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Short Course in Abstracts © 2009 t/a Word-Caster NOTICE: The following information has the protection of United States and International copyright law. Its dissemination or copying in any form, physical or electronic, without expressed permission is strictly prohibited. Violations will be vigorously prosecuted. Accepted receipt of this document implies agreed conformance with United States and International copyright protection. Traditionally, abstracts come in two flavors: Descriptive Abstracts and Informational Abstracts. Some would argue for a third flavor, a combination of the two. Skepticism dictates that the third variety is probably the result of the writer’s: 1. Not knowing the difference between informational and descriptive abstracts; 2. Not being able or willing to evaluate one’s own abstract construction to determine if it conforms to the requirements of either type; 3. Not knowing the requirements dictated by the journal, conference, dissertation committee, supervisor, or executive committee. A descriptive abstract is precisely that. It describes the forthcoming manuscript. The purpose of the descriptive abstract is to provide an overall impression of the manuscript and prompt the reader to decide if the manuscript deserves reading. If the reader is doing research, the descriptive abstract will tell the researcher whether or not the manuscript deserves the time commitment for review or contains information which may be relevant to the reader’s area of inquiry. The subject of the descriptive abstract is the manuscript and uses such phrases as: “This research considers . . .” “This study includes, a rationale, a literature review, qualitative methodology, an analysis of the data, and a discussion of conclusions . . .” The above examples are generic, and brief. Adjectives and phrases specifying characteristics of the rationale, purpose, methodology, data, etc. make the abstract’s content (thereby the manuscript) clearer. In any case, the abstract contains very little actual information beyond the very general. Probably the most specific information concentrates on the manuscript’s purpose and conclusions, if any. A descriptive abstract is rarely more than a page long, no matter the length of the whole manuscript. Actually, two paragraphs are probably sufficient. An informational abstract is a substitute for reading the whole manuscript. The informational abstract is the “Readers’ Digest” version. The descriptive abstract has a structure exactly the same as the whole manuscript and condenses the information. A general guideline is that a descriptive abstract is about 10% of the whole; therefore, a 100 page manuscript might consist of approximately 10 pages, more or less. The subject of the informational abstract is the same as the whole document. Therefore, if the research involves the perceptions of customers toward fast food franchises, that is


the same subject for the abstract. Generally, informational abstracts do not contain specific data, graphs, charts, figures, and tables; they do contain the relevance of the data, an explanation of the study’s rationale, purpose, a summary of the literature, a summary of the data collection methodology, analysis techniques, and conclusions. Very often, a journal or a conference will request an abstract. Equally often, the type of abstract is not specified. The writer, proposing a manuscript or a presentation, needs to determine what the publisher or the conference authority seeks. For the most part, a well-written descriptive abstract is sufficient because it indicates what the article or presentation will entail. This will allow the journal’s editor or the reviewer of conference proposals to determine if the manuscript or presentation is current, relevant, scholarly, and of interest to the specific audience. Sometimes a request is for an Executive Summary. This is, to a large extent, another term for an informational abstract. Executives are busy (or at least they think they are) and often they are more managers than experts in the discipline the manuscript involves. The executive needs sufficient facts to be familiar with the subject, to make decisions, and to have sufficient confidence in projected outcomes. Under the best circumstances, creation of an abstract occurs AFTER completing the manuscript. Unfortunately, often, the request for an abstract pre-dates the finished manuscript. While a descriptive abstract is possible at this stage, an informational one is not, for obvious reasons. Also, in the situation of a confused chronology, a descriptive abstract may not, in fact, coincide with the final paper, especially if in preparation of the final manuscript, the study or discussion takes an unexpected turn. Editors and conference presentation proposal reviewers may not take kindly to surprises, and even less so to manuscripts that do not follow the original proposal.


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