clear thesis statement and topic sentences/main idea statements.
Guidelines when abstracting from someone else’s work
a) Identifying key terms
To identify key terms, purpose, scope, style of work and/or results, you will need to run through the document in its entirety. This will call for close attention to the purpose and conclusion. The two paragraphs should contain the main idea statements. The main ideas will serve as a platform for writing an abstract for a paper.
b) Key phrases and statements/sentences
This involves reading through the literary work and identifying key phrases. You can pick the most important sentences and paraphrase them to fit in as an abstract.
c) Read through
After reading through the literary work in its entirety, you will have identified key sentences. This would guide you in developing a draft along the theme of the thesis.
Revise the abstract
After drafting the abstract, it is important to revise it. This constant review of the abstract will allow you to expunge some wordings so as to make a concise and complete statement.
In short, there is no need to fear a question on how to write an abstract for a paper. If you can follow the guidelines mentioned above, writing an abstract for a paper can be an easy task. Always remember that abstract is a brief, concise and complete literary piece.
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