Article of the Week

Run-On Sentences

Run-on sentences occur when writers try to combine more than one idea into a single sentence. They cause confusion because readers are not sure when one idea ends and the next one begins. Read our entry and test your knowledge with our quiz!



Writing an Abstract

An abstract is an introductory paragraph that precedes an essay or research paper and provides a clear and concise description of the work to follow. An abstract should briefly introduce the general subject of a written work and inform potential readers as to the work’s relevance to their research needs. While the information in an abstract must reference the larger work, it should not be wholly dependent on it for a general understanding.
  1. What is NOT an Abstract
  2. What Type of Abstract Should You Write?
  3. Components of an Abstract
  4. Roadblocks

What is NOT an Abstract?

An abstract should not pass judgment on the work it introduces. It should not speak to the validity of the results of the work, nor should it critique the methods, evidence, data being covered in either a positive or negative manner. An abstract serves as a description, not an evaluation.

 

What Type of Abstract Should You Write?

The specific type of abstract you’ll be writing will depend on the topic of your overall work. If your work is concerned with a topic considered part of the humanities (art, literature, philosophy, etc) then your abstract should be largely descriptive. This means that a humanities-based abstract should almost exclusively detail the information that can be found in the larger work by describing the most important key words and concepts that it focuses on. Roughly speaking, an abstract for a work in the humanities needs to contain the thesis, background information, and conclusion of the larger work. It should be between 100-120 words and must not pass judgment on the methodology used or the conclusions reached by the larger work.

 

The second type of abstract you might write introduces and describes a scientific work, be it in the natural (physics, biology, chemistry, etc) or social (political science, sociology, economics, etc) sciences. While an abstract written for a scientific work still does not critique nor evaluate the work, it goes a step farther than merely describing the elements of the larger work. It is informative, whereas a humanities’ abstract was descriptive. A scientific abstract should detail the overall scope of the larger work, the purpose of having conducted the work, any essential details, and the results/conclusions reached by the work. At roughly 250 words, a scientific abstract should be longer than a humanities abstract and provide greater detail and emphasis on the conclusions reached by the work.

 

Components of an Abstract

Regardless of the type of abstract you end up writing, it should be structured around four common elements:

Motivation/Problem Statement

This portion of the abstract should explain the reasons for having written the larger work. It should answer the question “why do we care?” about the overall work. If the topic of your work isn’t immediately or obviously interesting, this is your opportunity to explain why it is.

Methods/Procedures/Approach

This portion of the abstract should explain to the reader how you obtained your results – be it the sources used, the experiments conducted, or the research performed.

Results/Findings

This portion of the abstract should explain and briefly contextualize the results obtained by your larger work.

Conclusions/Implications

This portion of the abstract should focus on the “big picture” relevance of your work’s findings. Does your work change the general consensus regarding its topic? What conclusions can appropriately be drawn from your findings?  What changes might be implemented as the result of your work?

 

Roadblocks

Writing an abstract can be hard, but try not to be discouraged! After spending hours laboring over the larger work, condensing it to the barest essentials can be tough. If you’re not sure where to start, try summarizing your work in a single sentence. This will force you to focus on the most important take-away of your paper. If that doesn’t work, try going through each paragraph and highlighting one or two key terms or concepts that could be included. You can also try making a “reverse outline” of your finished paper. This sometimes helps compartmentalize your paper into its most basic and essential details, which is the goal of an abstract.