I. Types of Abstracts
To begin, you need to determine which type of abstract you should include with your paper. There are four general types.
A critical abstract provides, in addition to describing main findings and information, a judgement or comment about the study’s validity, reliability, or completeness. The researcher evaluates the paper and often compares it with other works on the same subject. Critical abstracts are generally 400-500 words in length due to the additional interpretive commentary. These types of abstracts are used infrequently.
A descriptive abstract indicates the type of information found in the work. It makes no judgments about the work, nor does it provide results or conclusions of the research. It does incorporate key words found in the text and may include the purpose, methods, and scope of the research. Essentially, the descriptive abstract only describes the work being summarized. Some researchers consider it an outline of the work, rather than a summary. Descriptive abstracts are usually very short, 100 words or less.
The majority of abstracts are informative. While they still do not critique or evaluate a work, they do more than describe it. A good informative abstract acts as a surrogate for the work itself. That is, the researcher presents and explains all the main arguments and the important results and evidence in the paper. An informative abstract includes the information that can be found in a descriptive abstract [purpose, methods, scope] but it also includes the results and conclusions of the research and the recommendations of the author. The length varies according to discipline, but an informative abstract is usually no more than 300 words in length.
A highlight abstract is specifcally written to attract the reader’s attention to the study. No pretence is made of there being either a balanced or complete picture of the paper and, in fact, incomplete and leading remarks may be used to spark the reader’s interest. In that a highlight abstract cannot stand independent of its associated article, it is not a true abstract and, therefore, rarely used in academic writing.
II. Writing Style
Use the active voice when possible, but note that much of your abstract may require passive sentence constructions. Regardless, write your abstract using concise, but complete, sentences. Get to the point quickly and always use the past tense because you are reporting on research that has been completed.
Although it is the first section of your paper, the abstract, by definition, should be written last since it will summarize the contents of your entire paper. To begin composing your abstract, take whole sentences or key phrases from each section and put them in a sequence that summarizes the paper. Then revise or add connecting phrases or words to make it cohensive and clear. Before handing in your final paper, check to make sure that the information in the abstract completely agrees with what your have written in the paper.
The abstract SHOULD NOT contain:
- Lengthy background information,
- References to other literature [say something like, "current research shows that..." or "studies have indicated..."],
- Using ellipticals [i.e., ending with "..."] or incomplete sentences,
- Abbreviations, jargon, or terms that may be confusing to the reader, and
- Any sort of image, illustration, figure, or table, or references to them.
Abstract. Writing Center. University of Kansas; Abstract. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College; Abstracts. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Borko, Harold and Seymour Chatman. "Criteria for Acceptable Abstracts: A Survey of Abstracters' Instructions." American Documentation 14 (April 1963): 149-160; Abstracts. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Hartley, James and Lucy Betts. "Common Weaknesses in Traditional Abstracts in hte Social Sciences." Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 60 (October 2009): 2010-2018; Procter, Margaret. The Abstract. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing Report Abstracts. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Abstracts. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Koltay, Tibor. Abstracts and Abstracting: A Genre and Set of Skills for the Twenty-First Century. Oxford, UK: 2010
The samples below represent the five highest scoring samples submitted to the selection committee for the ninth annual graduate student history conference, 2012-2013. Two of the samples below were subsequently selected for publication in the NC State Graduate Journal of History. Outstanding papers presented at the graduate student history conference are recommended for publication by panel commentators. Papers go through a peer review process before publication.
Sample 1: “Asserting Rights, Reclaiming Space: District of Marshpee v. Phineas Fish, 1833-1843”
From May of 1833 to March of 1834, the Mashpee Wampancag tribe of Cape Cod Massachusetts waged an aggressive campaign to gain political and religious autonomy from the state. In March of 1834, the Massachusetts legislature passed an act disbanding the white guardians appointed to conduct affairs for the Mashpee tribe and incorporated Mashpee as an Indian district. The Mashpee tribe's fight to restore self-government and control over land and resources represents a significant "recover of Native space." Equally significant is what happened once that space was recovered.
The topic of this paper addresses an understudied and essential period in the history of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. Despite a growing body of literature on the Mashpee, scholars largely neglect the period between 1834 and 1869. This paper looks as the Mashpee tribe's campaign to dismiss Harvard appointed minister Phineas Fish; the fight to regain the parsonage he occupied, its resources, and the community meetinghouse. This paper will argue the tribe asserted its power within the political and physical landscape to reclaim their meetinghouse and the parsonage land. Ultimately, this assertion contributed to shaping, strengthening, and remaking Mashpee community identity. This study examines legislative reports, petitions, letters, and legal documents to construct a narrative of Native agency in the antebellum period. [Note: This is part of my larger thesis project (in progress0 "Mashpee Wampanoag Government Formation and the Evolving Community Identity in the District of Marshpee, 1834-1849."]
Note: This paper, entitled "Testing Rights in Contested Space: The District of Marshpee versus Reverend Phineas Fish, 1833-1839" was subsequently selected for publication in the NC State Graduate Journal of History.
