What is an Abstract?

An abstract summarizes the main points of an article so that researchers can quickly determine whether or not its contents will be pertinent to their research. It is succinct and concise.

Abstracts:

  • are written in the present tense, e.g. “this article argues…”
  • establish the time period, place, key figures, and the thesis of the paper
  • are about 100 words long
  • Plunge in. Unlike introductions, they don’t need to seduce the reader, they just dive in, presenting the main points in the most efficient prose possible. This means that they avoid generalizations; they don’t start slow, they start at a run.
  • usually adopt the tone of scientific objectivity that is granted by sentences like “this article presents the following arguments….”
  • Use phrases like “this paper will argue,” or “this paper demonstrates that,” or “this paper proves that.”  Note that verbs like “examine,” “analyze,” “explore” are anemic, weak verbs. They suggest that you aren’t quite sure what you’ll do. Argue, demonstrate, prove. These verbs have more force. Use them.

The abstracts below are Excellent, Good, and Fair examples of how to approach this.  They were written by students of mine in Winter 2010.  All abstracts are used with permission of the students.

Abstract

The ideologies of Karl Marx have served as an inspiration and a foundation to numerous political figures throughout recent history. This paper focuses on the many differences and similarities between Marx’s original ideologies, and the development of a Marxist-Leninist philosophy. Although many have considered Lenin to be one of Marx’s greatest followers, a careful examination of scholarly opinions on the subject, and various works of both Marx and Lenin will show that although these men may have shared certain ideals, they ultimately had very different ideas on how to lead a revolutionary movement of the masses. This becomes clear when we examine Lenin’s opinions on the impossibility of a non-violent revolution and his various opinions on how to lead a Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The main purpose of this essay is not only to explore the roots and varying scholarly perspectives regarding the Marxist-Leninist philosophy, but ultimately to prove that these ideas were more often than not interpreted and manipulated in a way which justified and supported the revolutionary political aspirations of its creator, Vladimir Lenin, proving that he may not have been the mythic hero that the Russian people believed him to be.

Strengths of this abstract? I like the elegance of its beginning and the way the abstract positions the paper in a wider discourse and just how clear it is about what it argues. 

Abstract

This paper will compare the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949 and its aftermath on Chinese society, to what Marx theorized a non- capitalist economy would be like: annihilation of private property, and an economy based on the labour theory of value. Marx had a vision of what a non- capitalist society would be like, and in China Mao tried to bring this vision to light. Mao did implement land reform but in his own interests. Mao industrialized China, but simultaneously divided people into classes. In the end, Mao was not a “good” Marxist. Mao established himself as a dictator, and made decisions that would profit him.

Strength? The economy of that first sentence. 

Weakness? That last sentence is less argumentative and more accusatory than seems appropriate for this kind of paper. 

Abstract

This paper will examine the relationship between the Black Panther Party and the Civil Rights Movement. It will argue that the Black Panthers had an overall positive impact on American society after the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. It will establish a connection between the ideologies of the Black Panther Party and the Civil Rights movement and their link to Frantz Fanon’s writing. It will show how the violent self-defence actions of the Black Panther Party drew attention to issues which were not being addressed by the non-violent side of the movement. It will show that the light thrown upon issues by the Black Panther Party made opponents of the movement more willing to listen to the movement’s more moderate counterpart.

Strength? It clearly shows what it will argue.

Weakness? The repetition of the phrase “It will show…”

Abstract

This research paper will explore political hip hop in its earliest forms and how Marxism was a major animating force in social movements such as the ones conducted by the oppressed blacks in the 70’s. Political hip hop has been surrounded by controversy because of its unequivocal approach regarding the injustices taking place in the United-States. This research paper includes the reflections and studies conducted by various experts and scholars in the disciplines of social science, history and political science. Although the hip hop style of music did not exist in Marx’ time, his influences are hard to miss.

Strength? I like the phrase “animating force,” and the clarity of the last sentence.

Weakness: the highlighted sentence is the weakest part of this abstract. That sentence states the obvious and is therefore unnecessary. I include this abstract here to illustrate what not to do. 

Abstract

This paper explores the influence of Karl Marx on a majority of the punk subculture. Punk is a subculture that is characterized by social and political commentary, a do-it-yourself ethic and a unique type of music. By looking over the research of others and works from both Marx and a variety of punk bands, this paper will focus on how the punk community sees economics, their music, and their history. Also, it will focus on Marx’s ideas on class and economics, and how the punk community believes and practices those ideas as well.

Weakness: Again, this abstract makes the same mistake of stating the obvious.

Abstract

This paper will explore the use of split market theory, the exploitation of ethnic and racialized divisions in the labor force, by meatpacking companies in Chicago during the early 19th century to impede unionizing efforts. African-Americans, marginalized by racism in society as well as by White-led unions, viewed meatpacking companies as job providers and resulted in the use of Black labor as strikebreakers. The end of World War I created an economic depression that strained the Chicago job market. Increased racism in the South drove large numbers of African-Americans into Chicago, and their distrust of unions as well as their use as strikebreakers by employers aggravated racialized tensions and fuelled the riot of 1919.

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