Summaries, as you know, are common in all kinds of writing, usually appearing at the end of a chapter or article, highlighting the major point of the piece and outlining the significant detail. However, writers use many other forms of summary too. In business writing, for example, reports often begin with a summary, called an executive summary, allowing the reader a chance to see if the report (or some section of the report) is relevant to him/her before reading much of it. In academic writing, essays, articles, and reviews often begin with a summary too, called an abstract.
Abstracts are very common in academic writing, and they have a fairly standard form. In essence, abstracts inform the reader of six bits of information about the piece of writing being summarized:
  1. purpose
    • What is the author's reason for writing?
    • What is the author's main idea?
  2. scope
    • What is the author's focus in this piece?
    • Where does the author concentrate his/her attention?
  3. method
    • What kinds of evidence does the author provide?
    • How does the author try to convince the reader of the validity of his/her main idea?
  4. results
    • What are the consequences of the problem or issue that the author is discussing?
  5. recommendations
    • What solutions does the author present to the reader to resolve the problem of issue in the piece?
    • Does the author recommend action or change in his/her piece?
  6. conclusions
    • Does the author describe a 'cause and effect' relationship or explain the origins of this issue or problem?
    • What conclusions does the author draw from his/her study of the issue or problem?
Abstracts are not long — only about a paragraph. (If each point above, for example, got its own sentence, then the abstract would be six sentences long. Many writers find that they can combine several of the sentences of the abstract when the ideas are closely related.) At the beginning of an essay, abstracts allow you to introduce your subject to your readers before you go into your analysis in detail.