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Archive for October, 2010

Writing Abstracts for Pay

Yes, people, do get paid to write abstracts. Others write summaries as part of their work. Examples may include summaries of grant/contract proposals, “Executive Summaries” of everything from proposals to resumés and short descriptions of accomplishments.

What is the difference between an abstract and a summary? Actually, there is a difference. An abstract is a description of the work, designed to stand alone.  The summary is used at the end of the work to underline the important points in the work. Busy executives often read only the executive summary at the beginning of a paper, assuming they have enough detail. Whether you’re writing an abstract or a summary, you are attempting to synthesize a body of information into a shortened form to be read quickly and easily by interested individuals.

   Abstracts can be classified into two common forms: indicative and informative. The typical distinction between descriptive and informative is that the descriptive abstract is like a table of contents whereas the informative abstract lays out the content of the document. The indicative abstract tells about the background of the work, who is responsible for the work, how and why the work was conceived and how the study was undertaken. This type of abstract is called indicative because it indicates what the work is but does not provide details about the work.

       An informative abstract provides details about the substance of a piece of writing because readers will sometimes rely on the abstract alone for information. Informative abstracts typically follow this format:

  1. Identifying information (bibliographic citation or other identification of the document),
  2. Concise restatement of the main point, including the initial problem or other background,
  3. Methodology (for experimental work) and key findings, and
  4. Major conclusions.

Edward T. Cremmins in his book, “The Art of Abstracting,” describes a three-stage analytical reading method that is necessary to prepare informative and indicative abstracts. Cremmins has over 30 years experience in research and testing, refining, using, and teaching the concepts of abstracting. According to Cremmins, preparation of abstracts is a three stage process.

When reading documents for abstracting, first you explore the material to identify candidate information for retrieval (Stage 1). Next, respond to the selected information and synthesize (Stage 2) the most relevant information into a draft abstract. Finally, you should review the material and draft again to add value (Stage 3) to the abstract.

In Stage 1, you are exploring the material to find tidbits of information that standout as vital to anyone seeking information on this topic. You will scan the text to identify passages containing information with potential for inclusion in the abstract. Mark those parts in the margin of the text that contain information on purpose, methods, findings or conclusions/recommendations.

That stage of abstracting completed, you will move on to organizing or responding to and synthesizing the material. Here your cognitive skills are challenged to transform extracted material identified in Stage 1 to a product of high craftsmanship. To meet this challenge you may have to consult dictionaries, handbooks or other material so as to be confident with the intricacies of the subject matter being abstracted. If you are confident in your knowledge of the subject, continue to develop the abstract. Most abstracts have a small word count requirement, so being concise or “writing tight” is a highly valued skill.

The final stage, adding value to the abstract, is where your particular knowledge, ability and writing style can shine. Stage 3 is, essentially, the critical reading stage. The goal of this final reading stage of the completed version of the draft abstract is to ensure that it contains adequate value and meaning, and, if not, to add more of these qualities to it. Additionally, this reading is beneficial in identifying questions or problems of style that either may be resolved independently by the abstractor or may be brought to the attention of an editor or reviewer.

When writing an abstract, then:

  1. Scan the document purposefully for key facts,
  2. Tell what was found,
  3. Tell why the work was done,
  4. Tell how the work was done,
  5. Place findings early in the abstract,
  6. Place general statements last,
  7. Differentiate experiment from hypothesis,
  8. Be informative but brief,
  9. Be exact, concise and unambiguous,

10.  Use short, complete sentences.

Advice on how to get started writing abstracts:

  1. List It on Your Website. The most obvious thing you can do is list it as a service offering on your website and/or blog. When you do, list a brief explanation of what it is and how it can benefit the client.
  2. Pitch Clients. Many times, clients won’t even realize the value that abstracts can bring them. So, devise a special query seeking this kind of work. 
  3. Or start an abstracting service, which requires very little financial investment. The materials you will need are probably things you already have at home. You`ll need a reliable computer with a multi function printer, and as with any business, you should have both a land line and cell phone so that your customers can always reach you. An abstracting service business offers a great deal of flexibility in terms of hours, as long as you meet your deadlines.
  4. The income potential for abstracting services is promising. You can expect to be paid between $5 and $15 per article. The speed of your reading and writing ability will have a huge effect on your earning potential. If you can complete only one article per hour, you`ll be earning $6 to $20 per hour, however if you can complete as many as 3 articles in an hour, you could easily find yourself  bringing in as much as $45 dollars per hour (from

Published in Outdoors Unlimited, October 2010

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