Bibliographical information: abstracts for scholarly books

There is currently a debate on the role of abstracts in scholarly publishing. The Scholarly Kitchen blog, for example, has called for a reconsideration: “Providing the abstract freely to anyone who wants to use it has become a habit, probably a leftover of our print and “information scarcity” mindset — with this mindset, it seems harmless to promulgate abstracts as widely as possible, and doing so seems like a way to battle scarcity. But in a networked and “information abundance” world, is carelessly syndicating a valuable substitute for articles a habit we need to sustain? And how long can we afford to continue it?” (20 April 2011).

Our own view is less sceptical. In fact, rather than considering a restriction of the role of abstracts, we think there is a case of extending it. Traditionally, abstracts have been the preserve of journal publishing. But what about scholarly monographs? There are signs that the status of monographs as a research output might be on the rise. Whereas research evaluation systems in the past have tended to discriminate in favour of journal papers and against monographs (the UK’s now defunct Research Assessment Exercise being an example), contemporary systems are moving towards a more catholic stance. Not for nothing have Thomson Reuters announced the development of a book citation index.

In this context, there is surely a need for a concise way to summarise monographs. Up to now, this role has tended to be fulfilled by the publisher’s blurb. Blurbs, however, are written with two functions in mind: (a) to indicate the book’s contents and contribution; and (b) to help market the book. That second function, though perfectly legitimate, tends to make the resultant text inappropriate for bibliographical purposes.

There is, therefore, a case for providing each monograph with two types of  ‘meta-description’ – a blurb and an abstract. With this in mind we have for our launch publication, Rethinking Creative Writing, generated both types of description. To read both the abstract and the blurb, please download our new book information sheet (NBI): Rethinking Creative Writing NBI.

We would welcome your thoughts on the use of abstracts for monographs. In particular:

  1. what is your view of the need for and functions of an abstract?
  2. what would be the ideal length for such an abstract?

To contact us, please use the form on the About us page above or share your thoughts using the comment function below.

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About Anthony Haynes

Director, Frontinus Ltd Communications Associate, FJWilson Talent Services

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