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Abstracts and Abstract-writing for the SCS Program: Some Bullet-Points

The suggestions below emanate from a workshop on abstract writing presented by the Program Committee at the 2010 Annual Meeting. Authors preparing either individual abstracts or abstracts for panels to be reviewed by the Program Committee are strongly urged to follow these recommendations. We believe that these suggestions will also be useful for members preparing abstracts for organizer-refereed panels, affiliated groups, and meetings of other Classics organizations.

Robert A. Kaster
Vice President for Program, 2007-2011
  • The Program Committee does not know who wrote any given abstract: only staff has access to the author's name.
  • The Program Committee operates without quotas: each abstract is evaluated on its own merits, without reference to any other abstract, and there is no limit to the number of qualified abstracts that it may accept.
  • The formatting regulations set out in the "Annual Meeting Program Guide" have a fundamentally ethical purpose: to create a level playing field for all who submit abstracts. They should be followed with that purpose in mind.
  • The formatting regulations allow for up to 500 words to be included on a single page (a second page is permitted for full references to the secondary literature cited): at least one-half of that allowance should be devoted to summarizing the argument and providing some of the evidence on which it is based.
  • An "abstract" is different from a "prospectus," both etymologically and substantively: the latter "looks ahead" to an argument the writer hopes to be able to assemble at some point in the future; the former is "derived from" an argument the writer has already assembled. A well-drafted abstract should make clear that it is indeed an abstract in this true sense of the word.
  • A successful abstract begins with a project of the right size. Because one cannot adequately compress a thesis chapter or seminar paper into a 20-minute SCS paper, one should not try to condense such a project into a 500-word abstract.
  • The abstract should contain a clear initial statement of purpose; a brief explanation of the abstract's relationship to the previous literature on the topic, including citations of any important literature; a summary of the argument's steps; and a sampling of the evidence to be used in the argument.
  • The abstract should make plain to someone unfamiliar with the subject why the argument being made is worth making in relation to the subject; at the same time, it should make plain to someone familiar with the subject why the argument being made is plausible.
  • Whatever the topic at hand, the abstract (and the paper that ultimately will be given) should be intelligible to non-specialist members of the Association: terms of art, if used, should be explained, references to earlier scholarship should be clear rather than allusive, and so on.
  • The steps of your argument should be explained clearly and logically. ("Starting with premises A and B, I use C [= some relevant set of evidence] to argue first D, then E").
  • Successful abstracts develop through multiple revisions; the process usually requires several weeks.
  • Successful abstracts pass through many hands: ask friends and colleagues to read drafts and make suggestions.
  • Proofreading errors should be avoided.
  • Bibliographies should, when appropriate, cite works in languages other than English.
  • Take special care over the first and last sentence.
  • No abstract has ever lost points for being engaging.