How to Write an Abstract for the Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities Conference
How to Write an Abstract Workshops:
The following Workshops will be in Meeting Room D, Student Community Center
Tuesday, January 30, 2018, 12:10 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Wednesday, January 31, 2018, 3:10 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Thursday, February 1, 2018, 4:10 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
What is an abstract?
An abstract is a one-paragraph summary of a research project. Abstracts precede papers in research journals and appear in programs of scholarly conferences. In journals, the abstract allows readers to quickly grasp the purpose and major ideas of a paper and lets other researchers know whether reading the entire paper will be worthwhile. In conferences, the abstract is the advertisement that the paper deserves the audience's attention.
Why write an abstract?
The abstract allows readers to make decisions about your project. Your sponsoring professor can use the abstract to decide if your research is proceeding smoothly. The conference organizer uses it to decide if your project fits the conference criteria. The conference audience (faculty, administrators, peers, and presenters' families) uses your abstract to decide whether or not to attend your presentation. Your abstract needs to take all these readers into consideration.
How does an abstract appeal to such a broad audience?
The audience for this abstract covers the broadest possible scope--from expert to lay person. You need to find a comfortable balance between writing an abstract that both shows your knowledge and yet is still comprehensible--with some effort--by lay members of the audience. Limit the amount of technical language you use and explain it where possible. Always use the full term before you refer to it by acronym [DNA double-stranded breaks (DSBs), for example]. Remember that you are yourself an expert in the field that you are writing about--don't take for granted that the reader will share your insider knowledge.
What should the abstract include?
Think of your abstract as a condensed version of your whole project. By reading it, the reader should understand the nature of your research question. Like abstracts that researchers prepare for scholarly conferences, the abstract you submit for the Undergraduate Research Conference will most likely reflect work still in progress at the time you write it. Although the content will vary according to field and specific project, all abstracts, whether in the sciences or the humanities, convey the following information:
- The purpose of the project identifying the area of study to which it belongs.
- The research problem that motivates the project.
- The methods used to address this research problem, documents or evidence analyzed.
- The conclusions reached or, if the research is in progress, what the preliminary results of the investigation suggest, or what the research methods demonstrate.
- The significance of the research project. Why are the results useful? What is new to our understanding as the result of your inquiry?
Whatever kind of research you are doing, your abstract should provide the reader with answers to the following questions: What are you asking? Why is it important? How will you study it? What will you use to demonstrate your conclusions? What are those conclusions? What do they mean?
The abstract should be one paragraph and should not exceed the word limit. Edit it closely to be sure it meets the Four C's of abstract writing:
- Complete — it covers the major parts of the project.
- Concise — it contains no excess wordiness or unnecessary information.
- Clear — it is readable, well organized, and not too jargon-laden.
- Cohesive — it flows smoothly between the parts.
The importance of understandable language
Because all researchers hope their work will be useful to others, and because good scholarship is increasingly used across disciplines, it is crucial to make the language of your abstracts accessible to a non-specialist. Simplify your language. Friends in another major will spot instantly what needs to be more understandable. Some problem areas to look for:
- Eliminate jargon. Showing off your technical vocabulary will not demonstrate that your research is valuable. If using a technical term is unavoidable, add a non-technical synonym to help a non-specialist infer the term's meaning.
- Omit needless words—redundant modifiers, pompous diction, excessive detail.
- Avoid stringing nouns together (make the relationship clear with prepositions).
- Eliminate "narration," expressions such as "It is my opinion that," "I have concluded," "the main point supporting my view concerns," or "certainly there is little doubt as to. . . ." Focus attention solely on what the reader needs to know.
Before submitting your abstract
- Make sure it is within 150-200 words. (Over-writing is all too easy, so reserve time for cutting your abstract down to the essential information.)
- Make sure the language is understandable by a non-specialist. (Avoid writing for an audience that includes only you and your professor.)
- Have your sponsoring professor work with you and approve the abstract before you submit it online.
- Only one abstract per person is allowed.
