How to Write Abstracts – Part 3

Looking for abstract writing guidelines?

In this tutorial, we look at how you can write better abstracts for business and technical documents.

Learn more about this Business Plan template

Here are some guidelines to get you started:

One idea per paragraph – keep to one idea per paragraph.

This keeps the reader oriented.

It also allows you to move to the next point using a logical series of transitions.

Structure – structure the abstract using the introduction-body-conclusion format and present the report finding in the following order:

  • Purpose
  • Findings
  • Conclusions
  • Recommendations

Chronology – develop the abstract by mirroring the chronology of the report.

This means that you develop and produce your proposal to match the headings and sections in the request for proposals. If done correctly, this helps both the writer (you) and reviewers.

Transitions – don’t jump back and forwards between topics.

Connect topics in a logical order. For example, if you start a chapter by describing its main features, then lead into sub-sections where you describe each feature. Avoid making the read search through the proposal. Make it easy for them to find information.

Summarize – as not everyone will read every word in the abstract, at least not at first glance, it helps to summarize the key points at the end.

Keep it short. Focus on what you want them to remember.  

How to Proofread Your Abstract

After you’ve finishing writing the first draft, it’s time to sit back and see what you’ve written.

Does it reflect what you intended to say? Has it hit the right notes? Where does it jar? Which passages sound forced or contrived?

You need to ask yourself these questions as the reader will when it lands on their desk or they find it on the search results in the internet.

So, take your time. Expect to write more than one draft. Actually, encourage yourself to write several drafts as every time you do, it improves.

In other words, drafting is a process of continuous improvement, not a type of fault finding which it’s often perceived to be.

With this in mind, to improve your abstract, follow these steps.

  • Read your proposal again. Make notes of the key points. These will form the pillars of your abstract. Identify these pillar points in the: purpose, methods, scope, results, conclusions, and recommendations.
  • Next, write your first draft. The aim here is to sketch your ideas, get them on paper, and refine these later. Don’t worry about grammar and so on at this point. Just get the main points down.
  • Don’t copy and paste from the report. Write down, in bullet format if you wish, what you want to highlight to the reader. Imagine you’re describing your solution to someone and only have a minute. What would you say?
  • Leave the draft alone for a few hours or may be a day. Give yourself some distance.

Revise the draft to:

  • Correct weaknesses in the way it is organized. In other words, does it read fluidly? When you read it aloud, does it sound natural?
  • Remove or refine any duplication or superfluous information. Sometimes the same point may be described twice. Try to merge these into a single point.
  • Check that all critical points, data, findings, and recommendations are included. It’s easy to miss one when writing in a hurry. Slow down, make a checklist and scratch them off as you read the abstract.
  • Tighten up the prose. Remove any filler text or phrases that can be removed without affecting the meaning. Phrases such as ‘as a matter of fact’, ‘at this point in time’, ‘it’s generally accepted that’ are usually redundant.
  • If you are not confident about your grammar, ask a colleague to do a sanity check. Ask them to focus on the grammar, not the text itself, so they don’t try to do two things at the same time.
  • Read the final draft very slowly and out loud.

One final tip: print it out. Start at the last line (not the first) and read back to the top. You’d be surprised how often this catches mistakes you’d have missed otherwise.