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Technical Writing: Models for Writing Informative Abstracts

Module by: Gayle Griggs. E-mail the authorEdited By: Benjamin Lugo, Gayle Griggs, Haniel Cordero, Jose A. Cruz-Cruz

Summary: In all disciplines, professionals and academics prepare documents such as proposals, articles, theses, conference proceedings, scientific papers, analyses, and other works related to research studies. Abstracts briefly summarize conducted research and provide central and principal information to the reader. This module offers formats, guidelines, components, and steps for preparing informative abstracts, which are used in the sciences, engineering, and psychology. The module also discusses writing effective titles for research papers.

Objectives:

Students will learn that abstracts obey specific document formats and guidelines based on the parameters established by the publication media, conference, or oral presentation.

Students will learn the definition of abstract, their types, formats, elements, lengths, purpose, and criteria. Students will also learn about appropriate titles and their guidelines for research projects and reports.

Materials:

PowerPoint Presentation: Media File: Technical Writing-Models for Writing Informative Abstracts.ppsx

Additional materials provided by the instructor: Exemplary abstracts and titles in the specific discipline.

Additional writing and grammar exercises for engineers and scientists can be accessed online:

Alley, M. (2010): http://www.writing.engr.psu.edu/exercises/

Effective Writing for Business and Technology: http://www.technical-expressions.com/summaries/exercises/index.html

Gillet, A. (2012): http://www.uefap.com/writing/genre/abstract.htm

Widom, J. (2006): http://infolab.stanford.edu/~widom/paper-writing.html

Instructional Procedure and Teaching Strategies:

Slide # 2: Introduction. This slide presents a synopsis of the information contained in the presentation.

Figure 1
Figure 1 (graphics1.png)

Slide # 3: Abstract Definitions. The instructor will present this slide with the definitions of the word “abstract”. Students will discuss and determine which of the five meanings correctly define research abstracts. Students should notice the part of speech indicated for each definition. When the slide is clicked (to advance), the correct definition will be underlined.

Figure 2
Figure 2 (graphics2.png)

Slides # 4 and # 5: These slides provide the definitions for abstracts. The first definition is from the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) and the National Information Standards Institute (NISO). The second is written by the module’s author.

Figure 3
Figure 3 (graphics3.png)
Figure 4
Figure 4 (graphics4.png)

Slide # 6: Purpose. Students should learn that abstracts have clear purposes, depending on the field of study, but that all abstracts should attract the attention of the reader and demonstrate that the study was worthwhile.

Figure 5
Figure 5 (graphics5.png)

Slide # 7: Abstracts in the Disciplines. Slide # 8: Informative Abstract. Slide # 9: Indicative (or Descriptive Abstract).

The instructor should explain that there are two principal types of abstracts, depending on the discipline: Informative and Indicative (or Descriptive).

Informative abstracts are written for scientific or technical documents. Indicative abstracts are “best used for less-structured documents, such as editorials, essays, opinions or descriptions;” or longer works including “books, conference proceedings, directories, bibliographies, lists, and annual reports” (NISO, 1997, p. 3).

Figure 6
Figure 6 (graphics6.png)

Each abstract follows the specific criteria for the particular field of study.

Figure 7
Figure 7 (graphics7.png)
Figure 8
Figure 8 (graphics8.png)

Slide # 10: Informative Abstract Format. Next, the instructor will discuss slide # 10, the required criteria and format for writing informative abstracts. This slide may be adapted to incorporate more specific relevant criteria for abstracts in a particular discipline.

Figure 9
Figure 9 (graphics9.png)

The instructor should highlight the above quote by McGirr, 1973, and explain that, many times, when conducting database research, the abstract and the paper’s title are the only elements offered. As a result, the abstract should appeal to readers’ interests and persuade them that they should obtain a full text copy of the document for in-depth information.

Slide # 11: Abstract Lengths. This slide explains typical lengths of abstracts based on their genre (ANSI/NISO, 1997, p.4). A good rule of thumb is that an abstract is usually 10% or less the length of a report.

Figure 10
Figure 10 (graphics10.png)

Slide # 12: Abstract Basics. This slide provides specific criteria observed for all abstracts.

Figure 11
Figure 11 (graphics11.png)

Slide # 13: The Informative Abstract. This slide lists the items that should be briefly summarized in informative abstracts. While discussing this slide, highlight that the abstract is a “miniature version of the paper” (Day & Gastel, 2011, p. 53).

Figure 12
Figure 12 (graphics12.png)

Slide # 14: Appealing Abstracts. Repeat to the students that the abstract is read first and will determine whether the reader will read the paper. Therefore, it should fulfill the below conditions.

Figure 13
Figure 13 (graphics13.png)

Slide # 15: & 16 Writing the Abstract. If students follow these steps (Kretchmer & Blanco, 2008), they will more efficiently be able to identify chief elements and organize abstracts accordingly.

