An abstract is a brief summary, generally from 100 to 200 words, of the contents of a document such as a research paper, journal article, thesis, review, conference proceeding, and other academic or legal document. The primary purpose of an abstract is to facilitate a selection of documents. A reader can grasp the essential points of the document without reading a full document. A reader can decide what to read and what not to read. Abstracts thus expedite the process of selection and saves time. An abstract, together with index, is a key finding aid of information in today's overabundance of information.
There are mainly two types of abstracts—indicative (descriptive) and informative. Indicative abstracts describe only a metadata (data about the data) of a document, which includes the key research components such as purpose, scope, and research methodology. Indicative abstract simply describes what kind of research or writing the document is about and it does not contain any material content of the document such as conclusions. Informative abstracts, on the other hand, explain both material contents as well as its metadata. Other types of abstracts include critical abstracts which are "condensed critical reviews". A critical abstract is an evaluative summary of the document and the abstractor describes the strength and weakness of the paper often comparing with other works in the field.
Authors are often asked to submit abstracts when they submit research papers. Abstractors are required to have both a professional training and general knowledge about the subject area.
Abstracts are also an important element for indexing. Indexers and search engines use abstract to find metadata of the contents the document for the purpose of compiling indexes.
Types of abstracts
Indicative Abstract and Informative Abstract
An abstract is not only a brief summary of a document but it also must be an "accurate representation of the contents of a document." To create an abstract, an abstractor or a writer needs to identify two kinds of information about the document, metadata (data about the data) and the essence of its informative contents. Metadata is a description of what kind of information it is, which includes the purpose, scope, and research methodology. Informative contents are material contents of the document, which includes conclusions, suggestions, and recommendations. Depending on which information it contains, an abstract can be classified into two types: indicative (or descriptive) abstract and informative abstract.
Indicative abstracts contain only metadata of the document and does not include informative contents. Whereas, informative abstract includes both metadata and informative contents. While indicative abstract is short in length and common in abstraction services, author produced abstracts such as those of thesis, journal essays, and articles are usually informative ones.
- Indicative abstract
Telephone interviews were conducted in 1985 with 655 Americans sampled probabilistically. Opinions are expressed on whether: (1) the establishment of a Palestinian state is essential for peace in the region; (2) U.S. aid to Israel and to Egypt should be reduced; (3) the U.S. should (a) participate in a peace conference that includes the PLO,(b) favor neither Israel nor the Arab nations, (c) maintain friendly relations with both. Respondents indicated whether or not they had sufficient information concerning various national groups in the region.
- Informative abstract
Telephone interviews conducted in 1985 with 655 Americans, sampled probabilistically, brought these results: most (54-56%) think U.S. aid to Israel and Egypt should be reduced; most (65%) favor U.S. participation in a peace conference that includes the PLO; more than 80% consider it important that the U.S. should maintain friendly relations with both Israel and the Arab countries; 70% believe that the U.S. should favor neither side; most (55%) think that the establishment of a Palestinian state is essential to peace in the region. The Israelis are the best known of the national groups and the Syrians the least known. The Arab-Israeli situation is second only to the conflict in Central America among the most serious international problems faced by the U.S.
A critical abstract is a critical evaluation of the document. An abstractor evaluates the document and often compares it with other works on the same subject. Critical abstract is a "condensed critical review."
Other types of abstract
A modular abstract is a full content description of a document, consisting of five components: Citation, Annotation, Indicative abstract, Informative abstract, and Critical abstract. An abstracting service can use it for various purposes and needs.
Length of abstracts
An abstract is generally between 100 and 200 words. Some are, however, longer than 200 words and some are shorter than 100 words. In Indexing and Abstracting in Theory and Practise, W.L. Lancaster lists seven factors that affect the length of an abstract.
- The length of the document
- The complexity of the subject matter
- The diversity of the subject matter
- The importance of the item to the organization preparing the abstract
- The accessibility of the subject matter. If the item is a rare material and is not easily accessible, the abstract tends to be longer.
- Cost of abstracting
Abstracts in scientific literature
Scientific literature takes widespread advantage of the abstract as the abbreviated style of choice in order to aptly communicate complex research. In science, an abstract may act as a stand-alone entity in lieu of the paper as well. 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, podium/lecture, or workshop presentation at an academic conference. Most literature database search engines index abstracts only as opposed to 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 version of the full-text.
Abstracts are not public domain or open-source unless stated by the publisher. Therefore, abstracts are afforded protections under copyright law in many states just as any other form of written speech is protected. However, publishers of scientific articles invariably make abstracts publicly available, even when the article itself is protected by a toll barrier. For example, articles in the biomedical literature are available publicly from MEDLINE which is accessible through PubMed. It is a common misconception that the abstracts in MEDLINE provide sufficient information for medical practitioners, students, scholars and patients. 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.
