In this tutorial, we describe how to write an abstract, for example, for reports, proposals, case studies, and other types of documentation.
An abstract… it sounds so simple…
Ok, explain ‘gravity’ in one sentence?
Hard, isn’t it?
Remember the frustration you’ve felt when someone asked you to explain a difficult concept? It’s easy to talk and talk and talk. But sum it up in one or two sentences takes practice, skill, and determination.
Why do we need abstracts?
Abstracts are more important than ever, with our ever-increasing need for quick access to information.
Think of those search results you find on Internet sites. If the first few lines were an abstract, you’d know whether or not you should go ahead and download it.
4 Step Formula for Writing Abstracts
To create an abstract, consider these steps. Once you’ve finished writing, stop what you are doing, sit back and think about the whole document.
- What is its main subject?
- What is its main conclusion?
- What is its primary purpose?
- What would you expect the reader to do with this document?
Collect all this together in your mind and write a sentence — that is your topic sentence.
You need to write one sentence that covers the entire document, regardless of whether the document is a one-page letter or a thousand-page manual.
- For inspiration – Look at the recommendations, conclusions, summaries, and results sections of the completed document. If you’re abstracting a manual, look at the tutorial. These sections often reflect the essence of the document. You can overlook the introduction section, as this usually only sets the stage.
- Avoid the document title – This may or may not help you write the topic sentence. Chances are the document title will be too vague. Parts of the title might serve as modifiers in your topic sentence, but you’ll probably need to go beyond the title.
- Be specific – Make the topic sentence say something very specific.
Avoid writing “This report describes… [document title].”
Instead write something like “The results of this… [subject]… study show that… [result].”
Use supporting sentences
After you’ve got your topic sentence, write some supporting sentences.
- Make each of these sentences supply specific details about the ideas in the topic sentence. Think of the evidence that supports the topic sentence. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? and how much?
- Offer statistics, results, conclusions, or recommendations that back up what you said in the topic sentence.
- Limit yourself to two or three major supporting ideas. You might include some of the less important evidence as subordinate clauses and modifiers.