An abstract is a brief summary of a text—a journal article, conference paper, or dissertation—that highlights its most important claims and findings. Since first appearing in medical journals in the 1960s, they have become common in every field of study except the humanities, where they are nonetheless not altogether absent.


Abstracts serve different functions for different readerships:

  • For ordinary readers, they summarize the text, allowing readers to decide whether to read the entire piece and organizing their comprehension by providing a “road map.”
  • For journal editors and reviewers, they offer a ready-to-hand reference for evaluating a text for publication.
  • For indexers, professional abstract writers, and information management professionals, they offer guidance for classifying and sorting a text.
  • For conference organizers, editorial boards, and funding agencies, they “advertise” and “sell” a ...
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