Definitions

executive summary

Abstract (summary)

An abstract is a brief summary of a research article, thesis, review, conference proceeding or any in-depth analysis of a particular subject or discipline, and is often used to help the reader quickly ascertain the paper's purpose. When used, an abstract always appears at the beginning of a manuscript, acting as the point-of-entry for any given scientific paper or patent application. Abstraction and indexing services are available for a number of academic disciplines, aimed at compiling a body of literature for that particular subject.

Academic abstracts

The abstract of a thesis or article is a short summary that explains the main argument(s), topic(s) or findings. In theses, the abstract normally appears before the table of contents.

In scientific literature

Scientific literature takes widespread advantage of the abstract as the abbreviated style of choice in order to aptly communicate complex research. In science, an abstract may act as a stand-alone entity in lieu of the paper as well. As such, an abstract is used by many organizations as the basis for selecting research that is proposed for presentation in the form of a poster, podium/lecture, or workshop presentation at an academic conference. Most literature database search engines index abstracts only as opposed to providing the entire text of the paper. Full-texts of scientific papers must often be purchased because of copyright and/or publisher fees, and therefore the abstract is a significant selling point for the reprint or electronic version of the full-text.

Abstracts are afforded protections under copyright law just as any other form of written speech is protected. However, publishers of scientific articles invariably make abstracts publicly available, even when the article itself is protected by a toll barrier. For example, articles in the biomedical literature are available publicly from MEDLINE which is accessible through PubMed. It is a common misconception that the abstracts in MEDLINE provide sufficient information for medical practitioners, students, scholars and patients. The abstract can convey the main results and conclusions of a scientific article but the full text article must be consulted for details of the methodology, the full experimental results, and a critical discussion of the interpretations and conclusions. Consulting the abstract alone is inadequate for scholarship and may lead to inappropriate medical decisions.

Abstract length varies by discipline and publisher requirements. Typical length ranges from 100 to 500 words, but very rarely more than a page. An abstract may or may not have the section title of "abstract" explicitly listed as an antecedent to content, however, they are typically sectioned logically as an overview of what appears in the paper (e.g. any one of the following: Background, Introduction, Objectives, Methods, Results, Conclusions).

In journal articles, research papers, published patent applications and patents, an abstract is a short summary placed prior to the introduction, often set apart from the body of the text, sometimes with different line justification (as a block or pull quote) from the rest of the article.

An abstract allows one to sift through copious amounts of papers for ones in which the researcher can have more confidence that they will be relevant to his research. Abstracts help a researcher decide which papers might be relevant to their research. Once papers are chosen based on the abstract, they must be read carefully to be evaluated for relevance. It is commonly surmised that one must not base reference citations on the abstract alone, but the entire merits of a paper.

Example

Example taken from the Journal of Biology, Volume 3, Issue 2. The electronic version of this article is listed as Open Access as of March 30 2005, and can be found online at: http://jbiol.com/content/3/2/8:
The hydrodynamics of dolphin drafting

by Daniel Weihs, Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa 32000, Israel.

Abstract:

Background Drafting in cetaceans is defined as the transfer of forces between individuals without actual physical contact between them. This behavior has long been surmised to explain how young dolphin calves keep up with their rapidly moving mothers. It has recently been observed that a significant number of calves become permanently separated from their mothers during chases by tuna vessels. A study of the hydrodynamics of drafting, initiated in the hope of understanding the mechanisms causing the separation of mothers and calves during fishing-related activities, is reported here.

Results Quantitative results are shown for the forces and moments around a pair of unequally sized dolphin-like slender bodies. These include two major effects. First, the so-called Bernoulli suction, which stems from the fact that the local pressure drops in areas of high speed, results in an attractive force between mother and calf. Second is the displacement effect, in which the motion of the mother causes the water in front to move forwards and radially outwards, and water behind the body to move forwards to replace the animal's mass. Thus, the calf can gain a 'free ride' in the forward-moving areas. Utilizing these effects, the neonate can gain up to 90% of the thrust needed to move alongside the mother at speeds of up to 2.4 m/s. A comparison with observations of eastern spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) is presented, showing savings of up to 60% in the thrust that calves require if they are to keep up with their mothers.

Conclusions A theoretical analysis, backed by observations of free-swimming dolphin schools, indicates that hydrodynamic interactions with mothers play an important role in enabling dolphin calves to keep up with rapidly moving adult school members.
© 2004 Weihs; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article: verbatim copying and redistribution of this article are permitted in all media for any purpose, provided this notice is preserved along with the article's original URL

Graphical abstracts

Recently, due to the influence of computer storage and retrieval systems such as the Internet, many scientific publications have started including graphical abstracts alongside the text abstracts. The graphic is intended to summarize or be an examplar for the main thrust of the article. It is not intended to be as exhaustive a summary as the text abstract, rather it is supposed to indicate the type, scope, and technical coverage of the article at a glance.

See also

External links

  • " The Executive Summary", from Technical Writing: A Reader-Centered Approach, 2nd ed. By Paul V. Anderson, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich Publishers, 1991. Contains a definition of the executive summary and its differentiation from an abstract.

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