Stored information, whether in the form of books, periodicals, reports or other reference materials, are simply primary tools for disseminating information. As research officers, we are custodians of these tools and must consider methods of communicating their contents to our clients. One form of doing so is by abstract writing. An abstract is a convenient substitute for a document, article, report, conference paper, etc. Its content usually summarises the main ideas of the document. Words used in an abstract must reflect the ideas, especially when the abstract is intended to be an input for an information service, for example an abstract database. The main function of an abstract is to help information seekers to decide whether or not to look for the original document. An abstracts can be used in the following ways;
- it is used in Current Awareness Services whereby clients will be informed of what is new in the fields of their interest
- used as inputs of databases for retrospective searches.
Basically there are four distinct types of abstracts; indicative, informative, critical and telegraphic.
This type of abstract gives an indication of the type of information we would expect to find in the original article. The length may be anything from a sentence to a small paragraph. This type has its value and is represented in many commercial and internal abstracts publications. An example of an indicative abstract would be as follow:
“Surrounding disordered regions in neutron irradiated n-type germanium and extrinsic silicon are estimated. Numerical examples of well dimensions for a wide range of sample characteristics are presented. Some effects of disordered regions eg. (a)scattering of conduction electrons, (b) absorption of holes, and (c) .polarizability are discussed.”
An informative abstract can be a large paragraph and may consists of a number of pages. The information it carries usually includes methods, data and equipment involved.
The following is an example:
“The effects of gamma rays on the thymus in adult fish of Oryzias latipes were studied. Fish were subjected to a single wholebody irradiation of the dose ranging from 0 to 8kR. Through the histological section, the quantitative treatment was performed on the changes in thymus volume…”
A person may give some comments about the main ideas of the original paper. The abstract produced is a critical abstract.
A telegraphic abstract uses keywords to express the contents of the original paper. Full-stops are placed between keywords. This is a bad abstract writing technique because if a few words are missed the abstract could mislead the content of the original paper.
How to write an abstract ?
There are a few steps to consider when writing a good abstract. We must read through the article once and while reading we should note down the following points:
- contribution of the article
- main ideas
- methods described
- tables of data
- details of equipment
All these points will help an information seeker to evaluate the relevance of the original article. It is important to mention if there are methods described because a particular user may need to look at the procedure conducted in order to change or modify results. Methods described are also helpful to user looking for methods in databases.
Steps in abstract writing
The first stage is to decide what to include in the abstract. Take note of what the author has done and not what is planned in future or done before.
The second stage is writing down the abstract. If the technology of the original paper is not familiar to us, then it is advisable to use the author’s vocabulary.The use of “that” should be avoided in phrase and paraphrase in your own words since it will produce a better and easier to understand abstract. When writing we must not start off with how long should the abstract be but with what is put into it.
Editing is the third stage. At this point we are expected to check words for altered meaning and look out for unnecessary phrases (eg. “The author reports that”) and redundant phrases (eg. “blue in color”). Any ambiguity should also be eliminated and reference or bibliographic details of original paper should be at the end, stating the number of pages for the paper.
Abstracting of documents is essential for the dissemination of research and development findings in any research organization. We have already seen now that computers and retrieval machines will deal with micro-reductions of original articles and scientists doing research will be trained to use the computer for the retrieval of scientific information and other references. However we must bear in mind that no matter how advance computers technology will be the human element will always be required to edit information before it is fed into the machines. Knowledge in abstract writing is a vital skill and must be developed professionally.