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Art of Abstracting ?

A researcher must be adept in preparing abstracts of scientific articles to make his literature collection easy and comprehensive. The art of abstracting is an intellectual and highly skillful job.


Abstract is a concise representation of the contents of a publication or an article,   accompanied   by adequate bibliographical descriptions to enable the publication or the article to be   traced.

1. Purpose of an abstract is

(a) to help workers in the  subject   of. the article to decide  whether the contents  of the paper are such that they desire  to read  it  in full.

(b) to give readers for whom the paper is of ” fringe ” interest  as  much of information as possible, so that  it   is  unnecessary for them to read the  whole paper.

(c) to expedite the work of the  abstracting journals by making it possible for them to

reproduce immediately the author’s abstract which will be of great assistance

in the  general improvement  of information services  in the  scientific field.

2. Content

The abstract should contain brief and factual summary of the contents and conclusions of a paper, should refer to any new information provided and give an indication of its relevance. New information should include observed facts, essential points of new method or treatment of newly designed  apparatus etc.

Reference  should be  made to new materials,   such as  new compounds,  new species or varieties  or forms etc and new numerical data, such as physical constants.

3 .  Presentation

(a) The abstract should be written in complete sentences  using standard terms avoiding  unnecessary contractions.

(b)     It should be assumed that the reader has  some knowledge of  the subject  discussed and  that  he may not  refer to the actual paper summarized.

(c)    It  should be  intelligible  in itself without   reference  to the  original paper.

(d)    Specific references  and citations should, in general, not be included  in abstracts.

(e)    The abstract should be as concise as possible and only in exceptional case should it exceed 200 words.

(f)  The International Conference on Science Abstracting recommended that  abstracts   should be  published in at least  one  or more widely used languages to enhance its  international  utility.

As abstract should fully identify original document, the bibliographic citation generally precedes the abstract proper. In some cases  the abstract  might  precede  the bibliographic citation.   (1) Author/s,   (2) Address  of the author (3) Title  of the communication which includes sub-title, if any,   (4) Locus   – Title   of the periodical, series,   year,   volume,   issue  number,   page. Standard  recommendations of bibliographic   reference  are  followed while  giving the  citation.

A typical abstract may be considered to be of two main parts 1. citation and 2. the abstract proper.

The citation is the title of the document which is abstracted. The abstractor describes the aboutness of the document in such a way that it is easy to locate. A uniform format is to be followed for this.

The citation   is title of the   document at which is abstracted, The abstractor describes the about ness of the document in such a way that  it  is easy to  locate.    A uniform format is to be followed for   this,   with all bibliographic description.

The   second part of   the abstract is the abstract proper. It includes purpose, methodology, results and conclusion. Though complete standardization of this part  is  not feasible  certain ground rule and  principles  can be followed. These are

The abstract should  -

            -  indicate  the  exact   boundary of   the  subject
            – give, new thought  embodied   in  the document
            – provide most factual data
   – avoid phrases  such  ‘ the paper  deals  with’  or ‘   paper  briefly discusses  ‘ so that economy of words is achieved.
       – abbreviate wherever possible such as “K” for potassium Dis for disease.
       – be written to form completely connected sentences and not as a list of  headings.

The abstract should not –

             – include any information which is conveyed by the title of the article.
             -  mention the details of sample used for study
             -  exceed 3 percent of the length of the paper and barring exceptional cases, it should not exceed 200 words.

Types of Abstracts

Different types of abstracts are being recognized  on the basis of the information that they contain and the person who prepared them.

A. By the type of  information

1. Titular Abstract

Titular abstract also known as title only abstract is the author’s title used  without amplification to describe  the  contents   of a   document. Most titular abstracts are  subject – oriented  rather than  findings -oriented.

2. Indicative / Descriptive Abstract

An indicative abstract points out what is in the original document,   without attempting to substitute the original. This helps the reader to decide whether the original document should be read.

This embodies a   general statement   of the   nature and  scope   of a  document  and characteristically do not  contain qualitative and quantitative data. It  provides clues  to the  reader whether the  sought information  is contained  in the original article or not. It serves as a guide and  is  not  a substitute  for the  original document. It   often contains statements, such as  “procedures… are   given”,   “effects…are  discussed”,   “a method…   is  described”,   “diagrams…are   included”, The  length  of this  type of abstracts  can be   from 75 to  150 words. The indicative abstract  has  been proven to be  an effective  tool for providing current awareness services where the original  documents are readily available.

3. Annotation

Annotation is the amplified title   of the author by adding a few words.

4. Mini-abstract   or Micro-abstract

Mini-abstract or Micro-abstract is the highly condensed  indicative  abstract  which provides   only a line or two about  the document.

5. Informative, Informational or Comprehensive Abstract

An informative abstract yields all basic pertinent information and facts so that   it   is   not necessary to read the   whole document. Also   it summarizes all relevant arguments, data and conclusions. In certain eases, it  might   serve as  an adequate substitute for the  original for obtaining specific  information. It is of  150 to 250 words.

6. Evaluative Abstract

Evaluative abstract, in addition to the summary of the principal arguments will comment on the worth of the original.

7. Selective Abstract

In this type of abstracts the information is condensed as per the needs of the user for example – executives, research managers etc.

B. By computer

1. Auto-abstracts

Auto-abstracts is produced  by  a  computer analysis of the  frequency  of the use  of significant  words   in a  document and  of the frequency with which these “high frequency” words  appear in the  same   sentence.

