How to Write an Abstract | Writing Genre Fundamentals


Hi everyone. Welcome to today’s workshop.
My name is Tori Dalzell, and I’m the doctoral writing consultant here at
Azusa Pacific University. Today’s workshop is all about abstracts, so I’ll
be talking about different components of abstracts and what the genre consists
of and all kinds of different things. Since you’re watching the recorded
version of today’s workshop, I don’t have to orient you to the zoom room, so we’ll
just go ahead and dive into today’s subject. So to start off, what I’d like you to do
is just go ahead and choose the option here that most reflects your
understanding or your current understanding of what an abstract is. So
is an abstract the introduction to the paper? Is it B, a concise summary of the
paper but a standalone document? Is it C, another name for an author’s note or
is it D, a critique of the paper? So in this case the answer is actually B.
It’s a concise summary of the paper but a standalone document. An introduction to
the paper might actually – it’s not going to have all the same components that an
abstract is. It’s going to be a much more extended background whereas an abstract
is going to have some other components which we’ll talk about. An author’s note
is a completely separate genre; an author’s note is where the writer will
talk about the changes that they made or the revisions that they made between
drafts to their paper. Aa abstract is not going to talk about that. And then a
critique of the paper is again a completely different genre, and that is
where the critique is going to evaluate a paper and how well or how well it
didn’t support its argument. An abstract is not a critique of the paper; as we’ll
see, it’s actually a summary of the paper. So this workshop has four different
parts to it. The first is just talking about what is
an abstract, so we’ll talk about genre wise, what is it? The second part is how
do I write an abstract? We’re going to address specifics of style there.
Number three is what content should I include or exclude, which is the
multi-million dollar question for abstracts. And then number fou,r how our
abstracts useful to my writing and research process? So that’s the
outline for today’s workshop. So the first question we’re going to look at is
what is an abstract? It’s a couple of different things. One, an abstract is a
concise summary of your paper yet a standalone document. So this is
where people do get a little confused because the abstract and the paper are
related, but they are separate. The easiest way to think about the
relationship between an abstract and its paper is to think about the relationship
between a movie trailer and the full movie itself. So if you as the viewer
decide to watch a movie trailer, you should have a pretty good idea about
what this film is going to be about. You’re gonna have kind of the basic
storyline, maybe some of the big hits, but you’re not going to get like the
character development, you’re not going to see all the different plot twists
that might be there, right, and the have the trailer is only going to be
like a minute or two whereas the film itself might be an hour or two, so
there’s a big difference in length there. But if you as the viewer decided not to
watch the movie trailer and just watch the movie itself
you shouldn’t have missed anything. So the relationship between an abstract and
its paper is very similar. If your reader decides to read your abstract, they
should have a very good idea of what your paper is going to be about, but if
they decide to skip the abstract entirely and just read the paper, then
they shouldn’t have missed anything. An abstract actually accomplishes
several different objectives, and this is where it can come in handy just in the
writing process. First of all, an abstract can be written as a proposal for a paper. So your professor may have asked you to submit an abstract before you’ve written
a paper because they want to know what is your paper going to be about.
And so in this case, an abstract can actually give your professor or your
classmates, if you’re going to do a peer review, what your actual paper is going
to be about. Your abstract can actually come in very handy in your writing
process as well because as you’re doing your research and as you’re writing your
paper, you’re probably going to end up going down rabbit holes one way or
another, and so when that happens, you can actually read your abstract again
and decide is what I’m writing actually going to be part of this paper or am I veering off into a completely different argument right now? So your abstract can
actually help you keep you on task. And then your abstract can also -at the end
of your writing process – revise your abstract to actually make it fit or
reflect what your paper actually. Says so in this case, an abstract can actually
accomplish several objectives not just one. And this brings us to our last point
where an abstract should make a good first impression. So if you’re writing
your abstract as a paper proposal, you’ll want to get your professor
excited about your topic. Likewise, if you’re writing this for
peer-review, then you’ll want to get your your peers excited about your topic. As
you’re doing research for your own paper, you will probably come across published
abstracts; hopefully from those abstracts you’ll have a good idea of whether or
not a paper or a journal article is actually relevant to what you want to
write about so hopefully those published abstracts make a good
first impression on you and help you decide, you know, whether or not this
paper or this article actually is relevant to your paper and you should,
you know, read it or not. So the abstract should also make a good first
impression on your readers. Okay so the next question here, how do I
write an abstract? So the material that I’m going to talk about on this slide
it’s not original; it was taken from the University of Maryland Baltimore’s Writing
Center, so their material on abstracts. This just has to do with, again, the
style of an abstract. So the first thing an abstract should be is accurate. It
should actually reflect what is in your paper; it’s not a place to put additional
information or information that you think your reader should know but that,
you know, didn’t make it into your paper. That’s not what an abstract is for, and
so you want to make sure that your abstract accurately reflects on the
paper that you wrote. And again, going back to the movie trailer and the movie
analogy, it can be rather disappointing when a movie trailer doesn’t actually
reflect what a movie is about. Sometimes a movie trailer might, you know, maybe
it’s actually more exciting than the movie actually was,
or maybe the trailer sucked but the movie was really great. And so either way,
it’s rather disappointing when one doesn’t match the other. So you want
to make sure that your abstract actually matches what your paper is about. The
next thing your abstract is is it needs to be concise. Abstracts are very short;
they at minimum, they’re usually about a hundred words. Maximum for a term paper, it might be 250 350 words, so not very long at all.
