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Critical Abstract Writing Assignment*
The Rationale: Creating a successful critical abstract will help you develop several
important skills: a) how to read more comprehensively; b) how to identify what
constitutes an argument; c) how to model your own writing on successful arguments; and
d) how to communicate your ideas more concisely and persuasively. Economy of
language is vital for a successful critical abstract. Choose your words wisely.
Please do not be fooled by the relatively short length of this assignment. It requires
significant thought, selectivity and careful wording.
The Process: A critical abstract is essentially a distillation of the most important
components of a text. To succeed in this task, you must read the text carefully, take
succinct but informed notes, think about your position/beliefs in relation to the claims of
the text, and then attempt to sift through all this information to create an effective and
concise presentation of the text and evaluation of its effectiveness to you, as a student of
The Format and Style: Your abstract should be two- to-three pages (double-spaced, 12
point, Times New Roman) in length. You should type the number and category headings
below and then after them, provide the information requested. The questions I ask should
be considered starting points. Feel free to move beyond the scope of the questions I have
written below. At the same time, economy of language is an important rhetorical skill to
develop and it is absolutely vital to a successful abstract. That is why we call them
abstracts, after all. In sum, please follow a short paragraph answer format.
Note: Be sure to cite all direct quotations or paraphrasing by citing the appropriate page
number(s) in parentheses after your quotation or paraphrasing.
After providing your name and vital information, and the author, title, and bibliographic
information of the text at the top of your page, your critical abstract should be divided
into the following categories:
1) Problem: You should write the historical problem in the form of a question or series
of questions (generally there are more than one problem in a text). What is at issue in
this text? What problems is the author trying to solve or illuminate? What are you being
persuaded to believe?
2) Theses: Sum up the author’s main point(s)/claims in a series of sentences. These
should constitute the author’s answers to the questions posed above in the Problem
section. Your description for this category should be heavy on verbs, that is: “Lipman
seeks to define such and such and to demonstrate this in order to show, etc.”
* Note: this assignment it adapted from an assignment by Prof. S. Yuhl
2) Argument: How does the author support his or her claims? What kind of evidence
does he/she deploy and how? This should be the longest part of your abstract, but still
concise. This is the place where you walk the reader through the highlights (not a total
summation) of the text. You will comment on methodology here, but should focus on
relating the structure of the argument and the evidence deployed to support it.
It is important to note that you are not to evaluate the argument in this section, but merely
to reproduce it as best as you can in your own language.
4) Assessment: Now you have a chance to respond to the author’s work. This is the
section where your voice should come through. The use of the first person is fine. Does
the argument work? Were you persuaded? If yes, then why? If no, why not? What are
the strong points/weak spots in the argument and why? What might the author have done
differently? How is (isn’t) the text useful? How might a student of history use this text?
Not exactly thumbs up or thumbs down in the popular sense, but you get my drift here.
This should be the second longest section of your abstract.
5) Choose Important Quotation and Provide Explanation: What moment in the text
was most powerful/meaningful to you? Share it with the reader and explain why it has
stuck with you. Please push your analysis as much as you possibly can here.
BY 10:30am THURSDAY OCTOBER 5TH (BEFORE CLASS!!!). You do not need
to hand in a hard copy, but you do need to submit it to Moodle (in the Paper # 1 deposit
area) as a PDF.
NB: This is a short paper, but it is a tough assignment. DO NOT leave it to the last