Abstract from a Primary Source

An abstract consists of a summary (Pechenik, 2001, Ch. 6) of a published journal article. The abstract should contain elements from all of the parts of a standard laboratory report as taught to you in sophomore biology courses.

  1. Author. You are the author of the abstract, but you are not the author of the published article. It is important to make that quite clear. In addition to your name, include your preferred email address and local telephone number.
  2. Citation. Give the complete citation of the published article in CBE (Council of Biology Editors) style as described by Pechenik (2001 pg. Ch. 4).
  3. The first sentence or so INTRODUCES the topic of the investigation. The question asked or the hypothesis tested should appear here too.
  4. The next few sentences briefly describe the methods used. What variable was manipulated and how, what was measured and how, etc.?
  5. The next several sentences (perhaps 2/3 of the writing) present the RESULTS of the study. The most important findings (eg.: "The reaction rate increased 3-fold with the addition of 1 N NaCl.") are mentioned in some detail. Do not list all of the observations, only the important ones.
  6. The concluding few sentences DISCUSS the importance of the findings, especially in terms of answering the question or testing the hypothesis or model.
  7. The abstract should be sent via email to: koning@easternct.edu and the subject for the email should be "abstract draft" followed by your first and last name. Include your own email address on the cc: area of your email so you keep a copy!

The abstract is usually no longer than 15 sentences. The writing should be clear and concise! No extra verbiage is allowed. The use of active voice will save space ("heat increased the rate" vs "the rate was increased by heat"). Fuzzy thinking generates fuzzy writing, but fuzzy writing does not communicate clear thinking either. In the end, the abstract should be easy to read, should "make sense" to any person with a college science background, and should be mostly informative.

Common Problems Observed in Abstracts

1. Words:

Lab is an abbreviation for laboratory, a room...not a project nor a study.

Experiment is a comparison of a manipulated situation with an unmanipulated control. Some projects are not experiments.

Proof and proven are seldom useable because of error due to chance alone; evidence or support are better words to use...they admit the presence of chance error. For most of science, it is best to delete proof from your vocabulary.

It’s is a contraction of it is; we never use contractions. Its means belonging to it and could be used.

Look for the subject of the sentence...are you sure it is capable of doing the verb? Someone did the observing and the measuring, exercises and studies are inanimate objects.

Affected vs effect. Use increased/decreased rather than affected; do not use affect ever. Effect is a result of some treatment; never use effected. So of these commonly confused words, use only effect...nothing else.

Then vs than. Then relates to time sequences--than compares two items.

Use standard units...mL

You measure the absorbance of solutions, not tissues!

Two, to, too many problems!

Plants do not have conscious thought.

2. Abstract form

You must understand the basic methods of the article before you can write about it. Writing reveals every lack of understanding you may have. Strive to understand it all and get help from friends or the instructor as needed. did you know that you pay for office hours? Use the services you buy!

Pechenik, J. A. 2001. A short guide to writing about biology. 4th. ed. Addison Wesley Educational Publishers, Inc. Boston.


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