Purposes for Abstracts

Abstracts typically serve five main goals:

Help readers decide if they should read an entire article

Readers use abstracts to see if a piece of writing interests them or relates to a topic they're working on. Rather than tracking down hundreds of articles, readers rely on abstracts to decide quickly if an article is pertinent. Equally important, readers use abstracts to help them gauge the sophistication or complexity of a piece of writing. If the abstract is too technical or too simplistic, readers know that the article will also be too technical or too simplistic.

Help readers and researchers remember key findings on a topic

Even after reading an article, readers often keep abstracts to remind them of which sources support conclusions. Because abstracts include complete bibliographic citations, they are helpful when readers begin writing up their research and citing sources.

Help readers understand a text by acting as a pre-reading outline of key points

Like other pre-reading strategies, reading an abstract before reading an article helps readers anticipate what's coming in the text itself. Using an abstract to get an overview of the text makes reading the text easier and more efficient.

Index articles for quick recovery and cross-referencing

Even before computers made indexing easier, abstracts helped librarians and researchers find information more easily. With so many indexes now available electronically, abstracts with their keywords are even more important because readers can review hundreds of abstracts quickly to find the ones most useful for their research. Moreover, cross-referencing through abstracts opens up new areas of research that readers might not have known about when they started researching a topic.

Allow supervisors to review technical work without becoming bogged down in details

Although many managers and supervisors will prefer the less technical executive summary, some managers need to keep abreast of technical work. Research shows that only 15% of managers read the complete text of reports or articles. Most managers, then, rely on the executive summary or abstract as the clearest overview of employees' work.

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