Abstract Workshop (handout)

Abstract for Workshop

This workshop addresses the need for students at the postgraduate level to gain the knowledge and skills to write academic abstracts. Writing academic abstracts is an important task and a necessary skill of any researcher hoping to present or publish their work. Students are introduced to the terms and concepts of writing abstracts, then work independently and in groups to develop abstracts for a handful of readings. Students are expected to develop a way to think and talk about writing abstracts, and to develop the transferable skills to create an abstract for a piece of research. The workshop is only an introduction and starting place for students to develop their academic writing skills.

1. Concepts and terms
An abstract:

  • cover the main points
  • uses language for a specific audience
  • is usually less than 300 words in a specific format
  • helps readers determine the value of reading the full article, review key findings and better understand the text
  • works as an index for searching and referencing


        One successful format:

  • research question / problem / hypothesis
  • research and analysis method
  • research results and conclusions


Descriptive abstracts

  • like a table of contents
  • no substitute for reading

Sample Descriptive Abstract

(Retrieved 27 June 2012 from: http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/documents/abstract/pop5a.cfm)

"Bonanza Creek LTER [Long Term Ecological Research] 1997 Annual Progress Report" http://www.lter.alaska.edu/pubs/1997pr.html

We continue to document all major climatic variables in the uplands and floodplains at Bonanza Creek. In addition, we have documented the successional changes in microclimate in 9 successional upland and floodplain stands at Bonanza Creek (BNZ) and in four elevational locations at Caribou-Poker Creek (CPCRW). A sun photometer is operated cooperatively with NASA to estimate high-latitude atmospheric extinction coefficients for remote-sensing images. Electronic data are collected monthly and loaded into a database which produces monthly summaries. The data are checked for errors, documented, and placed on-line on the BNZ Web page. Climate data for the entire state have been summarized for the period of station records and krieged to produce maps of climate zones for Alaska based on growing-season and annual temperature and precipitation.

Informative abstracts

  • provide substantial detail
  • Suitable for indexing

Sample Informative Abstract based on Experimental Work

(Retrieved 27 June 2012 from:http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/documents/abstract/pop10b.cfm)

Palmquist, M., & Young, R. (1992). The Notion of Giftedness and Student Expectations About Writing.Written Communication, 9(1), 137-168.
Research reported by Daly, Miller, and their colleagues suggests that writing apprehension is related to a number of factors we do not yet fully understand. This study suggests that included among those factors should be the belief that writing ability is a gift. Giftedness, as it is referred to in the study, is roughly equivalent to the Romantic notion of original genius. Results from a survey of 247 postsecondary students enrolled in introductory writing courses at two institutions indicate that higher levels of belief in giftedness are correlated with higher levels of writing apprehension, lower self-assessments of writing ability, lower levels of confidence in achieving proficiency in certain writing activities and genres, and lower self-assessments of prior experience with writing instructors. Significant differences in levels of belief in giftedness were also found among students who differed in their perceptions of the most important purpose for writing, with students who identified "to express your own feelings about something" as the most important purpose for writing having the highest mean level of belief in giftedness. Although the validity of the notion that writing ability is a special gift is not directly addressed, the results suggest that belief in giftedness may have deleterious effects on student writers.

Guide to writing
An abstract writing format and guide from Columbia University in the US:

Writing an Academic Abstract

Abstracts are used in a variety of capacities, while central to our discussion of conference submissions, abstracts are usually necessary in published academic papers as well. This handout includes the major sections often required in an abstract for an academic conference. That said, these sections, particularly due to the limited word count in abstracts, can be merged and often discussed in the same sentence.

Motivation/Problem Statement:
• The Problem: begin by briefly describing the problem. (not in any particular order)
• Importance: why should the conference care about this topic?
• The Gap: is your work filling a particular gap in the research literature? Why is it necessary to fill that gap?
• Impact: you can hint in your discussion of the gap and the importance the related impact, although this can also be discussed toward the end of the abstract.

• What does your study explore and how?

o Setting

o Participants (number of)

o Data collection techniques

o Data analysis procedures

• What did you learn from conducting this study? What story are you able to tell? What were you able to explain/describe/create/understand as a result of this research?

• What are the limitations?
• What are the implications of your work for future research?

General tips:
Avoid using jargon.
• Meet (or be under) the work count limit
• Hedging your bets: often we submit abstracts for studies that are not yet completed but we are then faced abstract requirements asking for results. This requires careful consideration and a decent amount of hedging. That is, give the reader an impression of your ‘hypotheses’ and then use lots of mitigating language “may” “might” “could” “possibly” etc. Generally, however, it is best to submit an abstract for research you have already completed.
• Play catch-phrase: think of 6-8 of the most important keywords and phrases that help to situate your work in a particular field. Use those terms to remind the reader of your participation in this field.
• Consider the reader: Many of us do interdisciplinary work that can fall into areas of research that are not often part of IED/CIE-proper. As such, when applying for conferences in these ‘outer-limits’ we need to make sure that many of the keywords we’re including fit what those abstract readers will be looking for in that field/discipline.
• Use active verbs: Try to eliminate verbs-to-be from all of your work, but particularly in abstracts where words are counted and each word is imbued with as much meaning as we can jamb into it—you need to eliminate these words. Use ‘active verbs’ (examples to come).
• Read other abstracts from the same conference. Do they include citations? Suitable model?

-- This downloadable abstract format and related questions was retrieved 27 June 2012 from:


2. Skills development
a. Each student to read a small article.
b. In small groups, students discuss the article using abstract writing terms and concepts
c. In groups, pairs or individually, students write an abstract for the reading

Link to the Article

d. students share abstracts, explaining the reasoning they used to make the writing choices they made.

Key Issues
(retrieved 27 June 2012 from: http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/documents/abstract/pop2i.cfm)



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