Abstracts

Use of Details

Details should be used judiciously in abstracts. Determining the amount of detail to provide depends a great deal on what type of abstract you are writing (informative or descriptive), the complexity of the paper, the word limit for the abstract, and the purposes you imagine readers of your abstract have for reading.

Complexity of the Paper

An abstract of a five-page progress report is likely to be shorter than an abstract for a 100-page Master's thesis, mainly because a long paper will include more main ideas, not just details. Keep in mind your readers and their reasons for reading your abstract. Focus your abstract on main ideas and provide only those details that are crucial for readers to understand your main points.

Word Limit for the Abstract

Some publications limit the length of abstracts to no more than 75 words. Others allow abstracts of complex documents to run up to 350 words. Be sure to check the publication's guidelines. If it has a low word limit, concentrate on capturing only main ideas from your paper. Don't try to cut a 200-word abstract down to 125 words by simply cutting connecting words, articles, etc. Even the shortest abstracts need to be readable, not telegraphic.

Readers' Purposes

If you're abstracting a report for technical managers, more detail is probably better. But if you're abstracting for a publication, readers will probably skim the abstract to see if they should read the article. Don't give readers more detail than you imagine they'll need to suit their primary goal in reading your abstract.

The five main purposes for abstracts are discussed elsewhere in this guide.

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Introduction