A scrutiny of the abstract

(Originally posted at http://joelnoche.multiply.com/journal/item/93/A-scrutiny-of-the-abstract on March 15, 2012 9:53 AM)

Around nine years ago, I read a 1951 paper entitled “A Scrutiny of the Abstract.”  Its abstract was

The behavior of editors is discussed.  What should be covered by an abstract is considered.  The importance of the abstract is described.  Dictionary definitions of abstracts are quoted.  At the conclusion a revised abstract is presented.

I thought it was pretty good… until I read the paper and found out why it was a terrible abstract.  The author then presented a much better abstract:

The abstract is of utmost importance, for it is read by 10 to 500 times more people than hear or read the entire article.  It should not be a mere recital of the subject covered, replete with such expressions as “is discussed” and “is described.”  It should be a condensation of the essential qualities of the paper.

This paper has greatly affected the way I write.

I just found out that the author created a revised version of the paper in 1966.


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