The writing of academic abstracts is more than a tiresome necessity of scholarly life. It is a practice which goes beyond genre and technique to questions of identity and the promotional economies of academic work. In this paper we deconstruct a series of abstracts from a variety of refereed journals and conferences and develop a set of questions that allow us to 'read' the representation of data, argument, methodology and significance. We argue that the rules of abstract engagement are fluid and increasingly important with the advent of online journals and global citation indices. We suggest that abstract art is now an obligatory aspect of postgraduate supervision.