Abstracts (for graduate students)

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This workshop begins by defining abstracts and their function in academic writing. We distinguish between informative and descriptive abstracts and show samples of each type. After we consider the writing process best used for writing abstracts, we conclude with a discussion of sample abstracts.

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  • In today’s presentation, I am going to describe the two most common types of abstracts and give you some tips on writing them. We will also look at a few examples of abstracts to make sure you understand the basic approaches to writing them.
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  • Descriptive and informative abstracts are variously defined in the literature. Many definitions suggest that an informative abstract should be a miniature version of the full paper, whereas an descriptive abstract should resemble a table of contents. In practice, the differences between the two types often become blurred. By and large, however, descriptive abstracts are simply those that contain information on the purpose, scope or methodology, but not on the results, conclusions, or recommendations. The preferred definition for an informative abstract is that, although it may contain information on purpose, scope, and methods, it must also contain results, at minimum, and conclusions or recommendations, at most.
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  • Let’s take a look at one now (will someone with a loud voice please read this).

    What’s the purpose? (to investigate the effectiveness of CPR in a specific class for helping students learn to write scientific abstracts)
    What are the methods? (comparison of writing quality for abstracts written in with CPR with feedback and abstracts given feedback generated by Teaching Assistants)
    scope? (a specific course, two classes, 50 students in one class and 256 in another). Scope includes what sort of setting CPR was examined in, as well as the number of abstracts compared.

    Notice this abstract does not give results. Its length is about 66 words.
  • Purple Text is Purpose – The purpose is clearly outlined and defined. The author does include extra details such as the dates and what he hopes to achieve (to clarify) but is concise enough
    Blue Text is Scope and Green text is Method – The author describes what is included, what data is analyzed. Additionally he mentions how he does this (part of the method).
    Orange Text is Conclusions. Additionally, this abstract includes some conclusions. Often, results are not included in a descriptive abstract but he does not mention specific results and just offers a general conclusion to his research.
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  • Note how this adds findings but not significance. This is because of the emphasis of the study—answering the basic research questions was more important than any larger significance. The quality of abstracts improved with CPR feedback more than with TA-generated feedback. Students also improved in their ability to review over the course of a semester, as measured by CPR. The total number of words is about 103.
  • Some published abstracts defy easy classification as purely informative or purely descriptive abstracts, and for this reason I have taken up A&M—Texarcana Professor, Kitty O. Locker’s understanding of them as “hybrid” abstracts. This isn’t a common term, so don’t go googling it.

    But what you’ll see is that these abstracts are alike in that they are unalike! They often arise from publisher’s preferences for various formats and inclusions, just as they are generated to meet the guidelines of granting institutions, conferences, and professors….or even yourself. Maybe you’ve discovered that abstracting articles is an easy way to determine your reading comprehension or study for prelims. Whatever it is, if you suspect that you’ve been tasked with writing a hybrid abstract (CLICK SLIDE), be sure to check the specifications for authors. You’ll want to meet those guidelines exactly.
  • These are specific guidelines from journals that indicate what they want in an abstract.

    The first example here is much like an informative abstract, but it privileges the significance.

    The second example specifically asks the reader to avoid a few things. What are they?

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  • Here is an example abstract taken from the July 2012 version of the Texas A&M University Thesis Office thesis template. (This example actually specifies their requirements.)

  • I’ve compiled these guidelines from a number of sources and websites, checking for redundancy, and including most, if not all, guidelines available to the general abstract author. You’ll find that guidelines basically come down to brevity (as with #1—read it)
    Accessibility and Usefulness (as see in point #2)
  • Conciseness, Exactness of language, and echoing the tone and emphasis of the original document. So…. Take a moment to peruse these guidelines and feel free to ask any questions.
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  • For more help writing an abstract, make an appointment with us at writingcenter.tamu.edu.
  • Abstracts (for graduate students)

