The Quick and Easy Guide to Abstracts
An abstract is a short, formal introduction to both the content and
the organization of a larger document. Usually, the abstract is a requirement
for reports, studies or other written formats in which methodology is important.
(For example, some proposals rely heavily on methodology for their persuasive
force.) The abstract is also often required for submission to journals
The abstract appears at the beginning of the paper, either as part of
the title page or as a separate page in the front matter. It is always
short, ranging in size from 1 paragraph to 1 page. (Note: The
term "abstract" may be applied to a longer summary of statistical data.
In this usage, the "abstract" is a stand-alone document. Often, this kind
of "abstract" is used to summarize demographic or other statistical data
used by government agencies.)
Major Elements of an Abstract
While individual journals or professional associations may have specific
submission guidelines, most abstracts follow a typical format:
Additionally, you may need to include author information as requested.
This is especially important in cases of multiple authors.
Title (Full Title of Paper)
Purpose of Project
Types of Abstracts
There are two main types of abstracts. The Descriptive Abstract
details the scope and organization of the project. Often it summarizes
the Table of Contents. It is used to emphasize methodology. The Informative
Abstract highlights main points, findings and conclusions. It presents
a "mini paper" version of the project. But both formats are also persuasive.
They set audience expectations and evaluations of the project and authors.
As with all documents, technique follows purpose and audience needs/expectations.
Since abstracts are shorter than other summaries, you need to ensure accessible
and effective presentation. Some suggestions:
If you are not given submission guidelines, it is usually a good idea to
look for samples of past submissions (i.e., past issues of journals, conference
notes, etc.) These will give you an idea of the audience's expectations.
Keep the abstract shorter than 1 page.
Use prose only unless the submission guidelines allow for graphics.
Center the document.
Use standard type size and font style.
Check on other submission requirements.
For a fairly typical submission guideline, see the ISQUA
Conference Abstract Guidelines in Word Format.
Executive Summaries vs. Abstracts
Like the abstract, an executive summary provides an overview of the project.
However, the executive summary is usually a longer piece and adds a directly
persuasive element. The executive summary is meant to guide readers, especially
non-technical readers, through your main points. As the author, you direct
the readers' attention to highlights that strengthen your "argument."
An executive summary is usually longer than an abstract, providing more
detail and, perhaps, graphics. Also, the executive summary is a less formal
document and may be presented in either narrative or brochure (multi-column)
Finally, an executive summary is likely to target a different audience
than the full document. Often managers use the executive summary as their
primary decision making tool.
here to compare an abstract and an executive summary. (The executive
summary is linked below the abstract.)
Written By: George Knox © 1999