An abstract is a self-contained, short, and powerful statement that describes a larger work. Components vary according to discipline; an abstract of a social science or scientific work may contain the scope, purpose, results, and contents of the work. An abstract of a humanities work may contain the thesis, background, and conclusion of the larger work. An abstract is not a review, nor does it evaluate the work being abstracted. While it contains key words found in the larger work, the abstract is an original document rather than an excerpted passage.
Why are abstracts so important?
The practice of using key words in an abstract is vital because of today's electronic information retrieval systems. Titles and abstracts are filed electronically, and key words are put in electronic storage. When people search for information, they enter key words related to the subject, and the computer prints out the titles of articles, papers, and reports containing those key words. Thus, an abstract must contain key words about what is essential in an article, paper, or report so that someone else can retrieve information from it.
Qualities of a Good Abstract
An effective abstract has the following qualities:
• uses one or more well developed paragraphs: these are unified, coherent, concise, and able to stand alone.
• uses an introduction/body/conclusion structure which presents the article, paper, or report's purpose, results, conclusions, and recommendations in that order.
• follows strictly the chronology of the article, paper, or report.
• provides logical connections (or transitions) between the information included.
• adds no new information, but simply summarizes the report.
• is understandable to a wide audience.
• oftentimes uses passive verbs to downplay the author and emphasize the information. Check with your teacher if you're unsure whether or not to use passive voice.