Using Abstracts

Brief Description: Dr. Makedon, who teaches Computer Science, requires her students to turn in an abstract of their argument with each of their formal papers; by doing so, the students create a tool with which to examine the structure and logic of their own work.

Contributed by Fillia Makedon, Dartmouth University

In her Computer Science seminar entitled, "Hot Topics in Computer Science," Professor Fillia Makedon requires students to write an abstract at the beginning of every paper. In her syllabus, Professor Makedon tells students that "an abstract is a summary of the paper's highlights, written in the third person. The abstract states ... the thesis of the paper and ... the arguments in 5-10 single-spaced lines."

Both students and professor benefit from this exercise. After completing their papers, students are forced to condense and articulate their argumentative thought process into its core elements. By stating their argumentative logic in a few clear, concise sentences, students create a tool by which to examine the structure, logic, and paragraphing of their paper. The professor also has an effective tool to use in her evaluation of her students' papers. The professor can use the abstract to point out logical gaps, discrepancies between what is in the paper and what isn't, places where students need to develop evidence, and so on.

In short, the abstract can be used to teach students how to evaluate the argumentative efficacy of their papers.