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Encore Abstract Definition Essay

How to Write an Abstract

Philip Koopman, Carnegie Mellon University
October, 1997

Abstract

Because on-line search databases typically contain only abstracts, it is vital to write a complete but concise description of your work to entice potential readers into obtaining a copy of the full paper. This article describes how to write a good computer architecture abstract for both conference and journal papers. Writers should follow a checklist consisting of: motivation, problem statement, approach, results, and conclusions. Following this checklist should increase the chance of people taking the time to obtain and read your complete paper.

Introduction

Now that the use of on-line publication databases is prevalent, writing a really good abstract has become even more important than it was a decade ago. Abstracts have always served the function of "selling" your work. But now, instead of merely convincing the reader to keep reading the rest of the attached paper, an abstract must convince the reader to leave the comfort of an office and go hunt down a copy of the article from a library (or worse, obtain one after a long wait through inter-library loan). In a business context, an "executive summary" is often the only piece of a report read by the people who matter; and it should be similar in content if not tone to a journal paper abstract.

Checklist: Parts of an Abstract

Despite the fact that an abstract is quite brief, it must do almost as much work as the multi-page paper that follows it. In a computer architecture paper, this means that it should in most cases include the following sections. Each section is typically a single sentence, although there is room for creativity. In particular, the parts may be merged or spread among a set of sentences. Use the following as a checklist for your next abstract:

  • Motivation:
    Why do we care about the problem and the results? If the problem isn't obviously "interesting" it might be better to put motivation first; but if your work is incremental progress on a problem that is widely recognized as important, then it is probably better to put the problem statement first to indicate which piece of the larger problem you are breaking off to work on. This section should include the importance of your work, the difficulty of the area, and the impact it might have if successful.
  • Problem statement:
    What problem are you trying to solve? What is the scope of your work (a generalized approach, or for a specific situation)? Be careful not to use too much jargon. In some cases it is appropriate to put the problem statement before the motivation, but usually this only works if most readers already understand why the problem is important.
  • Approach:
    How did you go about solving or making progress on the problem? Did you use simulation, analytic models, prototype construction, or analysis of field data for an actual product? What was the extent of your work (did you look at one application program or a hundred programs in twenty different programming languages?) What important variables did you control, ignore, or measure?
  • Results:
    What's the answer? Specifically, most good computer architecture papers conclude that something is so many percent faster, cheaper, smaller, or otherwise better than something else. Put the result there, in numbers. Avoid vague, hand-waving results such as "very", "small", or "significant." If you must be vague, you are only given license to do so when you can talk about orders-of-magnitude improvement. There is a tension here in that you should not provide numbers that can be easily misinterpreted, but on the other hand you don't have room for all the caveats.
  • Conclusions:
    What are the implications of your answer? Is it going to change the world (unlikely), be a significant "win", be a nice hack, or simply serve as a road sign indicating that this path is a waste of time (all of the previous results are useful). Are your results general, potentially generalizable, or specific to a particular case?

Other Considerations

An abstract must be a fully self-contained, capsule description of the paper. It can't assume (or attempt to provoke) the reader into flipping through looking for an explanation of what is meant by some vague statement. It must make sense all by itself. Some points to consider include:

  • Meet the word count limitation. If your abstract runs too long, either it will be rejected or someone will take a chainsaw to it to get it down to size. Your purposes will be better served by doing the difficult task of cutting yourself, rather than leaving it to someone else who might be more interested in meeting size restrictions than in representing your efforts in the best possible manner. An abstract word limit of 150 to 200 words is common.
  • Any major restrictions or limitations on the results should be stated, if only by using "weasel-words" such as "might", "could", "may", and "seem".
  • Think of a half-dozen search phrases and keywords that people looking for your work might use. Be sure that those exact phrases appear in your abstract, so that they will turn up at the top of a search result listing.
  • Usually the context of a paper is set by the publication it appears in (for example, IEEE Computer magazine's articles are generally about computer technology). But, if your paper appears in a somewhat un-traditional venue, be sure to include in the problem statement the domain or topic area that it is really applicable to.
  • Some publications request "keywords". These have two purposes. They are used to facilitate keyword index searches, which are greatly reduced in importance now that on-line abstract text searching is commonly used. However, they are also used to assign papers to review committees or editors, which can be extremely important to your fate. So make sure that the keywords you pick make assigning your paper to a review category obvious (for example, if there is a list of conference topics, use your chosen topic area as one of the keyword tuples).

