An abstract is a condensed statement of the contents of a paper. It is a microcosm of the whole that precedes the paper (report, literature review, etc.) and stands alone, completely independent of the paper.
- An abstract helps busy readers keep up-to-date in their fields by giving them an overview of an entire paper. They can then decide whether they need to read it.
- An abstract is a useful tool for library research. It helps the researcher decide if the paper abstracted is relevant to the topic he or she is researching.
- An abstract helps the reader understand a topic because it provides an overview of the whole paper.
The length of an abstract varies depending on the length of the paper and where the abstract appears; each journal, abstracting index, and instructor has different requirements. As a general rule, an abstract will be 50 to 150 words, approximately 1% to 3% of the paper, but is seldom more than two thirds of a page.
- Descriptive (Indicative). A descriptive abstract takes the table of contents approach: it cites the topics the paper discusses without providing details. For example, if the paper recommends some course of action, the abstract may merely state that the paper makes recommendations for future action.
- Informative. An informative abstract summarises the main points of the paper and gives the most significant details from each section. The abstract of a report, for instance, would briefly state the specific purpose of the report as well as briefly sketch the procedures used, the most significant results, and the main conclusions and recommendations.
An abstract is written in complete sentences which form paragraphs; it is not written in point form or telegraphic style. Both the first person (I, we) and the passive voice (It was shown that…) are seldom used. A good abstract also maintains the same attitude to the subject (the same tone, point of view and emphasis) as the author of the paper does.
Writing an abstract
- If you are writing an abstract of your own paper, begin writing the abstract only when you are satisfied your paper is well organised and complete. If you are writing an abstract of someone else's paper, read it carefully at least twice to make certain you understand its key points.
- Underline the key words and sentences which are often signalled by transitional markers: carefully examine headings, topic and concluding sentences of paragraphs, such transitional devices as ‘first,’ ‘second,’ and ‘third,’ and keywords that indicate comparison or contrast (for example, ‘best,’ ‘foremost,’ ‘central,’ ‘crucial,’ etc).
- List the main points you have drawn from your close reading of the paper. Take care to maintain the same emphasis as that of the original paper. Check the table of contents (if one exists) or the outline (if you are abstracting your own paper) for the main points of the paper.
- Summarise each section in a sentence or two.
- Draft the abstract. Avoid including opinions, examples, details and explanations. Eliminate all phrases such as “noted in,” “as shown by,” or “for example”.
- Let the abstract sit for as long as possible without reading or editing it.
- Revise the abstract. Try to reduce it by cutting it in half. Condense points by combining then and eliminating any repetition.
- Use your own words as much as possible. If you borrow words, phrases, or whole sentences, you will find your abstract will be to long and awkward.
- Eliminate all references to tables, figures, or sources found in the reference list of the original paper. Your abstract must be completely independent of the paper.
- Check the final draft to see if it logically, effectively and accurately condenses the original paper. Make sure your abstract is useful and readable.
An abstract and a summary are the same thing: a short version of some longer writing. Generally, however, ‘abstract’ is used to denote an even shorter summary.
The Effect of Individualisation of Land Title on Māori Tribal Society
Dr J Dawick
39.107 Applied English
Each traditional right of ownership of ancestral Māori land bears an essential relationship to its occupation. Alienation of tribal land and individualisation of titles have led to difficulties in administering and using the remaining remnant of traditional Māori land. These same ills have also posed serious threats to the viability of tribal communities and hastened the dispersion of hapu members to non-traditional and urban areas.