2. Telegraphic abstract   or Standardized  or Encoded abstract

Telegraphic abstract   or Standardized  or Encoded abstract is produced by selecting significant words  from the document, assigning  role  indicators   ( code   symbols )  and  punctuation symbols  which separate  and group the  word  into various  meaningful units.

3. Statistical or numerical abstracts

Statistical or numerical abstracts presents data in tabular or numerical form. This  technique  is  also applicable  to scientific  papers  in which the   author summarizes results  in a data  table,   which can be reproduced  with the citation to form an abstract.

C. By the type  of writer of the abstract

1. Author abstract

Author abstract is the abstract prepared by the author  of the  document  and forms  a  part  of the  original paper. This may be  an  indicative   or   informative  abstract depending  upon the  nature  of publication and the publisher.

2. Synopsis   or homotopic abstract

Synopsis or homotopic abstract is  a term adopted by the Royal Society  of London and by the  International Conference  on Science Abstracting of UNESCO to describe  an author’s  summary of a scientific  paper which is published  simultaneously with the paper,  after the  editorial scrutiny.     This term  is now replaced by   ‘Abstract’.

3. Subject Expert’s Abstract

Subject Expert’s Abstract is an  informative or indicative  abstract  prepared by a peer in the   specific discipline of  the document  either by education  or by specialization and experience.

4. Professional abstractor prepared abstract

Professional abstractor prepared abstract is prepared by a individual who has high education and experience in some or all of the disciplines in which documents are abstracted. These abstracts may be of informative or indicative types depending upon the editorial policy of the secondary periodical and the nature  of the document.


Techniques of abstracting

Abstracting is  an  intellectual process  which demands  the knowledge of the  reader’s  needs and also capacity to determine the  nature  of original document. Abstract is the  result of analytico -synthetic  processing  of a  document, which involves identification of the important   information, organization of the  information and writing. Learning the   technique of abstracting  is   considered  as   on-the-job training. It   is acquired with practice and experience. Generally accepted  rules  for good writing   are  applicable  for writing abstracts  also. Clarity, brevity and admittance   of all the important  information are the criteria for abstract  writing. The rules  for making author’s abstract  hold  good  for general abstract writing.

Directions  for Abstractors

Most   of the abstracting periodicals have developed their own style   manuals  and guides, depending upon their specific  needs. The assigned writer of an abstract is confronted by a document whose  contents  are  unknown to him before  scanning.

The following sequence  may prove useful in identifying the key information.

                          – Generally the  introduction indicates the   objectives of the author in writing the paper.
                         – Read author’s  abstract  and use it  only  if  it  is found suitable .
                         – Review the  summary and conclusions  of the paper.
                     – Scan the  text  for methodology  of the work, data and for additional information
                        – Jot down marginal notes and mark the important phrases and passages.
                           – Draft the  abstract, read and further modify  it until you are  satisfied.
                         -Provide  bibliographic description as  per the policy  of the  secondary publication.

The abstract  should  contain the purpose, methodology ( only if it is new, ) results  either  positive   or negative  and conclusions.

The  following criteria  may be   followed for determining the  type   of abstract   to be  prepared.

-  Original articles  from periodicals,  conference proceedings and patents  should be provided    with informative  abstracts

- Documents containing  secondary  information  -reviews,   technical   reports,   standards   should be given indicative   or descriptive  abstract. Mathematical articles and Thesis  are   also  given the same treatment.

- Short  communications -  letters  to the  editor, research communications  etc are   of two types. One the preliminary report where  further work on the subject’ is  in progress and the  other, the  complete   report   on a   single  aspect   of subject. Indicative abstract may be  provided for the  former type  and an informative  abstract for the   latter category  of articles.

- When the title   of the article is  self evident of the  subject of study and the   results   obtained, the  title  will serve  the  purpose   of abstract. In such cases,   a   citation will be sufficient.

While writing an abstract  the   following points should be  kept  in mind

- Write in fluent, easy-to-read prose and strive for simplicity and general understandability.

        – Be exact,   concise, and unambiguous. Avoid general statements where you can be specific

        -  Condense  but, as  a   general  rule,   do not personally  interpret  the  author’s  remarks.

        – Be consistent  in tone  and emphasis  while the document  is  being abstracted.

        – Use  short   sentences, but   with  some  variety in length and  structure to avoid monotony.

       – Use complete sentences and constructions.

       - Place   general statements, where   needed, toward the end of the abstract.

        -Use active-voice verbs instead of passive ones. “A exceeds B” makes a better reading than “B is exceeded by A”.

       – The noun form of verbs makes dull  rending. “Separating butadiene from butanes” reads better in an abstract than “the separation of butadiene  from butanes”.

       -Use the  past tense  to describe  the  specific activities that the author is reporting,  since these  are already in the past. However,  the conclusion that  he  draws from these activities are therefore  prevail  in the  present, accordingly they should be  written  in the  present  tense.

        -Use  short, simple,  concrete,   familiar words.

- Try to avoid trade  jargon and colloquialisms.

- Avoid both  over using and awkward omission of articles.

- Use  well-known abbreviations and symbols   in the field,  e.g.  NaCl  (in Chemistry  ), DNA and RNA (in Biology), TLC  (in Analytical Chemistry) etc.

- When using abbreviations for units in combination with a number,   omit  periods  and  write   the  number as a   numeral,   e.g.  3 ft, 150 yd etc.


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