Conclusion

Writing an efficient abstract is hard work, but will repay you with increased impact on the world by enticing people to read your publications. Make sure that all the components of a good abstract are included in the next one you write.

Further Reading

Michaelson, Herbert, How to Write & Publish Engineering Papers and Reports, Oryx Press, 1990. Chapter 6 discusses abstracts.

Cremmins, Edward, The Art of Abstracting 2nd Edition, Info Resources Press, April 1996. This is an entire book about abstracting, written primarily for professional abstractors.


© Copyright 1997, Philip Koopman, Carnegie Mellon University.
Embedded system designers may be interested in my blog.

Contents

What is a Definition Essay?

A definition essay works to provide the nitty-gritty details about a word or concept.  For example, in an art class, you may be asked to write a definition essay on Vermillion (a vivid reddish-orange color) or Cubism, a specific approach to creating art.  A definition essay should always focus on a complex subject; simple subjects won’t provide enough details to adequately write an essay.  While the subject may change, the structure of an essay remains the same.  All definition essays should include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Types of Definition Essays

Professors often assign definition essays towards the beginning of a class. The focus of this type of essay is to explore a specific concept.  These concepts are often divided into one of three categories:

In this type of essay, the assignment explores how to fully define a difficult topic. By definition, an abstract concept is one that is vast and complicated. Examples of abstract concepts include liberty, ambition, love, hate, generosity, and pride. The focus of the essay should be to break down the concept into more manageable parts for the audience.

Definition essays that focus on a place tend to explore a specific type of place and how you as the writer view this particular place. Types of places which may be assigned are a country, state, city, neighborhood, park, house, or a room. The place may be huge or small. A key to writing a good definition essay focused on the place is to select a specific place you are familiar with; it shouldn’t be a place you need to research — it should be a place that you know intimately.An Adjective

An adjective essay focuses on creating a definition for an adjective. Common topics may include describing a “good” or “bad” friend, present, or law. The focus of the essay should explore the qualities and characteristics of a good friend or a bad present.

Perfecting the Definition Essay Outline – and Beyond!

Before sitting down to write a definition essay, you’ll need to make out all the parts to the whole.  In other words, how, exactly, will you define the subject of the essay?  You’ll need to consider all the different parts, or the gears, that make the clock work.  Once you’ve brainstormed the parts, you’re ready to create an outline, and then write some paragraphs. The outline for this essay is as easy as in five paragraph essay – it contains an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.  The number of body paragraphs is determined by how many aspects you’re subject needs defined.  This type of essay is exactly what it sounds like: it works to define a specific word or concept.

Take Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s advice when writing:  “Never say more than is necessary.”

So, here is what constitutes the outline of the definition essay:

Introduction Paragraph

An introduction paragraph should act as a gateway to the subject of the definition essay.  Use this paragraph to gently introduce the subject, and gain the reader’s interest.  This paragraph should begin with an attention getter (the “hook”) that makes the reader curious and want to read more.  Quotations are always a great idea as are interesting facts.  Next, provide background details that the reader will need to understand the concept or idea to be defined in the body paragraphs.

Unlike other papers, like cause and effect essay, the definition essay is unique in that it requires the writer to provide the dictionary definition of the word, and then the thesis definition.  Since dictionary definitions are often dry and narrow, the thesis definition is your opportunity truly encompass the complexity of the word.

Body Paragraphs

Each body paragraph should focus on a different aspect that contributes to the overall definition of the subject being discussed in the definition essay.

A definition essay typically contains three body paragraphs, although there can be more if the writer desires.  The first body paragraph delves into the origin of the word and how it became mainstreamed into the language.  This paragraph can talk about any root words, prefixes, and/or suffixes in the word, as well as the evolution of the word (if there is one).

  • The Denotative Definition Paragraph

The second body paragraph should focus on the dictionary definition, and how the word can be used in writing and conversation.  For example, love can appear as several different parts of speech; it can be a noun, verb, or adjective.

