Abstracts vs. Abstracts, with a Bit of an Extract



22 January 2014

Basic research terms can mean quite different things in different professional fields or in varying contexts. Take the word abstract for example. An abstract we prepare in the research stage looks quite different from an abstract prepared to accompany a dissertation or published paper.

Notetaking context:

An abstract at this stage is a condensed version of a record—one that preserves all the important details that appear in the original as well as the sequence of those details. This kind of abstract may contain verbatim extracts (quotes) from the record, in which case the words that are copied exactly should be placed in quotation marks inside the abstract. For example:

3 August 1822 (drawn)

18 December 1822 (recorded)

Isaac Wilds of Fairfield County, Ohio, attorney of Sarah Wilson (formerly Sarah Wilds) and Ann T. Wilds, to Conrad Winegarner of Dublin Township, Bedford County. For $260, the Wilds and Wilson quitclaim all right, title, and interest in a tract of 130 acres in Dublin Township [not described] now in actual possession of said Conrad Winegarner, adjoining “land of or near Samuel Kilbreath and William Lockard, Deceased, and others.” Land is held under warrant of 18 May 1786. Signed: Isaac T. Wilds. Witnesses: John Wilds, G. D. Rittenhouse.

 —Bedford County, Penn.,  Deed Book  N, 1821–1825, pp. 136–37; Office of the Recorder of Deeds, Bedford; viewed as Family History Library microfilm 0,330,378.

Academic context:

A scholarly abstract, on the other hand, is a  brief summary or a précis of principal points in an essay or a thesis. For example:

"Between 1700 and 1880, a period extending through three distinctive governments, almost 5000 indigenous women and children were entered into and held in New Mexico and Colorado households as slaves. The greatest number of those captured were baptized and held in the northernmost regions of New Mexico and southern Colorado, primarily in the Taos and San Luis valleys Intricately connected and attendant to the development of this particular system of slavery were the cyclical forces of war expansion, settlement and trade. Mestizaje, generations of racial and cultural mixture, defined as much by amicable unions as by coercive relations, also emerged as a direct consequence of these enslavements.  . . .”1

—Rael-Gálvez, Estévan Rael-Gálvez, "Identifying Captivity and Capturing Identity: Narratives of American Indian Slavery, Colorado and New Mexico, 1776-1934" (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, May 2002).


     1. The remaining 218 words of the abstract is not reproduced here, in order to stay within the spirit of the Fair Use Doctrine. The full abstract is viewable online at American Studies Association, Resources: Abstracts of American Studies Dissertations (http://www.theasa.net/dissertations/item/identifying_captivity_and_capturing_identity_narratives_of_american_indian_/ : accessed 19 January 2014), by querying for either author's name or dissertation title.