Writing an academic paper is a thorough process requiring one a lot of persistence and self-regulation. Therefore, it has to do with a lot of stress multiplied by high expectations and pressure. But once you are ready with the paper itself, you can relax thinking that the hard part is over. However, it may get somewhat tricky when after completing your paper, you have to abstract what you have written. On some level, students often see it as unnecessary, dull work that will hardly influence their grade because the 'major' part is already behind them. But it has to be completed whatsoever. This makes creating an abstract even more stressful, and students often find it scary. First, they can't feel free and enjoy having completed their assignment. And, secondly, they feel that there is a possibility to ruin the whole impression of their work with a single paragraph that isn't even a part of their paper.
Before you start panicking, it is quite helpful to understand what an abstract is and learn about its primary purposes. After that, the big picture won't be as terrifying, and you will finish your work with less effort. Here, we discuss that and offer you a set of smart tips that should help you master abstract writing.
An abstract is a separate piece of academic writing that shows your readers the main ideas, goals, findings, and conclusions you've made during your research. Its essence, however, may be different depending on the subject matter and discipline. It also includes the keywords of a larger paper. Though, it's not merely a review or evaluation of your paper.
There are several types of abstracts written for different reasons, but they all can boil down to a single one, — your readers' convenience. Do you remember yourself searching for academic resources for any of your papers? Was it possible to read each potential source entirely before deciding whether you are going to use this information or not? Probably it hasn't. All students must have such an experience. Now, imagine that your work might get cited in someone's paper. You simply have to give them the gist. This is just one of many ideas of how one can use the abstract you've created, but it gives you a clue of what it should look like.
Besides, we have mentioned already that it's better to write an abstract after finishing the paper itself. And it doesn't have to be a discouraging thing. You don't have to regard abstract writing as an additional burden. Think of it as describing in the best light the work into which you've put so much time and effort.
Although we have summarized reasons for writing an abstract above, when you get to it, you should have a more concrete idea of why you are doing it. The most common reasons are as follows:
When students get assigned, they might be specifically instructed to write a particular type of abstract and told what points it has to include. But there are cases when you get left with this choice on your own. If you don't have any idea of what each type of abstract can reveal, it is impossible to do it right. Here, we have gatherer guidelines for writing three abstract types: descriptive, informative, and critical. While critical abstracts are quite common for scientists and professional researchers, students don't get such task too often.
As it is apparent from the name, this type describes what information you've found during your research. It is peculiar that it has nothing to do with evaluating your paper and revealing what results you have achieved. Based on the keywords, it tells readers about your aim and methodology. You don't summarize anything in a descriptive abstract, so it shouldn't be long, — a hundred to two hundred words will be more than enough.
Abstract types: Informative
Informative abstracts are more widespread than descriptive and, of course, critical ones. You still can't evaluate a larger paper in it, but here you have more freedom. Thus, your principal arguments and evidence, as well as the results, might be included in the text. Simply put, an informative abstract is an extended version of a descriptive one, enriched with the data about your research outcomes. The word count limit for this type is 10% of your original paper length. But please mind that this percentage must be reduced significantly if your primary work is too long.
Abstract types: Critical
Usually, you don't write a critical abstract to your own paper. This is not a critical review, so you don't judge the work under consideration. Instead, you speak about the aim and methods, as if it is a descriptive abstract, and evidence and results, as it is the case with an informative one. Additionally, you should mention how relevant this paper is for you, as its researcher. And you might also give some recommendations.
Step-by-step guide for writing a good abstract
Isn't it always more comfortable to proceed in small steps? It doesn't only divide your working process into clear stages but also provides the additional motivation you get when you complete each of them. To make it effortless for you to complete your abstract, we've described these steps to success.
There are two significant mistakes students make when they have to complete a paper with an abstract. The most obvious one is to write the latter before they even start working on a larger paper only because it goes first in the final version. In such cases, an abstract is confused with an introduction, which makes them go entirely wrong. No one makes a trailer before they finish a movie. Here, a similar principle must be applied.
Another mistake is giving too much thought to what an abstract will look like while writing a paper. On the one hand, it is useful to make some notes for a future abstract when you write. But spending a lot of time on it slows you down. So, when you finish a larger paper, you may run out of time to create a decent abstract. Besides, there is no need to be super scrupulous with such notes because you will revise your paper anyway. So, the chances that you are going to forget about any important points upon writing your paper are minimal.
