Tips on how to write a great abstract
By Sobha Tumbapo and Tamsin Williams, assistant editors for Review Operations
When it comes to writing a good abstract, knowing where to start can be daunting but a well-crafted abstract is important to your research being seen. Luckily, there are some steps you can follow and some tips to bear in mind that can help you.
It is a critical component of scientific writing, as it gives readers a glimpse into your study. Think of it as a unique selling point that convinces readers to invest time in reading your paper.
During peer review, the abstract is what reviewers and editors use to decide if they want to work on your manuscript. Making sure it’s an accurate and strong representation of your study is an effective way to avoid delays.
Then, once your study is published, search engines will screen your manuscript based on its abstract. This is your chance to help your article stand out among millions of others.
A strong abstract will effectively communicate the research background, experimental findings, and key discussion points. And while the formatting guidelines may differ for each publisher, all scientific abstracts follow a similar framework.
Background: Introduce the study’s background and context; what is already known and what isn’t? Outline the aim of the study, based on this background information.
Methods: Briefly mention how you carried out the research, without going into too much detail about the methodologies. Mentioning sample size/study duration assures the readers of the experimental validity.
Results: Summarise your most important results and findings chronologically.
Conclusions: Explain why this finding is important and how it adds to prior knowledge on the subject. What are the implications of your research, and did you manage to fill in any knowledge gaps? Be honest and don’t make unsubstantiated claims.
Dos and don’ts
Abstracts should be clear and concise while also appealing to a broad readership – don’t assume the reader knows the manuscript’s subject matter. We recommend writing your abstract after writing the paper, so it’s an accurate summary of the manuscript’s content.
- Stick to specifications listed in the publisher’s guide to authors
- Use concise but complete sentences
- Check your spelling
- Summarize your most important results
- Write statistical results in parentheses e.g. (p<0.01)
- Write in the past tense
- Include your keywords and choose them wisely to increase your visibility in search results
- Use abbreviations, acronyms, figures, or tables
- Include references in the abstract
- Copy and paste from the main body of the manuscript
- Include results not mentioned in the manuscript
- Use grandiose language or make unrealistic claims
- Write clearly without deviating from the manuscript’s content or overstating results
- Summarize background, aims, methods, key results, and conclusions
- Always stick to the publisher’s specifications
- Remember, a good abstract is key to readers finding your work