Multimedia Risk Assessment of Biodiesel - Tier II Antfarm Project
Significant knowledge gaps exist in the fate, transport, biodegradation, and toxicity properties of biodiesel when it is leaked into the environment. In order to fill these gaps, a combination of experiments has been developed in a Multimedia Risk Assessment of Biodiesel for the State of California. Currently, in the Tier II experimental phase of this assessment, I am investigating underground plume mobility of 20% and 100% additized and unadditized Soy and Animal Fat based biodiesel blends and comparing them to Ultra Low-Sulfer Diesel #2 (USLD) by filming these fuels as they seep through unsaturated sand, encounter a simulated underground water table, and form a floating lens on top of the water. Thus far, initial findings in analyzing the digital images created during the filming process have indicated that all fuels tested have similar travel times. SoyB20 behaves most like USLD in that they both have a similar lateral dispersion lens on top of the water table. In contrast, Animal Fat B100 appears to be most different from ULSD in that it has a narrower residual plume in the unsaturated sand, as well as a narrower and deeper lens formation on top of the water table.
Narrative Representation of Grief
In William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go how can grief, an incomprehensible and incommunicable emotion, be represented in fiction? Is it paradoxical, or futile, to do so? I look at two novels that struggle with representing intense combinations of individual and communal grief: William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. At first glance, the novels appear to have nothing in common: Faulkner's is a notoriously bleak odyssey told in emotionally heavy stream-of-consciousness narrative, while Ishiguro's is a near-kitschy blend of a coming-of-age tale and a sci-fi dystopia. But they share a rare common thread. They do not try to convey a story, a character, an argument, or a realization, so much as they try to convey an emotion. The novels' common struggle is visible through their formal elements, down to the most basic technical aspects of how the stories are told. Each text, in its own way, enacts the trauma felt by its characters because of their grief, and also the frustration felt by its narrator (or narrators) because of the complex and guilty task of witnessing for grief and loss.
This webpage was based on articles written by Professor Diana Strazdes, Art History and Dr. Amy Clarke, University Writing Program, UC Davis. Thanks to both for their contributions.
Instructions for Submitting an Abstract
Please submit the following by Tuesday, February 20, 2018 at 4:00 p.m.
- Complete online registration form and abstract
- We will send an e-mail to your faculty sponsor to confirm that your abstract has been reviewed and approved.
(Tuesday Post Category: Strategizing Your Success in Academia)
Tuesdays I will occasionally feature “How-To(sday)” posts, short guides to certain genres of academic writing. I’m happy to take requests for these. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today we look at the paper/conference proposal abstract. This is a critical genre of writing for scholars in the humanities and social sciences. Usually between 200 and 500 words long, it is a short abstract that describes research/a talk/a journal article that you are GOING to write. This is in contrast to the abstract of the research/dissertation/article that you have already written.
Mastering the paper abstract is one of the most important skills you can acquire while still a graduate student. Learn the tricks of the paper abstract and you have the ticket in hand to a steady ride of conference and publishing opportunities. These are the conferences and publications that a few years down the line, set your c.v. apart from your peers, and land you that job.
The paper abstract is highly formulaic. Let’s break it down. It needs to show the following:
1) big picture problem or topic widely debated in your field.
2) gap in the literature on this topic.
3) your project filling the gap.
4) the specific material that you examine in the paper.
5) your original argument.
6) a strong concluding sentence.
Each of these six elements is mostly likely contained in a single sentence.
Sentence 1: Big picture topic that is being intensively debated in your field/fields, possibly with reference to scholars (“The question of xxx has been widely debated in xxx field, with scholars such as xxx and xx arguing xxx]”).
Sentence 2: Gap in the literature on this topic. This GAP IN KNOWLEDGE is very, very bad, and detrimental to the welfare of all right thinking people. This is the key sentence of the abstract. (“However, these works/articles/arguments/perspectives have not adequately addressed the issue of xxxx.”).
Sentence 3: Your project fills this gap (“My paper addresses the issue of xx with special attention to xxx”).
Sentence 4+ (length here depends on your total word allowance, and more sentences may be possible): The specific material that you are examining–your data, your texts, etc. ( “Specifically, in my project, I will be looking at xxx and xxx, in order to show xxxx. I will discuss xx and xx, and juxtapose them against xx and xx, in order to reveal the previously misunderstood connections between xx and xx.”)
