Writing Abstracts

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At the recent Legal Writing Institute's conference, I presented a session on demystifying the SSRN process.  During that presentation I discussed the importance of posting a well written abstract.  Generally only one out of five abstract views result in a download from SSRN.  Also all SSRN downloads begin with the reader visiting the abstract page.  Accordingly, time spent on constructing informative and interesting abstracts may directly translate into more downloads of your paper.  In contrast, boring, lengthy or vague abstracts may result in readers deciding to forgo the opportunity to read the entire paper. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines abstract as "Summary, Epitome."[The Merriam-Webster Dictionary 22 (Merriam-Webster Inc. 1997)].  Others define an abstract as "a stand-alone statement that briefly conveys the essential information of a paper, article, document or book; presents the objective, methods, results, and conclusions of a research project; has a brief, non-repetitive style." [http://www.rpi.edu/web/wrtingcenter/abstracts.html].  Although the definition seems simple enough, I had difficulty finding very many resources which discussed techniques or strategies for writing legal abstracts.  Not appreciating the art of abstract writing, many of us write these abstracts at the last minute not using any particular method or structure.  In fact, some of us may just cut and paste the introduction renaming it the abstract. 

To help raise awareness about the importance of abstracts, I plan to spend the next few weeks blogging about elements writers may wish to include in their abstracts.  I hope to begin a dialogue about various types of abstracts and which might be most effective for the legal academy to use.  I plan to give concrete suggestions not only on the necessary components of an abstract but also on the process of writing abstracts.  And we do not need to re-invent the wheel.  Our colleagues in the science field already have wonderful resources on abstract writing that we can adapt to fit our needs. 

 I look forward to this abstract writing series and invite you all to send your suggestions and comments to me.