Abstract (summary)

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An abstract is a brief summary of a research article, thesis, review, conference proceeding or any in-depth analysis of a particular subject or discipline, and is often used to help the reader quickly ascertain the paper's purpose.[1] When used, an abstract always appears at the beginning of a manuscript or typescript, acting as the point-of-entry for any given academic paper or patent application. Abstracting and indexing services for various academic disciplines are aimed at compiling a body of literature for that particular subject.

The terms précis or synopsis are used in some publications to refer to the same thing that other publications might call an "abstract". In management reports, an executive summary usually contains more information (and often more sensitive information) than the abstract does.

Purpose and limitations[edit]

Academic literature uses the abstract to succinctly communicate complex research. An abstract may act as a stand-alone entity instead of a full paper. As such, an abstract is used by many organizations as the basis for selecting research that is proposed for presentation in the form of a poster, platform/oral presentation or workshop presentation at an academic conference. Most literature database search engines index only abstracts rather than providing the entire text of the paper. Full texts of scientific papers must often be purchased because of copyright and/or publisher fees and therefore the abstract is a significant selling point for the reprint or electronic form of the full text.[2]

Abstracts are protected under copyright law just as any other form of written speech is protected. However, publishers of scientific articles invariably make abstracts freely available, even when the article itself is not. For example, articles in the biomedical literature are available publicly from MEDLINE which is accessible through PubMed. The abstract can convey the main results and conclusions of a scientific article but the full text article must be consulted for details of the methodology, the full experimental results, and a critical discussion of the interpretations and conclusions. Consulting the abstract alone is inadequate for scholarship and may lead to inappropriate medical decisions.[3]

An abstract allows one to sift through copious amounts of papers for ones in which the researcher can have more confidence that they will be relevant to his or her research. Once papers are chosen based on the abstract, they must be read carefully to be evaluated for relevance. It is commonly surmised that one must not base reference citations on the abstract alone, but the entire merits of a paper.

According to the results of a study published in PLOS Medicine, the "exaggerated and inappropriate coverage of research findings in the news media" is ultimately related to inaccurately reporting or over-interpreting research results in many abstract conclusions.[4] A study published in JAMA concluded that "inconsistencies in data between abstract and body and reporting of data and other information solely in the abstract are relatively common and that a simple educational intervention directed to the author is ineffective in reducing that frequency."[5] Other "studies comparing the accuracy of information reported in a journal abstract with that reported in the text of the full publication have found claims that are inconsistent with, or missing from, the body of the full article."[6][7]

Structure[edit]

An academic abstract typically outlines four elements relevant to the completed work:

  • The research focus (i.e. statement of the problem(s)/research issue(s) addressed);
  • The research methods used (experimental research, case studies, questionnaires, etc.);
  • The results/findings of the research; and
  • The main conclusions and recommendations

It may also contain brief references,[8] although some publications' standard style omits references from the abstract, reserving them for the article body (which, by definition, treats the same topics but in more depth).

Abstract length varies by discipline and publisher requirements. Typical length ranges from 100 to 500 words, but very rarely more than a page and occasionally just a few words.[9] An abstract may or may not have the section title of "abstract" explicitly listed as an antecedent to content. Abstracts are typically sectioned logically as an overview of what appears in the paper, with any of the following subheadings: Background, Introduction, Objectives, Methods, Results, Conclusions .[citation needed] Abstracts in which these subheadings are explicitly given are often called structured abstracts by publishers. In articles that follow the IMRAD pattern (especially original research, but sometimes other article types), structured abstract style is the norm .[citation needed] (The "A" of abstract may be added to "IMRAD" yielding "AIMRAD".) Abstracts that comprise one paragraph (no explicit subheadings) are often called unstructured abstracts by publishers. They are often appropriate for review articles that don't follow the IMRAD pattern within their bodies .[citation needed]

Example[edit]

Example taken from the Journal of Biology, Volume 3, Issue 2.:[10]

The hydrodynamics of dolphin drafting

by Daniel Weihs, Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa 32000, Israel.

Abstract:

Background Drafting in cetaceans is defined as the transfer of forces between individuals without actual physical contact between them. This behavior has long been surmised to explain how young dolphin calves keep up with their rapidly moving mothers. It has recently been observed that a significant number of calves become permanently separated from their mothers during chases by tuna vessels. A study of the hydrodynamics of drafting, initiated inmechanisms causing the separation of mothers and calves during fishing-related activities, is reported here.

Results Quantitative results are shown for the forces and moments around a pair of unequally sized dolphin-like slender bodies. These include two major effects. First, the so-called Bernoulli suction, which stems from the fact that the local pressure drops in areas of high speed, results in an attractive force between mother and calf. Second is the displacement effect, in which the motion of the mother causes the water in front to move forwards and radially outwards, and water behind the body to move forwards to replace the animal's mass. Thus, the calf can gain a 'free ride' in the forward-moving areas. Utilizing these effects, the neonate can gain up to 90% of the thrust needed to move alongside the mother at speeds of up to 2.4 m/s. A comparison with observations of eastern spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) is presented, showing savings of up to 60% in the thrust that calves require if they are to keep up with their mothers.