Sample 2: “Private Paths to Public Places: Local Actors and the Creation of National Parklands in the American South”
This paper explores the connections between private individuals, government entities, and non-governmental organizations in the creation of parklands throughout the American South. While current historiography primarily credits the federal government with the creation of parks and protection of natural wonders, an investigation of parklands in the Southern United States reveals a reoccurring connection between private initiative and park creation. Secondary literature occasionally reflects the importance of local and non-government sources for the preservation of land, yet these works still emphasize the importance of a national bureaucracy setting the tone fore the parks movement. Some works, including Jacoby's Crimes Against Nature examine local actors, but focus on opposition to the imposition of new rules governing land in the face of some outside threat. In spite of scholarly recognition of non-government agencies and local initiative, the importance of local individuals in the creation of parklands remains and understudies aspect of American environmental history. Several examples in the American South raise concerns about the traditional narrative pitting governmental hegemony against local resistance. This paper argues for widespread, sustained interest in both nature preservation and in creating spaces for public recreation at the local level, and finds that the "private path to public parks" merits further investigation.
Note: This paper, entitled "Private Paths to Public Parks in the American South" was subsequently selected for publication in the NC State Graduate Journal of History.
Sample 3: Untitled
Previous generations of English Historians have produced a rich literature about the Levellers and their role in the English Civil Wars (1642-1649), primarily focused on the Putney Debates and their contributions to Anglophone legal and political thought. Typically, their push to extend the franchise and espousal of a theory of popular sovereignty has been central to accounts of Civil War radicalism. Other revisionist accounts depict them as a fragmented sect of millenarian radicals whose religious bent marginalized and possibility that they could make lasting contributions to English politics or society. This paper seeks to locate a Leveller theory of religious toleration, while explaining how their conception of political activity overlapped their religious ideas. Rather than focusing on John Lilburne, often taken as the public face of the Leveller movement, this paper will focus on the equally interesting and far more consistent thinker, William Walwyn. Surveying his personal background, published writings, popular involvement in the Leveller movement, and attacks launched by his critics, I hope to suggest that Walwyn's unique contribution to Anglophone political thought was his defense of religious pluralism in the face of violent sectarians who sought to wield control of the Church of England. Although the Levellers were ultimately suppressed, Walwyn's commitment to a tolerant society and a secular state should not be minimized but rather recognized as part of a larger debate about Church-State relations across early modern Europe. Ultimately this paper aims to contribute to the rich historiography of religious toleration and popular politics more broadly.
Sample 4: “Establishing a National Memory of Citizen Slaughter: A Case Study of the First Memory Site to Mass Murder in United States History - Edmond, Oklahoma, 1986-1989”
Since 1989, memory sites to events of mass murder have not only proliferated rapidly--they have become the normative expectation within American society. For the vast majority of American history, however, events commonly labeled as "mass murder" have resulted in no permanent memory sites and the sites of perpetration themselves have traditionally been either obliterated or rectified so that both the community and the nation could forget the tragedy and move on. This all changed on May 29, 1989 when the community of Edmond, Oklahoma officially dedicated the "Golden Ribbon" memorial to the thirteen people killed in the infamous "post office shooting" of 1986. In this paper I investigate the case of Edmond in order to understand why it became the first memory site of this kind in United States history. I argue that the small town of Edmond's unique political abnormalities on the day of the shooting, coupled with the near total community involvement established ideal conditions for the emergence of this unique type of memory site. I also conduct a historiography of the usage of "the ribbon" in order to illustrate how it has become the symbol of memories of violence and death in American society in the late 20th century. Lastly, I illustrate how the notable lack of communication between people involved in the Edmond and Oklahoma City cases after the 1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing--despite the close geographic and temporal proximity of these cases--illustrates this routinely isolated nature of commemorating mass murder and starkly renders the surprising number of aesthetic similarities that these memory sites share.
Sample 5: “Roman Urns and Sarcophagi: The Quest for Postmortem Identity during the Pax Romana”
"If you want to know who I am, the answer is ash and burnt embers;" thus read an anonymous early Roman's burial inscription. The Romans dealt with death in a variety of ways which incorporated a range of cultural conventions and beliefs--or non-beliefs as in the case of the "ash and embers." By the turn of the first century of this era, the Romans practiced cremation almost exclusively--as the laconic eloquence of the anonymous Roman also succinctly explained. Cremation vanished by the third century, replaced by the practice of the distant past by the fifth century. Burial first began to take hold in the western Roman Empire during the early second century, with the appearance of finely-crafted sarcophagi, but elites from the Roman world did not discuss the practices of cremation and burial in detail. Therefore archaeological evidence, primarily in form of burial vessels such as urns and sarcophagi represented the only place to turn to investigate the transitional to inhumation in the Roman world. This paper analyzed a small corpus of such vessels in order to identify symbolic elements which demarcate individual identities in death, comparing the patterns of these symbols to the fragments of text available relating to death in the Roman world. The analysis concluded that the transition to inhumantion was a movement caused by an increased desire on the part of Romans to preserve identity in death during and following the Pax Romana.