  • The Connotative Definition Paragraph

The third body paragraph, and often the longest one, should focus on conveying the writer’s definition of the word.  This definition should be based on both the writer’s personal experience as well as research.  Don’t be afraid to be bold – describe this word in a way that no one else has!  Be original; describe the word as a color or animal, and defend your choice.  Provide examples of the word in action and maintain the reader’s engagement at all costs.  Aim for sentences like this:

Quixotic describes the eternal quest of optimistic individuals striving to find the magical, the visionary, the idealistic experiences in life despite all obstacles and naysayers.

This exists as an excellent sentence because it provides clues as to the type of word quixotic is by pairing it with magical, visionary, and idealistic.  By stating that it’s a word optimistic individuals would gravitate towards, the audience inherently understands it’s more positive than negative. Indeed, the third body paragraph should focus on communicating the writer’s comprehension of the concept, idea or term.

Conclusion Paragraph

Just because this is the shortest paragraph, doesn’t mean that it will be the easiest to write.  In fact, the better the body paragraphs are, the easier writing the conclusion paragraph will be.  Why?  Because a good conclusion paragraph reiterates the main points stated in each body paragraph.  If the body paragraphs are clear and avoid rambling, pulling the main ideas for the conclusion will be easy!  Just remember: you don’t want to repeat yourself word for word, but you do want to echo your main ideas; so summarize yourself instead of copy and pasting.

Many professors may create the definition essay as a personal writing assignment.  If this is the case, then it would be appropriate to also discuss what the word or concept means personally to you.  Select an example in your own life and validate your descriptions of the word.

“I need someone to write my essay!” – That’s something we hear a lot. The good news is that you are in the right place to find help. HandMadeWritings is the best essay writing service on the web.

Definition Essay Outline Example

Once you got the concept of your future essay wrapped up, it’s time to put things to the practice and create an outline. Here is what your outline might look like. Our topic is:  Love.

  • Introduction. Thesis: While different cultures define the concept of love differently, most cultures will agree that love exists as a positive, yet broad concept that has fueled humans since the dawn of time.
  • Topic Sentence 1.  While the Ancient Greeks, Chinese, and Persian cultures all approached love differently, they also shared many similar attitudes towards love.
  • Topic Sentence 2.  The denotative definition of love includes 7 noun definitions and 6 verb definitions; this highlights the complex nature of love as a concept.
  • Topic Sentence 3. Modern society is fueled by the idea of love whether in intrapersonal, interpersonal, or business relationships.
  • Conclusion.  Love affects every aspect of the human experience and has since the beginning of time.

Definition Essay Sample

Be sure to check the sample essay, completed by our writers. Use it as an example to write your own argumentative essay. Link: Essay sample: Team Norms and Procedures.

Tips on Writing a Definition Essay from Our Experts

Need some advice from our professional writers? We’ve got you covered.  Here are some great tips on how to write an A-level definition essay:

  1. When writing a definition essay, keep the sentences simple when you can; however, occasionally, you’ll need to create longer, more descriptive sentences.  Consider juxtaposing short sentences with longer ones to maintain reader interest.
  2. Incorporate literary devices when trying to define an abstract word or concept. Check out this example:  Love is a campfire on a chilly November evening.  Its warmth glides over your entire being, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes – but watch out: get too close, and you’ll catch fire and burn.
  3. Stuck on deciding on a topic? If you get to select your own topic, remember that selecting an abstract topic is best: love, forgiveness, contentment, or hero are all great options.  Don’t fall into the trap of selecting a topic with too many aspects to define such as the history of man.
  4. Select a topic that allows plenty of original description – that’s the goal: to describe a concept in such a way that hasn’t been done before. Be original:  state the history and the original of the word and then delve into your perception of it.
  5. Finally, begin early.  Create an outline to help organize your idea, and then begin the research process to determine the origin of the word as well its evolution.  Consider answering such questions as who created the word (Did you know Shakespeare coined the words lonely and majestic?), how it has evolved, and whether it has multiple parts of speech.  The more questions you answer, the more definition will be put into your essay!

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