How to Write an Abstract
Abstracts are more impor­tant than ever. We have an ever-increasing need for quick access to infor­ma­tion.
Think of those search engine results that you find on Inter­net sites!
If the first few lines were an abstract, you’d know whether you should go and read it.
Instead, you often have to wade through link after link until you find what you were after.

How do you write an abstract?
Once you’ve fin­ished writ­ing, stop and think about the doc­u­ment.
• What is the main sub­ject?
• What is the main con­clu­sion?
• What is its pri­mary pur­pose?
• What would you expect the reader to do with this doc­u­ment?
Col­lect this together and write a sen­tence – this is your topic sen­tence.
You need to write one topic sen­tence that cov­ers the entire doc­u­ment, regard­less of whether the doc­u­ment is a one-page let­ter or a thousand-page manual.

Get­ting Ideas
Look at the rec­om­men­da­tions, con­clu­sions, sum­maries, and results in the com­pleted doc­u­ment. When abstract­ing a man­ual, look at the tuto­r­ial. These sec­tions cover the essence of the document.

Avoid the doc­u­ment title
This can be mis­lead­ing. It may not help you write the topic sen­tence. Chances are the 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 be spe­cific. Avoid writ­ing “This report describes [doc­u­ment title].” Instead, write some­thing like “The results of this [sub­ject] study show that [result].”

Use sup­port­ing sen­tences to fill in details
After you iden­tify your topic sen­tence, write sup­port­ing sen­tences. Make each of these sup­ply spe­cific details about the ideas in the topic sen­tence. Think of what sup­ports the topic sen­tence. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? and How much?
Give sta­tis­tics, results, con­clu­sions, or rec­om­men­da­tions that back up the topic sen­tence.
Only use two or three major sup­port­ing ideas. Include the less impor­tant evi­dence as sub­or­di­nate clauses and mod­i­fiers.
Tran­si­tions holds it together
Arrange the sup­port­ing sen­tences in a log­i­cal sequence after the topic sen­tence. Add what­ever tran­si­tion is needed to con­nect the sup­port­ing sen­tences to the topic sen­tence and to con­nect ideas within the sen­tences to each other. Rewrite the sen­tences to improve the connections.

The Tricks
• Write the abstract only when the doc­u­ment is fin­ished. Abstracts writ­ten before then are just pre­views.
• If you are forced to write an abstract before the doc­u­ment is com­pleted, think about its pur­pose and write a topic sen­tence. Keep in mind that you’ll need to rewrite the abstract when the doc­u­ment is fin­ished because it will no longer accu­rately reflect the con­tents of the doc­u­ment.
• Before start­ing the abstract, list your thoughts on the doc­u­ment. Group related items together. Pri­or­i­tize the list and put the most impor­tant group first. The first few groups form the core of the topic sen­tence. The rest lead to sup­port­ing sen­tences.
• If you can’t cre­ate a topic sen­tence, write the sup­port­ing sen­tences first. The topic sen­tence may then become obvi­ous.
• Write for an audi­ence not nec­es­sar­ily up to speed in your sub­ject area. This is impor­tant because you never know who will read your abstract.
• Choose acronyms, abbre­vi­a­tions, and tech­ni­cal terms care­fully as they may con­fuse many read­ers.
• Define the scope of the project in the abstract.
• Reread your abstract after sev­eral days have passed.
• Remove all super­flu­ous information.

Your Result
Your abstract is now of use to the reader. This tech­nique works for doc­u­ments of any length from a cou­ple of pages to multi-volumes. It also works for let­ters, reports, arti­cles, scripts, and any­thing else you have to write.

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