The Abstract: Short but Significant

This week, our very own Dr. Mickey Hess will host a workshop on writing abstracts, so I thought it would be a good idea to share some basics to get us in the mindset.

If you’re a graduate student, you may have read hundreds of abstracts without ever having written one yourself. If you’re a more experienced scholar, you may have written one or several abstracts, but you may still have questions about why they matter, what to include, or how to get started.

After completing your research and writing a full-length article, dissertation, or book, you’d think writing a single paragraph would be a breeze, but condensing pages of research into one paragraph is a task many writers find intimidating.

Some scholars write the abstract after they have finished writing about their research, when everything is known. Personally, I like to write a first draft of my abstract before I begin writing because the process helps me focus and organize my thoughts. You should know, however, that regardless of when you write it, the abstract is the first thing your audience will read. And in many cases, it could also be the only part of your research they read. For this reason, and because your abstract will likely influence someone’s decision to keep reading, it’s the most important paragraph you’ll write.

Let’s start at the beginning.

What is an abstract?

An abstract is a shortened version of your work that summarizes its key points. Think of it as an ultra-mini-version of your paper.

Why do I have to write an abstract?

The purpose of an abstract is to provide your reader with a concise overview of your research and its findings. As a scholar, I’m sure you’ve seen the benefit of reading abstracts during your research process. They help you decide which studies might be relevant to your interests and give you an overview of what has been studied and learned on a given topic. Think of how much more difficult research would be without abstracts. You would have to read entire articles before knowing their relevance. By writing an abstract, you make your writing visible to other scholars conducting research on your topic.

Why is it important to write a good abstract?

The most obvious answer to this question is to convince other scholars to read your research. After all, many scholars might cite your work after reading the abstract alone. In addition, abstracts are not behind paywalls, so they may be the only aspect of your work that is readily available to readers. A well-written abstract can persuade readers to seek access to the full text. Also, when properly selected, the keywords included in your abstract will ensure your work appears in online searches.

Dr. Wendy Belcher highlighted the features of a well-written abstract in her book Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success.

 

Ingredients of a Good Abstract

Belcher (2019) explained that an abstract should do the following:

· Summarize, rather than introduce, the article.

· Tell a story by identifying the problem addressed by the research.

· State the argument and a claim for the significance of that argument.

· Reveal the most valuable findings.

· State the methods in one sentence.

· Use strong verbs that align with your argument.

· Include the most relevant keywords for search engines.

· Stand alone, which means everything included in the abstract should be self-explanatory.

· Report what you did in the past, not what you hope to do in the future (pp. 93–94).

 

Anatomy of an Abstract

The components of an abstract can depend on the journal or graduate program, but in the social, health, behavioral, or natural sciences, they typically include the following elements in this order:

1. Background/problem

2. Objective

3. Method/design

4. Results/findings

5. Conclusions/discussion

6. Keywords

Note: Journals and university dissertation guidelines will include instructions for authors that dictate whether an abstract should be structured or unstructured.

A structured abstract includes headings for each of the six sections. An unstructured abstract will not. Let’s look at an example of each from an article by Kantorova et al. (2021) appearing in the Journal of Environment Research and Public Health.

Structured Abstract

Background: In the midst of a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, music therapists previously not involved in telehealth had to develop effective remote forms of music therapy. Objective: The objective of this review was to systematically explore how music therapists previously working in-person adapted to the transfer to remote forms of therapy in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. Methods: We searched Scopus, Web of Science Core Collection, CINAHL, Medline, ProQuest Central, PubMed, EMBASE, PsycINFO and PsyARTICLES, grey literature (to October 2020), and websites of professional organizations. We followed the JBI methodology for scoping reviews. Results: Out of the 194 screened texts, we included ten very heterogeneous articles with an overall very low quality. Most texts described remote therapy in the form of synchronous video calls using the Internet, one paper described a concert in a patio of a residential home. We report the authors’ experience with the adaptation and activities, challenges and benefits of remote forms of therapy, recommendations of organizations, and examples and tips for online therapies. Conclusions: Music therapists have adapted the musical instruments, the hours, the technology used, the therapeutic goals, the way they prepared their clients for sessions, and other aspects. They needed to be more flexible, consult with colleagues more often, and mind the client-therapist relationship’s boundaries. It seems, when taken as a necessary short-term measure, online music therapy works sufficiently well. The majority of papers stated that benefits outweighed the challenges, although many benefits were directly linked with the pandemic context.

Keywords: music therapy, telemedicine, telehealth, remote therapy, COVID-19, adaptation, scoping review

Unstructured Abstract

In the midst of a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, music therapists previously not involved in telehealth had to develop effective remote forms of music therapy. The objective of this review was to systematically explore how music therapists previously working in-person adapted to the transfer to remote forms of therapy in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. We searched Scopus, Web of Science Core Collection, CINAHL, Medline, ProQuest Central, PubMed, EMBASE, PsycINFO and PsyARTICLES, grey literature (to October 2020), and websites of professional organizations. We followed the JBI methodology for scoping reviews. Out of the 194 screened texts, we included ten very heterogeneous articles with an overall very low quality. Most texts described remote therapy in the form of synchronous video calls using the Internet, one paper described a concert in a patio of a residential home. We report the authors’ experience with the adaptation and activities, challenges and benefits of remote forms of therapy, recommendations of organizations, and examples and tips for online therapies. Music therapists have adapted the musical instruments, the hours, the technology used, the therapeutic goals, the way they prepared their clients for sessions, and other aspects. They needed to be more flexible, consult with colleagues more often, and mind the client-therapist relationship’s boundaries. It seems, when taken as a necessary short-term measure, online music therapy works sufficiently well. The majority of papers stated that benefits outweighed the challenges, although many benefits were directly linked with the pandemic context.

Keywords: music therapy, telemedicine, telehealth, remote therapy, COVID-19, adaptation, scoping review

 

Kantorova, L., Kantor, J., Ho’rejsi, B., Gilboa, A., Svobodova, Z., Lipsky, M., Mare’ckova, J., & Klugar, M. (2021). Adaptation of music therapists’ practice to the outset of the COVID-19 Pandemic—Going virtual: A scoping review. International Journal of Environment Research and Public Health, 18, 5138. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18105138

 

Happy Writing!

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