ummaries, as we know, are common in all kinds of writing, usually appearing at the end of a chapter or article, highlighting the major point of the piece and outlining the significant details. However, writers use many other forms of summary too. In business writing, for example, reports often begin with a summary, called an executive summary, allowing the reader a chance to see if the report (or some section of the report) is relevant to him/her before reading much of it. In academic writing, essays, articles, and reviews often begin with a summary too, called an abstract.
bstracts are very common in academic writing, and they have a fairly standard form. In essence, abstracts inform the reader of six bits of information about the piece of writing being summarized:
- What is the author's reason for writing?
- What is the author's main idea?
- What is the author's focus in this piece?
- Where does the author concentrate his/her attention?
- What kinds of evidence does the author provide?
- How does the author try to convince the reader of the validity of his/her main idea?
- What are the consequences of the problem or issue that the author is discussing?
- What solutions does the author present to the reader to resolve the problem or issue in the piece?
- Does the author recommend action or change in his/her piece?
- Does the author describe a 'cause and effect' relationship or explain the origins of this issue or problem?
- What conclusions does the author draw from his/her study of the issue or problem?
bstracts are not long only about a paragraph. (If we wrote one sentence to capture each point above, then the abstract would be six sentences long. Many writers find that they can combine several of the sentences of the abstract when the ideas are closely related.)
hen we compose abstracts, think of those six points above as "rhetorical moves" that we make, one at a time, sentence by sentence. First, in a single sentence, capture the author's purpose for writing that piece. Second, describe the author's focus. Every topic has a wealth of interesting aspects to explore. So authors make choices. In this second sentence, describe which points the author chose to study. The third move is to describe the methods used to study the topic. Does the author use statistics, case studies, anecdotes, (laboratory) experiments, observation, etc.? Fourth, those methods of study will yield some results. In one sentence, describe the author's results. Those results may lead the author to make recommendations about the topic or the method of study. In the fifth move, the fifth sentence, summarize those recommendations. Lastly, the author may make connections between this study, this work and other ideas related to this topic. In the sixth move, last sentence, summarize the author's conclusions.
n that discussion of composing an abstract above, note that the writer of an abstract never asks whether s/he agrees with the author, never mentions if s/he found the topic or the article interesting, and never introduces his/her own ideas about the topic or the method of study into the abstract. The writer of the abstract should make note of all of those, in careful detail, adding his/her evidence for those personal responses. Likely, s/he will be able to use those responses later, in his/her own analysis of, or argument around, the topic. Abstracts allow a writer to summarize another's ideas, carefully, neutrally, and thoroughly. If done well, these summaries of other people's thoughts about a topic will build ethical appeal for the writer of the abstracts in the eyes of the readers mostly one's professors in the case of undergraduate and graduate students. So, even if the writer takes a contrarian stance on the topic later in his/her paper, the writer will always appear fair and honest in his/her analysis and summary of other's ideas and proposals. That alone is persuasive, in addition to appearing principled and rigorous in one's thinking.
have a sample abstract summarizing a column by Roger Simon. (Simon is a syndicated newspaper columnist.) In the example, I try to illustrate the thinking process I am experiencing as I read and interpret Simon's piece while I compose my abstract. When you are ready to write your abstracts, please use the abstract checklist, rubric, and submission pages for abstract 1, abstracts 2 through 4, abstracts 5 through 7, and abstracts 8 through 10.
y the way, as you read my sample abstracts, do note a few other features that are common when abstracting another's work:
- always mention the author's name and the title of the work early in the abstract, and
- always refer to the author by using the surname.
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