Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Malcolm Richardson


The purpose of this dissertation is to identify and account for the structural and stylistic features of 48 abstracts written by scientists and engineers at the research and development division of a large company. All of the abstracts were published in industry journals and conference papers during 1990 and 1991. The features identified in the abstracts are compared to the suggestions for structure and style found in fifteen textbooks frequently used in university technical writing courses. Textbook suggestions for structural features include purpose statement, scope, methods, results, conclusions, and recommendations. Textbook suggestions for stylistic features include eliminating unnecessary words, avoiding telegraphic writing, using transitions, and avoiding jargon. Features found in the 48 abstracts differed markedly from the textbook suggestions. The major findings are: a statement of scope is found in 96% of the abstracts, while suggested by only 12% of the textbooks; agentless passive construction is the most prominent stylistic feature of the abstracts, while textbooks suggest avoiding passives; the two types of abstracts defined by the textbooks, "descriptive" and "informative," do not adequately describe the four summarizing strategies found in the abstracts, "the narrative focus," "the definition of terms," "the statement of facts," and "the statement of results." Reasons for the disjunction between textbook suggestions and the outcome of practicing technical writers are discussed, including tacit knowledge of the reader and writer and theoretical versus applied strategies for writing abstracts.