Today I led a session on abstracting for our Masters students (mostly MA Librarianship and MSc Information Management). We dropped abstracting as a topic for a session for several years, but then reintroduced it and, when we did, we found that students engaged with it. The students read an article in advance, then in the session I briefly go through some key points about why abstracts are useful, what the differences are from an introduction, indexing etc., and how to write one. Then the students draft an abstract in class, swap it with their neighbour, read their neighbour's abstract and make at least one positive and one critical comment. Then we have a discussion about the issues.
Being able to read through something, pick out the key points and present them clearly is a good skill to have in the workplace, not just for study, I think. It is also useful in focusing on how articles are structured, and thinking about how you might identify the key points as a reader.
I have been using an article by Sanda Erdelez on information encountering as the article they have to abstract in class. It is a favourite of mine, since I discovered from it that I was a super-encounterer, and it is also relevant to the themes of our class (which is called Information Resources and Information Literacy, and which covers information behaviour as well).
Erdelez, S. (1999) “Information encountering: it's more than just bumping into information.” Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science , 25 (3), 25-29. http://www.asis.org/Bulletin/Feb-99/erdelez.html
Photo by Sheila Webber: Firth Court, Sheffield University, October 2008