Conclusions A theoretical analysis, backed by observations of free-swimming dolphin schools, indicates that hydrodynamic interactions with mothers play an important role in enabling dolphin calves to keep up with rapidly moving adult school members.

© 2004 Weihs; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article: verbatim copying and redistribution of this article are permitted in all media for any purpose, provided this notice is preserved along with the article's original URL

Abstract Types[edit]

Informative[edit]

The informative abstract, also known as the complete abstract, is a compendious summary of a paper's substance including its background, purpose, methodology, results, and conclusion.[11][12] Usually between 100 and 200 words, the informative abstract summarizes the paper's structure, its major topics and key points.[11] A format for scientific short reports that is similar to an informative abstract has been proposed in recent years.[13] Informative abstracts may be viewed as standalone documents.[11]

Descriptive[edit]

The descriptive abstract, also known as the limited abstract or the indicative abstract, provides a description of what the paper covers without delving into its substance.[14] A descriptive abstract is akin to a table of contents in paragraph form.[14]

Graphical abstracts[edit]

During the late 2000s, due to the influence of computer storage and retrieval systems such as the Internet, some scientific publications, such as Journal of Colloid and Interface Science, started including graphical abstracts alongside the text abstracts. The graphic is intended to summarize or be an exemplar for the main thrust of the article. It is not intended to be as exhaustive a summary as the text abstract, rather it is supposed to indicate the type, scope, and technical coverage of the article at a glance.

Abstract quality assessment[edit]

Various methods can be used to evaluate abstract quality, e.g. rating by readers, checklists (not necessary in structured abstracts), and readability measures (such as Flesch Reading Ease).[15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Books
  • Finkelstein Jr, Leo (2004). Pocket Book of Technical Writing for Engineers and Scientists. (2. ed.). London: McGraw-Hill Education - Europe. ISBN 0072468491. 
Notes
  1. ^ Gary Blake and Robert W. Bly, The Elements of Technical Writing, pg. 117. New York: Macmillan Publishers, 1993. ISBN 0020130856
  2. ^ Gliner, Jeffrey A; Morgan, George Arthur (2000-02-01). Research methods in applied settings. Google Book Search. ISBN 978-0-8058-2992-1. Retrieved 2009-0w4-22.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  3. ^ "Meta-analysis, decision analysis ...". Google Book Search. Retrieved 2009-04-22. 
  4. ^ Amélie Yavchitz et al. (September 11, 2012). "Misrepresentation of Randomized Controlled Trials in Press Releases and News Coverage: A Cohort Study". PLOS Medicine. p. 8-9, 11. 
  5. ^ Pitkin, Roy M.; Branagan, Mary Ann (July 15, 1998). "Can the Accuracy of Abstracts Be Improved by Providing Specific Instructions?". JAMA. p. 267, 268. 
  6. ^ Sally Hopewell et al. (January 22, 2008). "CONSORT for Reporting Randomized Controlled Trials in Journal and Conference Abstracts:Explanation and Elaboration". JAMA. p. 48, 49. 
  7. ^ Robert Siebers (January 2001). "Data Inconsistencies in Abstracts of Articles in Clinical Chemistry". Clinical Chemistry. p. 149. 
  8. ^ "Journal Paper Submission Guidelines". Docstoc.com. 2008-11-15. Archived from the original on 4 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-22. 
  9. ^ Berry; Brunner, N; Popescu, S; Shukla, P (2011). "Can apparent superluminal neutrino speeds be explained as a quantum weak measurement?". J. Phys. A: Math. Theor. , (2011) 44 (49): 2001. arXiv:1110.2832. Bibcode:2011JPhA...44W2001B. doi:10.1088/1751-8113/44/49/492001. 
  10. ^ Mann, J; Smuts, B. "The hydrodynamics of dolphin drafting". Animal Behaviour 55 (5): 1097–113. doi:10.1006/anbe.1997.0637. PMID 9632497. Retrieved 2009-04-22. 
  11. ^ a b c Finkelstein Jr, pp. 212-214.
  12. ^ "Types of Abstracts". Colorado State University. Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  13. ^ Hortolà, Policarp (2008). "An ergonomic format for short reporting in scientific journals using nested tables and the Deming’s cycle". Journal of Information Science 34 (2). doi:10.1177/0165551507082590. 
  14. ^ a b Finkelstein Jr, pp. 211-212.
  15. ^ Ufnalska SB, Hartley J. 2009. How can we evaluate the quality of abstracts? European Science Editing 35(3):69-71.