Avoiding the Abstract in Scholarly Abstracts, Academic and Scientific Writing Help

Avoiding the Abstract in Scholarly Abstracts | Tips on How to Get Published
Since the advanced research conducted by academics and scientists often involves many theories, questions and speculations that are necessarily abstract, it may seem strange to advise avoiding abstract concepts and thoughts as much as possible when writing an abstract for a scholarly document. After all, if large portions of a text are dedicated to what might be called abstract discussion, should the abstract describing the text not reflect that reality? Obviously, it should, but only to a very limited degree. Focussing on the concrete aspects of the research reported in a document will usually prove a more successful strategy for summarising a text in as few words as possible, and it is also a strategy that tends to communicate the process of research in more engaging ways.

There are, of course, some research topics and methods that are inherently abstract. The content of a philosophical paper, for instance, might be entirely abstract, or very nearly so, in which case the abstract summarising that paper would necessarily need to be rather abstract as well. Behind most documents, however, including many of those highly philosophical and theoretical papers, there are practical research approaches and procedures that are grounded in concrete realities. Most research documents aim to report the details of these methods as well as the results they produce, and these usually have a very real physical existence, so they are the perfect content for abstracts. Anchoring any abstract thinking you do include in your abstract to the solid ground of specific objects, instances and procedures will render it more meaningful and therefore more appealing for potential readers of your main document.

When writing an abstract, keep in mind that not only the content of an academic and scientific document, but also the language in which it is written can come across to readers as abstract and confusing, although it may not seem so to the author who understands exactly what he or she intends. Specialised terminology and discipline-specific jargon can, for instance, be incredibly abstract, simply unclear or even pretentious for readers who may not be as familiar as the author with the necessary terms. There is usually plenty of space in the main document to define and explain such obscure language for readers who may not be in the know, but there is very little space for explanation in an abstract. It is therefore wise to avoid all such language in a scholarly abstract whenever possible. If the content of your paper demands the use of some specialised terminology or you feel that certain discipline-specific terms will attract the expert readers you are hoping to reach, be sure to dedicate a few words to definition or explanation so that readers who may not know the terminology will understand your basic meaning.

Nonstandard abbreviations can also be abstract in a problematic way, which is why many publishers will ask that they, like specialised terminology, be avoided if at all possible in scholarly abstracts. Whether they abbreviate abstract concepts or concrete procedures, when they are not understood they become abstract in the extreme and may lose readers, so they require definition as well. It is therefore important to consider what will require more words – the abbreviation and definition or the complete terms? This potential waste of words when explaining abstract information in academic and scientific abstracts is another compelling reason to focus on the concrete whenever you need to describe complicated research in very few words.

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