How to Write an Abstract
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Everyone assumes that students know how to write an abstract. This assumption is so widespread and pervasive that often times people will completely forget to teach their students what an abstract is or how to write one in the first place. Fortunately, writing an abstract isn’t that hard and it definitely isn’t something to lose sleep over. All it takes is a few simple steps.
The first step to writing a professional-grade abstract is knowing the type of abstract you need to write. There are two types of abstracts: informational and descriptive. The difference between the two is essentially one of scope. An informational abstract will be a few paragraphs—no more than 10% of the length of your work—that completely summarizes the work, including methodology, results, and conclusions, in a formal style. A descriptive abstract will be shorter, often no more than 100 words, and will only describe the content of the work. A good way to understand the difference is to think of the informational abstract as being what people will read instead of your work and a descriptive abstract as being what people will read to convince them to read your work.
Once you’ve identified the type of abstract you need, start writing an abstract by making an outline of what information you’ll need to include in broad terms. With an informational abstract, this will include the purpose, methods, scope, results, conclusions and recommendations, while a descriptive abstract only needs to include the purpose, methods, and scope.
With your broad outline done, the next step is to reread your own work and make notes of any keywords or short phrases that can be used to identify your work. Once you have a small list of words and phrases, write a rough draft of the abstract that uses as many of those words and phrases as possible.
The next step is to check to make sure that the abstract covers all the relevant information. Reread your report alongside your abstract and check to make sure that you wrote down everything that you need to cover. At the same time, remove any unnecessary information. An abstract is a broad description of your work and should only cover the main points.
Finally, revise the abstract for grammar, spelling, and general clarity. A big thing to keep in mind is the voice and tone of the abstract. An informational abstract will always be in a professional, formal style:
This paper describes an experiment that was done to ascertain the function of two paralleled electron beams in a vacuum on organic tissue. Previous experiments showed promising results, but were limited to fruits, vegetables, and post-doctorate students.
While a descriptive abstract can afford to a bit more casual:
Where have all the witches gone? In medieval and early modern literature, the witch was a prominent recurring figure, but in contemporary literature her presence seems limited to the niche market of genre fiction.
After that, you should be done and ready to turn it in, easy as pie. And that’s all there is to writing an abstract. Hopefully, this alleviates any anxiety you might have had towards this relatively simple process. Next time, we’ll discuss how to generate an interesting essay topic. Until then, stay safe and keep writing.