Dissertation abstracts can push to about 500 words, but again, abstracts generally
don’t go over that limit, so you’re working with very precious real estate
here. And then the next thing your abstract
needs to be is it needs to be clear. So because your reader – because the abstract
is a standalone document – you don’t actually want to spend a whole lot of
time explaining key terms or acronyms or things like that. So for that reason, you
really want to limit the jargon that you have in an abstract. You can introduce
key terms, you can introduce acronyms, especially if those are really important
to understanding what your paper is about or to give your reader a better
idea of what your paper is going to be about. But again, you really want to limit
that because you want to spend the majority of your time actually
summarizing your paper, not defining key terms. So what makes an abstract
accurate, concise, and clear is not separate from its rhetorical situation.
And so here, yes, you want it to make sure it reflects the message or the main
point of your paper, but then the other two things, actually, audience and purpose,
are things you really need to consider when you try and decide, you know, what do we actually put in my abstract. So for audience, there’s a lot of different
topics that different disciplines look at that are the same. So for example, an
ethics paper – you write ethics papers in nursing courses. Philosophy also deals
with ethics, but the way that you write an ethics paper for a nursing course
is going to be very different than the way that you write an ethics paper for a
philosophy course. And so when you put together your abstract, you still need to
keep in mind who is my audience? And how do I need to go about actually
summarizing and framing my abstract for them? The other is the
purpose; so, the purpose of the paper or the genre of the paper is actually going
to dictate what it means to be accurate, concise, and clear in these cases. And so
for example, if you’re writing a lit review, if you’re writing an empirical
study; if you are writing an argumentative paper, all of those are
actually going to determine what goes in your abstract.
And again, all of those things are going to determine what it means to be
accurate, concise, and clear. So you still need to keep those components in mind as
you write your abstract. All of these things lead us to the
million dollar question of what should I include in an abstract?
So, abstracts actually share the same – share structure – with the paper that
they reflect. So for example, I’m going to use two different genres, just as
examples for this workshop. So here, this is an outline for an empirical studies
paper that we would see in a discipline that uses APA. So these components should
not be new to you if you’re in a discipline like, you know, nursing or
psychology. The problem and purpose, the participants, the methods and materials,
the findings and the conclusions – those are all components we would expect to
see in an empirical studies paper. Those same components are going to appear in
the abstract but in a much more concise form. Similarly, in a humanities essay, we
expect to see a background and a thesis, we expect arguments to be made in
support of that thesis, and then oftentimes we do talk about the methods,
the materials or the kinds of evidence that we use to support that
argument, and then we have a conclusion. All of those same components are going
to be in a humanities abstract. So here – so those are the outlines of these different papers. What do those actually
look like in abstracts? So here, this is the first example. This is of an
empirical studies abstract, and right here I just went ahead and reverse
outlined the different components that I would expect to see in the abstract and
where they appeared in this particular abstract. So this abstract . . .the writers
actually start out with the purpose, right? And that’s – we know that this is
the purpose because we actually have that signal phrase: “the purpose of the
study was to examine” and then they tell us who the participants are. Participants
in this case “college band and choral musicians’ perceptions of conductor
clarity in expressivity after viewing band and choral directors conducting
with or without a baton.” How did they go about doing that study? Here’s their
methods: “One band and one choral conductor each prepared and conducted
two excerpts of Guy Forbes’s O Nata Lux, a piece written in both choral
and band idioms, with and without a baton. Participants viewed 10 excerpts (four
choral, four band, and two distractors) and rated the conductors’ clarity and
expressivity on 10-point Likert-type scales.” So that’s how they did
their study. What were their basic findings? “There were significant main
effects for participant ensemble emphasis (choral or band), baton use, and
conductor type (choral or band), and a significant interaction between
conductor type and baton use.” And so what can we conclude from that? “The choral
conductor was perceived to be clearer without a baton, whereas the band
conductor was perceived to be clearer with a baton. The choral conductor was
perceived to be more expressive with the baton, and the band conductor was
perceived to be more expressive without a baton.