Figure 14
Figure 14 (graphics14.png)
Figure 15
Figure 15 (graphics15.png)

Slide # 17: 5 Questions Good Abstracts Answer. According to the ERS (2010), good abstracts should briefly address the questions mentioned in this slide. Students should be asked why it is important that abstracts address these questions. Questions can include the following for the points (possible responses are provided in parentheses):

  1. What importance do background and summary have in an abstract? (To present the most up-to-date information and clarify the study’s purpose.)
  2. Why should the study’s primary objectives be presented? (To explain possible hypotheses and justify why it was studied.
  3. Which methods or techniques should be highlighted? (Those needed for the reader to understand the study. Those that demonstrate the study’s design and context.)
  4. What type of findings should be included in an abstract? (Significant data and results.)
  5. Why explain its significance? (To highlight the study’s importance and descibe its potential implications. To justify the reason for conducting the study.)
Figure 16
Figure 16 (graphics16.png)

Slide # 18: Group Activity. For this activity, the instructor should have one or more abstracts (with varying degrees of accuracy) available to the students for reading in class or as an assignment. The links provided in the Materials section (above) of this module also contain exercises that may be adapted for the students.

Groups of three or more students should read the abstract(s) and locate the statements that respond to the questions in Slide # 17. Class dialogue should follow for the students to present and discuss their responses.

It is important that the instructor point out that, depending on the type of report, some of the questions from Slide # 17 may not be needed in the abstract.

Figure 17
Figure 17 (graphics17.png)

Slides # 19: Titles Attract the Reader; # 20: Effective Titles; # 21 Research Paper Titles.

The instructor should discuss the three slides and emphasize what should and should not be included in a title.

Figure 18
Figure 18 (graphics18.png)
Figure 19
Figure 19 (graphics19.png)

Figure 20
Figure 20 (graphics20.png)

Slide # 22: Group Activity. For this activity, the instructor should provide a list of titles to the students. These titles should vary in accuracy, length, and appropriateness based on the information presented in Slides 19, 20, and 21. Students (in groups) should analyze the titles and discuss their limitations and strengths with their peers. Class dialogue should follow for the students to present and discuss their responses.

Figure 21
Figure 21 (graphics21.png)

Slide # 23: Summary. Summarize main components of abstracts with the students and emphasize that, due to the numerous types of abstracts, it is important to follow the criteria stipulated by the publication.

Figure 22
Figure 22 (graphics22.png)

Assessment:

After presenting the module and completing the in-class activities, the instructor should assess students on the knowledge gained from the instruction.

One method would be to quiz individual students with the same practice abstracts and titles that the instructor had provided in the class activities. Another approach would be to present new abstracts and titles for the students to evaluate. Evaluation instruments might be fashioned as short open responses and multiple choice options.

In addition, the links provided in the Materials section (above) of this module also contain exercises that may be adapted for the students.

References

Albarran, J. (Nov. 2007). Planning, developing, and writing an effective conference abstract. British Journal of Cariac Nursing, 2(11), 570-572.

Alley, M. (2010). Writing exercises for engineers and scientists. Retrieved June 14, 2012, from http://www.writing.engr.psu.edu/exercises/ANSI/NISO. (1997). Guidelines for abstracts, American National Standards Institute/National Information Standards Organization (pp. i.-14). Bethesda, MD: NISO Press.

Day, R. A., & Gastel, B. (2011). How to prepare an abstract How to write and publish a scientific paper (7th ed., pp. 53-58). Santa Barbara: Greenwood.

Editage. (2012). Manuscript preparation. Retrieved June 20, 2012, from http://www.editage.com/resources/art11.html

Elliott, C. M. (2008). Writing effective titles [PowerPoint Presentation]. Urbana-Champain: The Board of Trustees of the University of Illionios.

European Respiratory Society (2010). How to write a good abstract. 2012(May 17). Retrieved from http://erscongress2010.org/1063-abstracts.htm

Fathalla, M. F., & Fathalla, M. M. F. (2004). A practical guide for health researchers. from http://applications.emro.who.int/dsaf/dsa237.pdf

Koopman, P. (October 1997). How to write an abstract. Retrieved June 3, 2012, from www.ece.cmu.edu/~koopman/essays/abstract.html

Kretchmer, P., & Blanco, P. (2008). Ten steps to writing an effective abstract. Retrieved 15 June, 2012, from http://www.sfedit.net/abstract.pdf

Leahy, R. (1992). Twenty titles for the writer. College Composition and Communication, 43(4), 516-519.

McGirr, C. J. (1973). Guidelines for abstracting. Technical Communication, 25(22), 25.

North Carolina State University at Raleigh. (2002). Be a better author. Retrieved from http://www.ncsu.edu/project/posters/NewSite/documents/betterauthor.pdf

Pritchard, D. R. (1994). The American Heritage Dictionary. In D. R. Pritchard (Ed.), The American Heritage Dictionary (3rd ed.). New York: Laurel.

The University of Adelaide. (2009) Writing an abstract. Writing Centre Learning Guide. Retrieved from http://www.adelaide.edu.au/writingcentre/learning_guides/learningGuide_ writingAnAbstract.pdf

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