Abstract length varies by discipline and publisher requirements. Typical length ranges from 100 to 500 words, but very rarely more than a page. An abstract may or may not have the section title of "abstract" explicitly listed as an antecedent to content, however, they are typically sectioned logically as an overview of what appears in the paper (e.g. any one of the following: Background, Introduction, Objectives, Methods, Results, Conclusions).
In journal articles, research papers, published patent applications and patents, an abstract is a short summary placed prior to the introduction, often set apart from the body of the text, sometimes with different line justification (as a block or pull quote) from the rest of the article.
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 research. Abstracts help one decide which papers might be relevant to his or her own 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.
Example taken from the Journal of Biology, Volume 3, Issue 2. The electronic version of this article is listed as Open Access as of March 30, 2005, and can be found online.
The hydrodynamics of dolphin drafting
by Daniel Weihs, Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa 32000, Israel.
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 in the hope of understanding the mechanisms causing the separation of mothers and calves during fishing-related activities, is reported here.
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.
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 in law
In law, an abstract is a brief statement that contains the most important points of a long legal document or of several related legal papers.
Abstract of Title
The Abstract of Title, used in real estate transactions, is the more common form of abstract. An abstract of title lists all the owners of a piece of land, a house, or a building before it came into possession of the present owner. The abstract also records all deeds, wills, mortgages, and other documents that affect ownership of the property. An abstract describes a chain of transfers from owner to owner and any agreements by former owners that are binding on later owners.
A Clear Title to property is one that clearly states any obligation in the deed to the property. It reveals no breaks in the chain of legal ownership. After the records of the property have been traced and the title has been found clear, it is sometimes guaranteed, or insured. In a few states, a more efficient system of insuring title real properties provides for registration of a clear title with public authorities. After this is accomplished, no abstract of title is necessary.
In the context of patent law and specifically in prior art searches, searching through abstracts is a common way to find relevant prior art document to question to novelty or inventive step (or non-obviousness in United States patent law) of an invention. Under United States patent law, the abstract may be called "Abstract of the Disclosure."
Certain government bureaucracies, such as a department of motor vehicles will issue an abstract of a completed transaction or an updated record intended to serve as a proof of compliance with some administrative requirement. This is often done in advance of the update of reporting databases and/or the issuance of official documents.
A property abstract is a collection of legal documents which chronicles activities associated with a particular parcel of land. Generally included are references to deeds, mortgages, wills, probate records, court litigations and tax sales. Basically, any essential legal documents that affect the property. The abstract will also show the names of all property owners and how long a particular holder owned it for as well as showing the price the land was exchanged for when it changed owners. Rarely an abstract will mention capital improvements to the property.
Recently, due to the influence of computer storage and retrieval systems such as the Internet, many scientific publications have started including graphical abstracts alongside the text abstracts. The graphic is intended to summarize or be an examplar 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.
- Wilfrid F. Lancaster, Indexing and Abstracting in Theory and Practice (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 1991), 88.
- Lancaster, 86.
- Lancaster, 86-96.
- Lancaster, 89.
- The hydrodynamics of dolphin drafting, Journal of Biology.
- United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) web site, 608.01(b) Abstract of the Disclosure Retrieved March 21, 2018.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Borko, Harold, and Charles L. Bernier. Abstracting Concepts and Methods. New York: Academic Press, 1971. ISBN 978-0874360790
- Cleveland, Donald B., and Ana D. Cleveland. Introduction to Indexing and Abstracting. Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1983. ISBN 978-0872873469
- Collison, Robert Lewis. Abstracts and Abstracting Services. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1971. ISBN 978-0874360790
- Lancaster, F. Wilfrid. Indexing and Abstracting in Theory and Practice. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 1991. ISBN 978-0878450831
- Neufeld, M. Lynne, Martha Cornog, and Inez L. Sperr. Abstracting and Indexing Services in Perspective: Miles Conrad Memorial Lectures, 1969-1983, Commemorating the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the National Federation of Abstracting and Information Services. Arlington, VA: Information Resources Press, 1983. ISBN 978-0878150434
- Rowley, J. E. Abstracting and Indexing. London: C. Bingley, 1988. ISBN 978-0851574110
- University of Arizona, Pamela P. Brown, and Sylvia Faibisoff. Abstracts and Abstracting Services: A Manual for Students. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Graduate Library School, 1977.
All links retrieved June 14, 2023.
- Abstracts, The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Writing Report Abstracts, The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. OWL provides other helpful hints and tools for writing.
- Philip Koopman. How to Write an Abstract, Carnegie Mellon University.
- Rule 8 PCT, defining the requirements regarding the abstract in an international application filed under Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).
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