So here, again, this is just a reverse outlined abstract; those are all the
components that we would expect to see in empirical study. These components made it into the abstract and actually structured it for us. And so here, this is an example
of a humanities abstract, and again, I just went ahead and labeled all the
different components that we would expect to see and kind of where they
appeared in this particular abstract. So this writer starts out with the
background: “Though published focal scores of Broadway musicals imply sole
musical authorship, the archives reveal a much more complex picture.” And then they give their argument: “Five case studies illustrate different approaches to the
compositional process in the 1940s and 1950s: Richard Rogers, who produced
fair copies in piano vocal score for each of his songs; Cole Porter, who
regularly used an amanuenis but later in his career produced detailed fragments
of music for his arrangers to turn into performance scores; Frederick Loewe, who
worked closely with an arranger to produce fair copies; and Robert Wright
and George Forrest, who went through a complicated process of selecting and
adapting the work of composers of art music such as Borodin and
Rachmaninov.” How did this person go about doing their study? “Detailed study
of the available manuscripts made clear that (and then they present their main
point) score production was nearly always a collaborative activity on Broadway,
whether involved amanuenses, copyists, arrangers, or orchestrators. Although in each of these cases the named composer retains an authorial role, in practical
terms the archives reveal them to be collaborators rather than authors,
working as a member of a team to create each performance score.” And so what can
we conclude from this study? “As such, their aims were to facilitate
performance events rather than to produce fixed works. So in each of
these components that we would expect to see in a Humanities essay actually make
it into the abstract and structure that abstract for us. Okay. So before we go on, what I’d like you to do is just jot down any questions that you might have at this point about abstracts or about any of the material
that we’ve gone over because I would encourage you to bring those questions
to your next Writing Center appointment, especially if it has to do with your
abstract, so that you can ask your coach. And the other thing I wanted to do
before we go on to the next part of the workshop is just to give you some
information on dissertation abstracts. Everything that I have said in this
workshop so far does apply to dissertation abstracts, but there are a
couple of other things to consider when you’re writing an abstract for your
dissertation. For that information, I encourage you to go to our Graduate
Writing website; we do have a section on dissertation abstracts and some
additional things to consider when putting together your dissertation’s
abstract. Likewise, you can always bring questions about your dissertation
abstracts to your Writing Center meeting – to the coaching session – that you
might have for for that abstract. So this next part of the workshop – it’s
actually several examples or exercises, similar to what I’ve done here for
you. What I’d like you to do is just give you some more practice on actually
reverse outlining abstracts and looking for the different components that we’ve
talked about. So this first one, this is an empirical studies abstract. So what I
would like you to do is go ahead and look for these components. You want to
look for the background, you want to look for purpose, participants, methods and
materials, findings and results, and conclusions. Those are the basic
things that we generally expect to see in an APA empirical study abstract, which
this is, so go ahead and take a moment to find – to reverse outline this abstract
and label those different components. Go ahead and pause the video while
you do so. Okay, so let’s go ahead and go over the
answer. Alright, so here this writer actually starts out with some background;
so it’s just some additional information to give context to the rest of their
abstract, and this is information that they do repeat in their actual
paper. And then they go on to talk about the purpose of their study. Again
they give us that signal phrase: “The purpose of the study was to determine . . ”
They then tell us who their participants were, they tell us what methods they used,
they give us what their basic findings were, and then they do give us that
conclusion. So again, what can we learn from this particular study? So that was an exercise for an empirical
studies abstract. What I’d like you to do now is go ahead and reverse outline the
following humanities abstract. So what you’re going to be looking for
is the background, the thesis, the arguments, whether or not they talk about
methods, materials, or evidence, and then the conclusion. So go ahead and pause the
video recording and reverse outline the abstract, looking for those components. Okay, so let’s go ahead and go over the
answer. So in this case, this person starts out
with the background, so they give us again the context for what they’re
looking at. They then go on to present their thesis and their argument – in this
case is kind of, you know, both at the same time. They do talk about
some additional evidence or materials that they are using in their argument or
like what else they’re wanting to do in this article before giving us that
conclusion or telling us, you know, what is the significance of this study, what
can we actually draw from this work? Okay, this is a bonus – a bonus abstract, so
I’m not going to tell you whether it’s an empirical studies abstract or
