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Functions of abstracts:

Short version of paper: brief summary of topic, methodology, and findings


They help the reader to decide whether or not he/she wants to read the paper
When you submit to journals, you may have to submit an abstract before theyll
read your full article
They offer readers who are going to read the paper a preview as a way to guide their
reading
Refer back to Reading Strategies workshop: abstracts are a great place to start
when you have too many papers to sort through and to prepare yourself to read
the article most efficiently
They give peer reviewers a preview of the paper theyre about to review
Length depends on field/journal, but range will roughly be 100-300 words
If youre publishing the abstract, check with the editors or look at the journals guidelines
to find out whats expected
You can think of it as a compressed introduction: giving your reader as good a sense as possible
of what will be in the following paper given the limited space
Structure: 5 moves (wont necessarily be in every paper, or in numerical order, but a general
overview of what different pieces youll want to put in an abstract)
As you write, you can ask yourself what move a particular sentence fulfills, and if it doesnt apply
to any of the 5, it might not belong in an abstract
1: background/introduction/situation
2: recent research/purpose
3: methods/materials/subjects/procedures
4: results/findings
5: discussion/conclusion/implications/recommendations
Stylistic components to consider
Tense
Present tense is most common, but past tense is sometimes used to discuss
methodology (I.e. We surveyed x people)
This will vary by field/discipline, so best way to find out whats expected
is to read as many abstracts from your field as possible
Citations and specific references to past literature should be limited, or non-existent
More common way to refer to past research is to make a general claim,
presumably one which your paper responds to/counters (I.e. Many scholars have
argued)
Not true across the board: depends on your discipline, or even a given topic
within a field
Limit use of abbreviations or technical terms that most readers are likely to be unfamiliar
with
If youre writing a journal article abstract, you dont necessarily need to write for
general audiences, but you should assume that your readers dont know your
subject matter as well as you
Your reader will likely be from your field, but will also likely be working in a
different research area
If you do need to use specific terms or technical language, youll want to explain
them to the point where anyone whos moderately well versed in your field will
be able to understand
Keep in mind that people will be reading this to decide whether or not to read
your paper: you want to encourage them
Metadiscourse is generally preferable to 1st person
Metadiscourse: language about your article (I.e. This paper examines)
1st person is sometimes used to talk about methodology (I.e. We studied x
trees)
More specific discussion of what goes in the 5 moves (often appear In abstract in numerical
order)
1 and 2 can be discussed together; tend to go hand in hand
4 types of opening sentences:
Starting with a real-world phenomenon or with standard practice
Centered in real world
Starting with purpose or objective
What your research hopes to accomplish
Starting with present researcher action
Talk specifically about what your article does
Starting with a problem or an uncertainty
Issue that your article addresses
Linking between 1st and 2nd sentences (potentially between moves 1 and 2)
Continuing subject
Using same beginning subject for first two sentences
Capturing subject
Using subject from the end of the sentence
New subject
Introducing previously unreferenced subject
i.e. The objective of this paper is to examine the
flapping characteristics of insect wings. For this purpose,
we utilized two high-speed video cameras
Any of the three can be used, but just be sure that your reader knows
what youre referring to if you introduce a new subject
It can be easy or tempting to accidentally be unclear with
pronouns when introducing a new subject
Be extra careful about sentences flowing together
No matter which link you use, you generally want to aim for old
to new information flow (seen in all of the examples)
Move 3: methods
Tends to be where you need to compress the most (most details can be added but
not necessarily the most important information)
Passive voice is often used here (I.e. X inches of rainfall were measured)
Most common place to switch to past tense (I.e. If youve already done the
research)
Move 4: results
Generally good to get specific data/results in if possible, because itll be more
compelling than broad statements
That clause is an effective way to convey results
I.e. This research shows that
Most common of the 5 moves, and the only one that you pretty much
have to use
Move 5: conclusions
Implications of findings
Recommendations
Descriptive v. Evaluative
Merely describing results as opposed to offering assessment
Both can work: depends on the situation
Keep in mind that this is usually the last thing your readers will read in the
abstract, so you want to leave them with a strong final impression of your
research
Structured abstract
Similar pieces, but moves are labeled (26)
I.e. Background: Aim: Method: Results: Conclusion:
Improve readability and accessibility, but they only work for papers that fit their mold
More common in practice/results oriented fields (I.e. Social sciences and hard sciences)
than theoretical fields (humanities)
Check w/ professors or journal editors to see whats appropriate for a given
situation