Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Abstracts


An idea of what it will be . . .

According to my much thumbed copy of the 'Shorter Oxford English Dictionary' the relevant definition of an abstract is: An abridgement or summary of a book, document, etc. and yet I frequently read abstracts that could better be defined thus: Separated from matter, practice or particular examples; not concrete. Indeed the goal of an academic abstract should be precision rather than abstraction.
For me an abstract needs to do and be the following, to a lesser or greater extent, depending on the requisite length and the purpose it is expected to perform:
  1. It should be primarily in the present tense (except for when discussing research that 'has been carried out' for which the present perfect is O.K.).
  2. It should be written as if the work is completed and exists - you are not planning it you have finished writing it.
  3. It should tell the audience what the problem/gap is that you are investigating; why they care about it and what practical, scientific, theoretical or artistic gap your research is filling. 
  4. You then need to provide a brief description of the methodology used to acheive your results.
  5. Then give your findings – in an abstract your results and insights are not supposed to be a mystery – rather they are the crux of why someone will want to read your work.
  6. You should finish by mentioning the larger implications of your findings in relation to the problem/gap you initially identified.
The main purpose of an abstract is to sell your work to the reader - persuade them you are an interesting and informative writer and tell them what your work is about so they can judge quickly (i.e. by the third sentence) if your work is relevant to them. I am not and never have been a believer in the slow reveal in academic writing - you are either telling me something I need to know for my own research purposes or you are not - do not waste my time . . .
In the spirit of not wasting any of your time I only have one link for you and then I'm signing off:
Ah ha – you see what I did there!!
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