humanities abstract. Go ahead and read through it and see, just from what’s here,
whether you can determine if it’s an empirical study or humanities abstract,
and then go ahead and reverse outline it, looking for those components, depending
on which abstract you decide this is. So again, you can go ahead and pause the
video while you do that. Okay, so let’s go ahead and go over the
answer. So here this is actually a humanities
abstract. This abstract is written by
psychologists, and it’s published in a psychological journal, but the article
itself is actually a history, so it’s much more humanities based. And again,
this is where abstracts are written according to the genre of writing as
well as conventions of the field. So in this case, even though the topic is
psychology, it’s the history of this particular
professional association, and so it’s written like a humanities
paper; therefore, it’s a humanities abstract. So here these writers first
just gave us a brief background. They then outlined their argument, and then
they decided to end their abstract with their thesis, or in this case, also
their conclusion. So hopefully that just gives you some practice just looking at abstracts
and seeing what components they have and understanding how they’re put together. I wanted to end today’s workshops by just
going over some abstract frequently asked questions that we get in the
Writing Center. So the first question is one, when should I write my abstract? You
can actually write your abstract as soon as you start thinking about your paper
or project, and then you can revise it through the different stages of your
writing. Another question we get is how specific
should my abstract be? As you do your research for your paper and you read
abstracts in your field, you’ll probably see that some are vague, and some are very
specific. Some might read just like, you know, this
review concludes with implications drawn from the body of research and directions
for future study or it might just say suggestions for further research are
included,and they don’t get more specific than that. Other abstracts are
much more specific and they actually outline what those implications are; they
actually outline what directions for future research should be. There’s benefits
about being specific and vague. Some of the benefits to vagueness is that
hopefully your reader will be caught by the promise of answers and then read the
article. Some of the benefits of specificity is that the reader knows
whether or not an article is relevant to their work and so they can more easily
discern whether they should spend time reading it or not. For your own term
papers I always think it’s better to actually be more specific if you can
because that way your professor actually trusts you more. You provide them with
evidence that you’ve engaged with and distilled your own work, that you
understand the material, and that you know what points you are making. And so
this just builds rapport with your professor, and so they’re more likely to
trust you. Another frequent question that we get is,
is an abstract always required for a college paper? And this is where – we get
this question often times from students who are in disciplines that use APA because an abstract actually is a component of an APA paper. So APA
actually requires an abstract; however, your professor might not require you to
write an abstract even if you are using APA, so this is where you should just ask
your professor what they expect. If they want that abstract, then you know to
include it; if they say that they don’t want an abstract, or they say that it’s
optional, then you know that that’s one less thing that you need to
worry about. And then, how can I learn more about
abstracts? One is to read abstracts in your field, so if you’re in psychology,
you read abstracts in psychology; if you’re in music, read abstracts in music.
Read abstracts for projects that are similar to your own. So if you’re writing
a lit review, read abstracts for lit reviews; if you’re writing a case study,
read abstracts for case studies. And then you can go ahead and reverse outline
those abstracts like we did today. If you reverse outline these abstracts, you’ll
find some different components in them, and then you can have – then you’ll have
models for yourself for your own abstract and have a better idea of how
you can actually put your abstract together. And then, how can abstract
help my research and writing process? So we’ve already gone over some of these
answers, but I thought I’d go ahead and just repeat them again. One is reading
abstracts can help you decide whether to spend time reading a 30-plus page
article or not. Reading abstracts can also help you
decide which studies are relevant to your project, so again it helps you in
that weeding out process as you’re doing research because after you put your
keywords into the library database, you’re probably going to come up with
thousands of different hits. Reading those abstracts can help you decide
which are actually relevant to my study, which should I spend my time reading? And
then your own abstract actually helps you keep the bigger picture in mind as
you write your paper, so you can remember again what’s my main point here,
what’s my objective? And that helps you decide what to actually include in your
paper. Here are the references for the abstracts that I have used in today’s presentation, just in case you’re curious but also to give
credit to – to give credit where credit is due. And that is all I have for today. If you
have any additional questions about abstracts, feel free to bring them to
your coaching session at the Writing Center, and we look forward to working
with you!

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