When preparing research publications, abstracts are often overlooked. This is bad practice because along with your title, it provides the first impression of your research. If your abstract is for a research article, then readers will often decide from it whether or not to read your paper. A well-written abstract can be the difference between conference acceptance and rejection.
We present a guide for writing an effective abstract, whether for your research article or conference presentation.
Structure your Abstract Properly
Like research articles, abstracts have rigid structures that journals and conferences expect. If not followed, your submission could be outright rejected before peer review. A commonly requested structure is:
Though Purpose is sometimes replaced by Background.
In rarer cases, the journal or conference will not impose a rigid structure. However, even in these cases it is still better to give your abstract structure. Structure makes the text easier for your audience to read and pick out the important parts. If your abstract is one big paragraph, rather than broken into structured sections, it could be skipped over.
Include the Right Information
Now that we have established a good structure, we need to fill it with the right information.
What to Include
|Purpose||State the point of your research publication.|
|Background||In 2-3 sentences, discuss the problem you are investigating.|
|Methods||In 3-5 sentences, discuss what you did.|
|Results||In 2-3 sentences, discuss what you found.|
|Conclusions||In 1-2 sentences, discuss how your findings relate to the purpose (or background problem).|
Reflect the Research
It is important that the abstract is an accurate reflection of your research. If the abstract is for a research article, then points in the abstract should reflect the major points in the text. Do not frustrate your reader (or reviewer) by misleading them in the abstract.
Along the same lines, make sure the information in the abstract is accurate. Often research paper drafts are prepared and then go through multiple rounds of revisions by the coauthors. Many times the research paper draft at the start is very different from the draft produced at the end. However, the abstract if often overlooked and not updated. Do not let that happen. You will annoy both readers and reviewers. Be sure to update your abstract with new results.
Vagueness is research publications is an effective way to irritate reviewers. As mentioned in our tips for research publications, be precise and use numbers and statistics.
Drug A inhibited the release of hormone Z much more than drug B.
This comparison is ineffective. It lacks compelling numbers and statistics that would leave an impression on the reader. Here is a suggested improvement to the comparison:
Drug A decreased hormone Z release by 23.6% compared to drug B (p=0.003).
It is also important that your conference abstract accurately reflects your research. This will be the only thing published and will be the deciding factor in whether colleagues come to your presentation or not. Your colleagues are excited about the research described in the abstract. Do not anger them by discussing (or emphasizing) research that was not previously mentioned.
Extra Points to Consider
Often you will be word limited in your abstract (for example 250-300 words) so be sure to keep it until the word limit. You also do not need to write 300 words just because that is the word limit. More is not better. Summarize your research. Your readers will expect concision.
Avoid trade names, acronyms, symbols and abbreviations. These will just lead to confusion. Worse, your reader will feel stupid for not knowing what you are talking about and pass over your publication. Abbreviations are useful if the same phrase is mentioned multiple times, but be sure to define the abbreviation before use.
Abstracts for research publications are often the only part that will be read by your audience, and it is also the only part a potential referee will read before deciding to review your research article or not.
The abstract sets the tone for your research. It is your job to ensure that you write them effectively. Follow proper structure, fill in the relevant information, and be concise.