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This screencast was produced for the Inf6350 Information Resources and Information Literacy class in October 2013. This is a class in the Masters programme at Sheffield University's Information School. It describes what abstracts are and why they are useful, identifies different types of abstract, and describes a process for abstracting.

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  • Unbalanced: e.g. paying disproportionate attention to one part that the author is proud of, skimming over another aspect
  • Slanting to audience: e.g. there may be an article on KM which is abstracted in current awareness publications aimed at IT specialists and at human resources managers respectively. The former might have more detail on systems, the latter more detail on the findings concerning interpersonal communications and personnel impact. Critical abstract: includes concise critique of methods, research question, treatment etc. Needs to be done by a domain expert. Time consuming, so rare.
  • Hartley and Sydes (1995) propose a longer set of headings: Background, aims, method, results, conclusions and (optional) comment. They also give guidelines on layout. Their report is a result of BL funded research
  • Readability tests e.g. FOG index or the tools in Word i.e. “ Flesch Reading Ease score Rates text on a 100-point scale; the higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. For most standard documents, aim for a score of approximately 60 to 70.” “ Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score Rates text on a U.S. grade-school level. For example, a score of 8.0 means that an eighth grader can understand the document. For most standard documents, aim for a score of approximately 7.0 to 8.0.” [whatever an 8th grader is…]
  • Try to avoid getting bogged down in detail: e.g. you might want to hold off using highlighter as this can get you too focused on individual sentences so you lose sight of the wood for the trees This implies reading the article at least twice to write a decent abstract. Some sources advise “skimming” rather than reading.
  • Do not lift sentences: apart from plagiarism, they will be in a different style and may contain redundant words and phrases that are not central to the article
  • Abstracting

    1. 1. Abstracting Inf6350 Information Resources and Information Literacy October 2013 Sheila Webber Copyright Sheila Webber and Sheffield University Information School
    2. 2. Objectives • Understand the nature and utility of an abstract • Understand the difference between an indicative, an informative and a structured abstract • Develop ability to evaluate abstracts Sheila Webber, 2013
    3. 3. Abstract A concise and accurate representation of the contents of a document Concise: short, clear sentences Accurate representation: should convey what the document is about, without misrepresenting the author(s) and their views Sheila Webber, 2013
    4. 4. Not the same as … • Indexing: representing the subject of a document by keywords/phrases • Extract: direct lifting of one or more portions of text, unchanged • Paraphrase: interpretation of the ideas in a document, in the language of the interpreter • Annotation or review – where you will be giving your opinion on an article’s usefulness, reliability etc. Sheila Webber, 2013
    5. 5. Why have abstracts? • Saves the time of the reader • Acts as substitute for document • May be more accessible than original (e.g. employing less specialist jargon) • Can use to assess relevance of original document (is it worth going on to read the whole thing?) Sheila Webber, 2013
    6. 6. Why are they relevant to you? • A number of modules require an abstract of your essay, dissertation etc. • In workplace: ability to identify and convey key points of a document important: most managers do not like long documents • There are also still some information and library jobs where producing abstracts is a key part of the job Sheila Webber, 2013
    7. 7. Where do you often find abstracts? • With the documents themselves e.g. at the start of an article • In abstracting journals/databases e.g. Library and Information Science Abstracts Sheila Webber, 2013
    8. 8. Problems with abstracts written by the author him/herself • May be badly written • May give an unbalanced view of the paper • May reflect what author wished he/she had written • May be copyright restrictions concerning how the abstract can be used Sheila Webber, 2013
    9. 9. Ways abstracts vary • Audience they are aimed at (abstract may be slanted to suit their interests) • Nature of original document (e.g. scholarly research article, opinion piece, lengthy report) • Indicative or informative • Ordinary or Structured abstract Sheila Webber, 2013
    10. 10. Indicative • Tells you the overall scope and purpose of the document • Indicates key themes, methods, conclusions • Enough information to tell you what it is about, not usually enough to substitute for document • Tells you the overall scope and purpose of the document • Informs you about key themes, methods, conclusions • May substitute for document if you only need the most important data • Usually takes longer to write Informative Sheila Webber, 2013
    11. 11. Structured abstracts • Use headings to give the abstract a more obvious structure (though all abstracts should have a clear structure) • Normally informative • Research has shown that structured abstracts are quicker to read and understand • When you are writing for a journal, then you will be told which headings to use • We in the Information School will also normally give you a list of headings for structured abstracts (e.g. for your dissertation) Sheila Webber, 2013
    12. 12. Informative & Structured – when? • Informative and structured abstracts are most appropriate – when the original document is well structured e.g. an article reporting on research results and/or – when the audience will derive significant benefit from having something close to a substitute for the document (e.g. saving time or money) The audience may have to pay extra for this benefit • Informative and structured abstracts are less appropriate for opinion pieces, longer items, less formal writing Sheila Webber, 2013
    13. 13. Which should you use? • In this Department: your assignment briefing should tell which is required! If it doesn’t, then ask the module coordinator Sheila Webber, 2013
    14. 14. Abstract • Makes sense by itself • Gives an overview of key points from the whole document and includes aims & conclusions • Only mentions points made in the document • Cites no references & includes no quotes from other authors • Provides an introduction to the work e.g. by explaining the aims, why the topic is interesting • Forecasts the structure of the work but does not give you substance about key points or conclusions • May include quotes and references Introduction Difference between an abstract & an introduction Sheila Webber, 2013
    15. 15. All abstracts should have a structure e.g. for a scholarly article, a common structure is: Purpose and scope; Methodology; Results; Conclusions • This structure is the same for indicative and informative abstracts • Informative abstracts would have more detailed content • A Structured Abstract would differ in having headings for each aspect, rather than being in ordinary paragraphs • See examples on handout Sheila Webber, 2013
    16. 16. Abstracting a document • Use grammatically correct sentences: short and clear, rather than long and intricate • Make it readable (can do readability tests) • Avoid ambiguity • Use terminology appropriate to target audience • Do not add your own interpretation • The abstract should make sense on its own Sheila Webber, 2013
    17. 17. Process • Read the article. – Try to avoid getting bogged down in detail at this point: you are identifying what the article is about – The document’s introduction, conclusions and headings will normally give pointers to what is important • Make notes on the key points • If you are producing a structured abstract, use whatever headings given • Otherwise, use structure from the previous slide (if it is a scholarly article) to make notes for your informative or indicative abstract Sheila Webber, 2013
    18. 18. Process II • Draft a rough abstract – Summarise essential information about the purpose of the article in your first sentence. Do not duplicate the title. – Do not lift sentences from the original article • Redraft the abstract until it is in its final form. • Unless it is a Structured Abstract, it will normally be in one paragraph • Read through your abstract, then read through the article again. Is your abstract a good representation of the article? Sheila Webber, 2013
    19. 19. Sheila Webber Information School, University of Sheffield, UK s.webber@sheffield.ac.uk http://information-literacy.blogspot.com/ http://www.slideshare.net/sheilawebber Twitter: @sheilayoshikawa Sheila Webber, 2013