The Third Stage of Abstract Writing - Critical Reading

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Now that you have a draft of your abstract you are ready for the polishing phase.  Edward T. Cremmins in his book, The Art of Abstracting 68-69, offers these three rules to assist in the editing process.

Rule 1.  Is the abstract properly structured and unified?

Rule 2.  Is the content of the abstract complete, coherent, and concise?

Rule 3.  Does the abstract conform to both general style rules and conventions for abstracts and those special ones contained in the publisher's or information-system manager's instructions on the type and length of abstracts?

 

Writers need to make sure they have conformed to any requirements for the abstracts including word count, font, margin size, etc.  Usually in law no specific instructions about abstracts are given allowing the writer relative freedom.  If no length is designated, the writer should typically keep the abstract between 250-400 words.

 

The writer also needs to carefully proof the document for style and substance errors.  The writer should double-check that information has been included for all the essential parts of the abstract as discussed in early posts.  Once the writer is confident about the abstract's substance, he or she needs to line edit the abstract looking for typos and grammatical and punctuation errors.  Reading the abstract out loud or reading it backwards may help the writer spot the errors more easily.  The writer should be particularly mindful about word choice that maximizes conciseness and avoids redundancy.  Deleting colloquialisms, superlatives and other adjectives helps keep the writing concise. 

 Additional ways to achieve brevity include:

 

1. Deleting throat clearing phrases such as:

(These were taken from Bryan A. Garner, The Red Book A Manual on Legal Style  159-60 (West 2002)).

 

Instead of this:

Try This:

As a consequence of

Because of

As previously stated

Again

As regards

About

At the time when

When

At this point in time

Now

Because of the fact that

Because; since

Despite the fact that

Although

Due to the fact that

Because

For the reason that

Because; since

In accordance with

Under; according to

In light of the fact that

Because, since

In reference to

About

In the event of (that)

If

In the instant case

Here, now

Is applicable

Applies

Is required to

Must

Is binding on

Binds

It is probable that

Probably

On behalf of

For

Pursuant to

Under; according to

Prior to

Before

Subsequent to

After

With reference to (regard to)(respect to)

About; regarding

With the exception of

Except for

 

2.  Deleting passive voice.

3.  Avoiding quotations.

4. Not stating the obvious.

5.  Cleaning out the clutter.  In Anne Enquist's and Laurel Currie Oates's book, Just Writing 131, they provide the following example.

 Clutter:  At this point in time, we are in the process of filing a motion for summary judgment with the court.

 Without the clutter:  We are filing a motion for summary judgment.

6. Looking for the word "of" which often can be eliminated. Example: The Radley's dog not the dog of the Radleys.

7. Combining sentences especially if the first sentence merely treads water and forces the reader to go to the second sentence to get the important information.

 8.  Avoiding "it is," "there is," "there were" constructions. 

The writer should read the abstract several times focusing on just one of these suggestions while reading.  For example, after the writer identifies and reworks all passive voice constructions, the writer can move to finding and eliminating all throat clearing words.