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Creating Abstracts & Literature Reviews: Home

A guide to writing abstracts

What is an Abstract?

An abstract is a summary of points (as of a writing) usually presented in skeletal form ; also : something that summarizes or concentrates the essentials of a larger thing or several things. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online) 


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. When used, an abstract always appears at the beginning of a manuscript, acting as the point-of-entry for any given scientific paper or patent application. Abstraction and indexing services are available for a number of academic disciplines, aimed at compiling a body of literature for that particular subject. (Wikipedia)


An abstract is a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of an article. It allows readers to survey the contents of an article quickly. Readers often decide on the basis of the abstract whether to read the entire article. A good abstract should be:

ACCURATE--it should reflect the purpose and content of the manuscript.

COHERENT--write in clear and concise language. Use the active rather than the passive voice (e.g., investigated instead of investigation of).

CONCISE--be brief but make each sentence maximally informative, especially the lead sentence. Begin the abstract with the most important points. The abstract should be dense with information. (Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association)

Abstract Guidelines

An abstract of a report of an empirical study should describe: (1) the problem under investigation (2) the participants with specific characteristics such as age, sex, ethnic group (3) essential features of the study method (4) basic findings (5) conclusions and implications or applications.

An abstract for a literature review or meta-analysis should describe: (1) the problem or relations under investigation (2) study eligibility criteria (3) types of participants (4) main results, including the most important effect sizes, and any important moderators of these effect sizes (5) conclusions, including limitations (6) implications for theory, policy, and practice.

An abstract for a theory-oriented paper should describe (1) how the theory or model works and the principles on which it is based and (2) what phenomena the theory or model accounts for and linkages to empirical results.

An abstract for a methodological paper should describe (1) the general class of methods being discussed (2) the essential features of the proposed method (3) the range of application of the proposed method (4) in the case of statistical procedures, some of its essential features such as robustness or power efficiency.

An abstract for a case study should describe (1) the subject and relevant characteristics of the individual, group, community, or organization presented (2) the nature of or solution to a problem illustrated by the case example (3) questions raised for additional research or theory.

Dos and Don'ts of Abstract Writing

DO:

Define any acronyms or abbreviations used, such as names of tests, etc.

Be as concise as possible.

DO NOT:

Use quotations (paraphrase instead).

Write in the first person.

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a body of text that aims to review the critical points of current knowledge including substantive findings as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic. Literature reviews are secondary sources, and as such, do not report any new or original experimental work.Most often associated with academic-oriented literature, such as a thesis, a literature review usually precedes a research proposal and results section. Its ultimate goal is to bring the reader up to date with current literature on a topic and forms the basis for another goal, such as future research that may be needed in the area.A well-structured literature review is characterized by a logical flow of ideas; current and relevant references with consistent, appropriate referencing style; proper use of terminology; and an unbiased and comprehensive view of the previous research on the topic. (Wikipedia)


Literature Review: An extensive search of the information available on a topic which results in a list of references to books, periodicals, and other materials on the topic. (Online Library Learning Center Glossary)


"... a literature review uses as its database reports of primary or original scholarship, and does not report new primary scholarship itself. The primary reports used in the literature may be verbal, but in the vast majority of cases reports are written documents. The types of scholarship may be empirical, theoretical, critical/analytic, or methodological in nature. Second a literature review seeks to describe, summarize, evaluate, clarify and/or integrate the content of primary reports."

Cooper, H. M. (1988), "The structure of knowledge synthesis",
Knowledge in Society, Vol. 1, pp. 104-126

Dos and Don'ts of a Literature Review

DO:

Make a clear statement of the research problem.

Keep it in discussion style.

Give a critical assessment of your chosen literature topic, try to state the weaknesses and gaps in previous studies, try to raise questions and give suggestions for improvement.

List your ideas or theories in an unrepeated and sensible sequence.

Write a complete bibliography that provides the resources from where you had collected the data in this literature review.

DO NOT:

Use unfamiliar technical terms or too many abbreviations.

Use passive voice in your text.

Repeat same ideas in your text.

Include any ideas that you read in the article without citing them (author's name, publication date) as a reference source.

Include punctuation and grammatical errors.

Subject Guide

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Michelle Costello
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