Writing an abstract

Candace, 29 November 2006, No comments
Categories: Academia, School

This is based on my experience as an undergraduate TA. I thought I would share what I’ve put together to help students understand what an abstract does if they’ve never done one before. An abstract is brief, clear, and concise. It gives the reader enough information to know what an article is about but not so much that they can cite it just from the abstract without reading the article.

A lot of abstracts are set up to provide the following information:

A: What does the piece do – what does it explain, address, discuss ? This part often starts with something like, “This essay/article examines….”

B: Some background, what the reader needs to know – brief, but enough so the reader knows if it might be what they are looking for, if they should keep reading.

C: How does your paper do what it does? Does it analyze data or experiences?

D: What sources, theories, etc. does your paper draw upon to make its conclusions (and why these, not others) — and everyone’s favourite bit: What is the thesis??

Here is a really clear example:

Resisting Neo-Liberalism: the Poisoned Water Disaster in Walkerton, Ontario
Laureen Snider
Queen’s University, Canada

{{section A}} This article examines how relations of governance generate particular forms of resistance, and the mechanisms through which resistance can reconfigure governance. It seeks to clarify actual and potential links between resistance, transformative politics and ameliorative change. {{section B}} Empirically it documents an environmental disaster in Walkerton, Ontario, Canada, when seven people died and 2300 became ill after E. Coli contaminated public drinking water in May of 2000. Following a Public Inquiry and nine months of Hearings, the intensely critical O’Connor Report explained the disaster as resulting from policies adopted by Ontario’s neo-liberal government and its ‘Common Sense Revolution’. The Report forced government to re-regulate and restaff the Ministry of the Environment. {{Section C}} To understand how this critical narrative was produced and why it was heard, the article situates the Inquiry process in its historical, cultural and political context. {{Section D}} Focusing on two particular forms of knowledge/power, science and law, it argues that the universalistic truth claims of science were allied with the normative and procedural claims of law to challenge hegemonic power and interrogate the truth claims of neo-liberal government. Resistance in this case took local form, but its roots and resonance came from history, timing, and world-wide struggles against globalization, free trade and the ever-expanding American empire.

If you try to answer those questions clearly and concisely your abstract should write itself.


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