Sentence 5: Your main argument and contribution, concisely and clearly stated. (“I argue that…”)
Sentence 6: Strong Conclusion! (“In conclusion, this project, by closely examining xxxxx, sheds new light on the neglected/little recognized/rarely acknowledged issue of xxxxx. “).
Start by writing out your own version of the sentences above, succinctly if you can, but without stressing about your word limit too much.
Once that is done, edit to your word count.
One of the key points of the paper abstract is that it is very short, and every word must count. No fluff, no filler, no blather.
Remove wordy phrases like, “it can be argued that,” “Is is commonly acknowledged that,” “I wish to propose the argument that”—these are all empty filler. Work in short, declarative sentences.
If you are wondering—how do I make an argument when I haven’t written the paper yet? Well–that’s the challenge. Come up with a plausible, reasonable argument for the purposes of the abstract. If you end up writing something different in the actual paper itself, that’s ok!
Make sure that your final product shows your:
1) big picture
2) gap in the literature
3) your project filling the gap
4) the specific material that you examine in the paper.
5) your argument.
6) A strong conclusion.
For your reference, here are two abstracts that demonstrate how the principles above work. Each has parts missing, as noted. Inclusion would have strengthened the abstract:
1. Access to marriage or marriage-like institutions, and the recognition of lesbian and gay familial lives more generally, has become central to lesbian and gay equality struggles in recent years [Sentence 1–Big problem]. [Sentence 2–Gap in literature MISSING here]. This paper considers what utopian fiction has to offer by way of alternatives to this drive for ever more regulation of the family [Sentence 3–Her project fills the gap]. Through analysis of Marge Piercy’s classic feminist novel, Woman on the Edge of Time, and Thomas Bezucha’s award-winning gay film, Big Eden, alternative ways of conceptualizing the place of law in lesbian and gay familial lives are considered and explored [Sentence 4–Her specific material in the paper]. Looking to utopia as a method for rethinking the place of law in society offers rich new perspectives on the issue of lesbian and gay familial recognition [Sentence 5–Her argument, weak]. I argue that utopian fiction signals that the time is now ripe for a radical reevaluation of how we recognize and regulate not only same-sex relationships but all family forms [Sentence 6– a strong conclusion.].
[Imagining a Different World: Reconsidering the Regulation of Family Lives. Rosie Harding. Law and Literature. Vol. 22, No. 3 (Fall 2010) (pp. 440-462)]
Good luck with your abstract!! And be sure and ask the Professor for help if you need it. email@example.com.
2. History, it seems, has to attain a degree of scientificity, resident in the truth-value of its narrative, before it can be called history, as distinguished from the purely literary or political [Sentence 1–Big problem]. Invoking the work of Jacques Rancière and Hayden White, this essay investigates the manner in which history becomes a science through a detour that gives speech a regime of truth [Sentence 2–Literature, no gap mentioned]. It does this by exploring the nineteenth-century relationship of history to poetry and to truth in the context of the emerging discipline of history in Bengal [Sentence 3–Her project fills the gap]. The question is discussed in relation to a patriotic poem, Palashir Yuddha (1875), accused of ahistoricality, as well as to a defense made by Bengal’s first professional historian, Jadunath Sarkar, against a similar charge in the context of Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s historical novels [Sentence 4–Her specific material in the paper]. That the relationship of creativity to history is a continuing preoccupation for the historian is finally explored through Ranajit Guha’s invocation of Tagore in “History at the Limit of World-History” (2002) [Sentence 5–Her argument, weakly stated]. [MISSING Sentence 6—a strong conclusion].
[History in Poetry: Nabinchandra Sen’s “Palashir Yuddha” and the Question of Truth. Rosinka Chaudhuri. The Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 66, No. 4 (Nov., 2007) (pp. 897-918)]
Posted inHow To Do Conferences, How to Get Grants and Fellowships, Promote Yourself!, Strategizing Your Success in Academia, Writing InstrumentallyTaggedhow to write a proposal, how to write an abstract, humanities abstract, humanities paper proposal, writing an abstractpermalink
About KarenI am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.
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