The fact that there are different reasons to create abstracts implies that they can aim at different people. So, you should be sure about who is going to read it. Often, your abstract audience is limited to your teacher and group mates. But if when writing for a conference or know that your work is going to be published, you should target at a broader yet specific audience.
If you write an abstract for your paper, a critical abstract is off the table. So, choose between the two that have left. This may depend on the type on your paper. Sometimes, methodology matters more than anything else, and a descriptive abstract would be the right choice. If you do need to share your results in this section, pick an informative one. Besides, you may also consider the paper length. Descriptive abstracts are more applicable for shorter writing. But it is not a must because the lion's share of abstracts written by students is informative.
Once you choose the type that suits your writing the best way, sort out the info that you're going to include in your abstract. To do so, consider a few aspects:
Primarily, explain briefly to your readers why your topic and subject matter is valuable. Describe the problem that makes a topic of your work. Also, indicate to whom it concerns. These can be young people in general, student, teachers, parents, all members of society, etc., — it all depends on your topic. Tell readers what has motivated you to cover it. You can do that while describing the problem, but it is better to make this part stand out. Then, proceed with your methodology. Below, enlist essential proofs, arguments, and results in case your abstract is informative, not descriptive.
A conclusion is the final part of your abstract, just like in any other piece of academic writing. Here, you can state that your work is relevant and why, but don’t estimate the importance of your findings because an abstract doesn’t presuppose that.
We have said that an abstract has a conclusion. And it is imperative to remember that it includes other main parts of an academic paper too, i.e., it has to start with an introduction and have a logically structured body. In case you have been instructed to touch upon definite issues in the abstract, don't forget to check if it meets the requirements.
Read your abstract carefully. Every part of it has to bear valuable information. Don't overuse cliches. An abstract is a very brief piece of writing, so you should put all you have to say in a very concise form. Since you need to persuade the audience to continue reading, you should sound credible, not vague. Besides, you shouldn't use names not known by everybody, overly complicated terms, quotes, extensive stats, etc. All these things make any abstract overloaded with information that is unnecessary at this stage of reading. Plus, they will make it impossible for you to meet word count requirements. If you decided that it would be better to define any terms in your first draft, unfortunately, you have to delete these parts now.
After you have double-checked the style and content, it's time to proofread your abstract. And no, the latest time you read it is not enough. You can insert a comma or two when you edit your abstract searching for illogical parts and trying to delete all points that are not needed. Mind that you will still have to reread it. You may use grammar checking software at this stage, but mind that this is an additional precaution, not a universal tool.
It is hard to tell whether it is easier to draft your own abstract or someone else's. When abstracting another researcher's work, you, on the one hand, have a fresh look but, on the other, have to know the text as if you have written it yourself. This is the first thing you are to do: study the work under consideration in detail. You can't do the summary of a larger paper, so the ideas presented in it should be seen through the lens of your own. In other words, tell the audience what main points this paper has and how relevant you and others might find it as a prospective academic source.
The abstract structure should be as described above, and the major tools for abstracting others’ works are as follows:
Even in the case of writing about someone’s paper intentionally, you can’t copy and paste anything from it to your abstract. Moreover, indirect quotes are not very good for abstract writing either. So, simple paraphrasing is not a way out. Instead, you have to think over each central sentence and explain what the author has to say in your unique way. It is vital not to go to extremes of retelling because your version has to be very concise and informative.
To eliminate the chance of copying out others' ideas, try and write your first draft without consulting the paper at all. If you have paid enough attention while studying it, as we have suggested at the beginning of this section, you will have no problem remembering all you need to abstract. Editing this draft will additionally require you to look through the original text again to make sure you have got everything right. Remember that when you edit any abstract paper, you must delete any additional information that popped in your head but never got mentioned in the original.
Now, when you see what abstract writing is about, it doesn't seem so scary, does it? Whenever you struggle with this kind of paper again, feel free to go back to this guide, and no difficulties will stand in your way. And, if the guide is not enough, feel free to hire one of our expert writers to handle this job for you!
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