    1. 1. Writing Abstracts
    2. 2. What Is an Abstract? A concise description of a longer document, which…  highlights the major points  describes the content and scope of the document  reviews the contents of the document in a restricted form 3
    3. 3. Audience Researchers Conference organizers Conference attendees Readers of articles, posters, or reports 4
    4. 4. Uses for Abstracts Researchers use databases of abstracts to decide which documents they should read more closely. Organizers decide who should be on the conference program. Attendees read abstracts on a program to decide what to attend. Readers decide whether to continue reading an article, poster, or report. 5
    5. 5. Not All Abstracts Are Alike Descriptive vs. Informative Check the style guide or the instructions to authors for the conference or publication you are targeting. They may have specific guidelines and may instruct you to include additional information. http://images.amazon.com/image s/P/160329024 6
    6. 6. Descriptive Informative 7
    7. 7. Descriptive Abstracts • Introduce the subject in 70-200 words • Include the purpose, methods (or theoretical construction), and scope of the work • Could use the IM of IMRAD (Introduction, Method, Results, and Discussion) • Omit results, conclusions, recommendations • Key phrases: “This paper reports”; “It includes”; “It summarizes” 8
    8. 8. This study investigated the effectiveness of Calibrated Peer Review (CPR ) ™ in a senior-level biochemistry class for improving students’ ability to write scientific abstracts. The CPR process for feedback was compared with Teaching Assistant- generated feedback. Statistical analyses of three assignments by 50 students and a separate analysis of the abstract written by 256 students were used to measure differences in writing quality for each type of feedback. From: “Development of Student Writing in Biochemistry Using Calibrated Peer Review,” by Yasha Hartberg, Adelet Baris Gunersel, Nancy Simpson and Valerie Balester, Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 2008. 9
    9. 9. This dissertation examines the impacts of social movements through a multi‐layered study of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement from its peak in the early 1960s through the early 1980s. By examining this historically important case, I clarify the process by which movements transform social structures and the constraints movements face when they try to do so. The time period studied includes the expansion of voting rights and gains in black political power, the desegregation of public schools and the emergence of white‐flight academies, and the rise and fall of federal anti‐poverty programs. I use two major research strategies: (1) a quantitative analysis of county‐level data and (2) three case studies. Data have been collected from archives, interviews, newspapers, and published reports. This dissertation challenges the argument that movements are inconsequential. Some view federal agencies, courts, political parties, or economic elites as the agents driving institutional change, but typically these groups acted in response to the leverage brought to bear by the civil rights movement. The Mississippi movement attempted to forge independent structures for sustaining challenges to local inequities and injustices. By propelling change in an array of local institutions, movement infrastructures had an enduring legacy in Mississippi. Kenneth Tait Andrews, "'Freedom is a constant struggle': The dynamics and consequences of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, 1960‐1984" Ph.D. State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1997 DAI‐A 59/02, p. 620, Aug 1998. 10
    10. 10. Informative Abstracts •Include the purpose, methods (or theoretical construction), and scope of work •Include results, conclusions, recommendations •Can use IMRAD as a model (Introduction, Method, Results, and Discussion) •Can be from a paragraph to a page or two, depending upon the length of the original work being abstracted 11
    11. 11. This study investigated the effectiveness of Calibrated Peer Review (CPR)™ in a senior-level biochemistry class to improve students’ ability to write scientific abstracts. The writing quality of scientific abstracts composed with feedback from CPR was compared with the writing quality of abstracts composed with Teaching Assistant-generated feedback. Statistical analyses of three assignments by 50 students indicated significant differences between CPR and Teaching Assistant feedback on student writing quality. While scores of students who received Teaching Assistant feedback decreased, scores of students who used CPR improved. Students also progressed over the course of a semester in CPR-generated measures of their reviewing abilities. From: “Development of Student Writing in Biochemistry Using Calibrated Peer Review,” by Yasha Hartberg, Adelet Baris Gunersel, Nancy Simpson and Valerie Balester, Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 2008. 12
    12. 12. Abstract Variations Arise from Style Requirements: • Publisher’s Preferences • Grant-Specific Instructions • Conference/Organizations’ Guidelines • Professors’ Instructions *Check if your targeted audience has specifications for abstracts. If so, follow those guidelines exactly! 13
    13. 13. Ex. 1. (Journal of Nutrition) The abstract must be a single paragraph of no more than 250 words summarizing the relevant problem addressed by the study and the theory or hypothesis that guided the research. The abstract should include the study design/methodology and clear statements of the results, conclusions and importance of the findings. Three to five key words for indexing purposes must be listed at the end of the abstract. Ex. 2. (Journal of Molecular and Cellular Biology) Limit the abstract to 200 words or fewer and concisely summarize the basic content of the paper without presenting extensive experimental details. Avoid abbreviations and references, and do not include diagrams. When it is essential to include a reference, use the same format as shown for the Reference section but omit the article title. Because the abstract will be published separately by abstracting services, it must be complete and understandable without reference to the text. Abstract Variations 14
    14. 14. Texas A&M Thesis Office Abstract Requirements • Should be a succinct snapshot of the research. • Should be able to stand alone, with no formal citations or references. • Include all of the elements of your dissertation or thesis. • State the problem and methods in the first paragraph. • Subsequent paragraphs discuss research and results. • The abstract must not be longer than 350 words. To view a model abstract, download the Texas A&M thesis manual found on the Texas A&M Thesis Office web site at thesis.tamu.edu.
    15. 15. Guidelines for Writing Abstracts • Make the abstract easy to read and use. – Use familiar words. If unfamiliar words and jargon are necessary, concisely define them. – Only use well known abbreviations and acronyms. – Use short sentences, but vary sentence structure so the abstract doesn’t sound choppy. – Use complete sentences. Don’t omit articles or other little words in an effort to save space. – If the abstract is more than 250 words, divide it into several paragraphs. 17
    16. 16. Guidelines for Writing Abstracts • Be concise, exact, and unambiguous. – Rephrase ideas from the original document to condense the idea into fewer words. – Use standard abbreviations. – Give information only once. – Use the past tense, unless otherwise instructed. – Avoid prepositional phrases. Use adjectives/adverbs & precise nouns/verbs to replace prepositional phrases. – Use lists and parallel clauses. • Avoid citing the work of others in the abstract, unless the study is a replication or evaluation of their work. – If you must include the work of others in the abstract, be sure to properly cite it. 18
    17. 17. Abstracts must contain key words about what is essential in the main document. Key words are used to search databases. These are the terms the database uses to file and retrieve the abstract. Review your abstract for potential key words that someone researching the topic can use. Key Words 19
    18. 18. Qualities of a Good Abstract • Presents the document’s purpose, method, results, conclusion, and recommendations, in that order • Provides logical connections or transitions between sentences • Is comprehensible to a wide audience • Is direct, concise, and clear 20
    19. 19. Write the Draft 1. Check style guidelines. 2. Re-read the original document. 3. In each major section, highlight key information. 4. Create a single paragraph using your own words. 5. Smooth it out with transitions. 21
    20. 20. Revise the Draft 7. Be sure you’ve included all necessary parts. Check the abstract against the original for accuracy. 8. Edit for wordiness. Check organization and transitions. 9. Double check guidelines and instructions. 22
    21. 21. Checklist Have you included the following?  Subject  Scope  Purpose  Methods (or other disciplinary research process)  Results (if required)  Recommendations, implications, or significance (if required)  Key words 23
    22. 22. For More Help… Visit our website or call us to schedule an appointment. We can help you write an abstract for any context or discipline. 25

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