On abstracts, summaries and blurbs

What dfferent types of abstracts and summaries are there and why should every publication have one? Three types and their uses are summarised below. Elements from these abstracts & summaries form the basis of publication announcements, which can be augmented with author quotes, infographics and  related multimedia.

Type Description Use
Indicative abstract Stand-alone description, 100-250 words Verso title page, library databases
Executive summary Structured summary of background (context & significance), methods, findings/outcomes & conclusions In publication before table of contents
Blurb Brief promotional statement (1-2 sentences) Web announcements & press releases

Indicative abstracts

For the IRC WASH Library, Bettie Westerhof produced guidelines for writing indicative abstracts, see http://www.washdoc.info/page/26953

Important is that an indicative abstract should “ be complete in and of itself; that is, it should be able to serve as a stand-alone description which provides a complete picture of the document” with a length of 100-250 words.

“Its purpose is to acquaint users with the subject content of the document and to help them decide whether or not to consult the original document.”

Traditionally indicative abstracts are used in bibliographic databases and on the verso of the title page of books and reports.

Descriptive abstracts, executive summaries, author summaries

Academic publications (journal articles/dissertation) use descriptive abstracts with structured formats, e.g.:

Background, Methods, Results, Conclusions

Objective, Design, Setting, Participants, Interventions, Main outcome measure, Results, Conclusion

Here is a structured format for dissertations:

  • Study background and significance, Methodological components, Findings, Conclusions

Executive summaries are similar to descriptive abstracts but are usually used in project and business reports. Here are some examples guidelines:

PLoS Biology requires author’s to include an Author Summary, a “150-200 word non-technical summary […]to make findings accessible to an audience of both scientists and non-scientists. Ideally aimed to a level of understanding of an undergraduate student, the significance of the work should be presented simply, objectively, and without exaggeration”.

Blurbs & grabs

Blurbs are brief statements, one or two sentences,  about a publication, written to entice readers. Academic publisher PLoS Biology requires writers to include a blurb with their manuscript – http://www.plosbiology.org/static/guidelines.action

In business proposals the “grab”  has a similar function: “in two or three sentences you should tell the reader why your business is special” (http://www.wikihow.com/Write-an-Executive-Summary)

The blurb or grab is what you would use in a promotional announcement of the publication on your web site or in a press release


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