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How To Write Abstracts For Business Documents

Abstracts are more important than ever. We have an ever-increasing need for quick access to information.

Think of those search engine results that you find on Internet sites. If the first few lines were an abstract, you'd know if it was worth exploring. Instead, you often have to wade through link after link until you find what you were after, which can be very time consuming.

How to do it

Abstract summarize the essence of a document. They give you a snapshot of what's inside. A well-written abstract teases the reader to explore further.


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After you've finished writing, stop for a moment and think about the document.

  • What is its main subject?
  • What is its main conclusion?
  • What is its primary purpose?
  • What would you expect the reader to do with this document?

Collect this together and write one sentence - that is your topic sentence.

You need to write one topic sentence that covers the entire document, regardless of whether the document is a one-page letter or a thousand-page manual.

For inspiration

Look at the recommendations, conclusions, summaries, and results in the completed document. When abstracting a manual, look at the tutorial. These sections cover the essence of the document.

Avoid the document title

This can be misleading. It may not help you write the topic sentence. Chances are the title will be too vague. Parts of the title might serve as modifiers in your topic sentence, but you'll probably need to go beyond the title.

Be specific

Make the topic sentence be specific. Avoid writing "This report describes… [document title]." Instead, write something like "The results of this… [subject]… study show that… [result]."

Use supporting sentences to fill in details

After you identify your topic sentence, write supporting sentences. Make each of these supply specific details about the ideas in the topic sentence. Think of what supports the topic sentence. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? and How much? Give statistics, results, conclusions, or recommendations that back up the topic sentence.

Only use two or three major supporting ideas. Include the less important evidence as subordinate clauses and modifiers.

The Transition holds it together

Arrange the supporting sentences in a logical sequence after the topic sentence. Add whatever transition is needed to connect the supporting sentences to the topic sentence and to connect ideas within the sentences to each other. Rewrite the sentences to improve the connections.

The Tricks

  • Write the abstract only when the document is finished. Abstracts written before then are just previews.
  • If you are forced to write an abstract before the document is completed, think about its purpose and write a topic sentence. Keep in mind that you'll need to rewrite the abstract when the document is finished because it will no longer accurately reflect the contents of the document.
  • Before starting the abstract, list your thoughts on the document. Group related items together. Prioritize the list and put the most important group first. The first few groups form the core of the topic sentence. The rest lead to supporting sentences.
  • If you can't create a topic sentence, write the supporting sentences first. The topic sentence may then become obvious.
  • Write for an audience not necessarily up to speed in your subject area. This is important because you never know who will read your abstract.
    Choose acronyms, abbreviations, and technical terms carefully as they may confuse many readers.
  • Define the scope of the project in the abstract.
  • Reread your abstract after several days have passed.
  • Remove all superfluous information.

Your Result

Your abstract is now of use to the reader. This technique works for documents of any length from a couple of pages to multi-volumes. It also works for letters, reports, articles, scripts, and anything else you have to write.

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