How to write an effective, eye-catching abstract for your article

Alessandro Pierno, University of Florence

Duccio Tatini, University of Florence

If you are in the jungle of academic publishing you know for sure that the way you write your article’s abstract has a key role in ensuring a far-reaching visibility and a wide dissemination of your research. In most cases the abstract is the only section that is read, determining if the full-text manuscript is worthy to be downloaded. Similarly, the quality of conference abstracts is the key parameter for the acceptability of a presentation, a talk, or a poster.

In other words, the abstract is the best advertisement for your research.

For this reason we outlined some simple and effective guidelines which may help you in making your abstract really impressive and reaching the right target.

An abstract is usually around 150–250 words, but there’s often a strict word limit, so make sure to check the requirements of the journal.

The abstract should reflect the structure of your study in its entirety, and include the following points:

  1. Provide a context to your study (i.e. the state-of-the-art, the background, the conception of the central idea)
  2. Point out and emphasize the problem/hypothesis you are addressing
  3. Describe the key message of your research, highlighting its originality and uniqueness
  4. Provide a — very brief — description of the methods and techniques you adopted in your work
  5. Give an overview of your results, focusing accurately on the most important findings
  6. In the last part put the results into a wider perspective: why they are innovative? To whom would they be so relevant? Which are the potential applications?
  7. In general, use a simple and concise style: this is the better way to deliver your message and hit your target audience
  8. Avoid the “cut-and-paste” strategy, as well as the use of abbreviations, references and URLs.
  9. If requested (or recommended), include a Graphical Abstract: this is an excellent opportunity for your research to emerge among similar papers.
  10. Don’t forget the Search Engine Optimization (SEO): include the terms that will be likely used to search papers on the topic you are addressing. Repeat these key terms consistently in your abstract to raise the ranking of your work in the most popular search engines.

Writing the right abstract is a highly technical skill which can be acquired only with practice.

Follow these simple rules, write, assemble, take apart, try again…

References:

Nicholas, D., Huntington, P. & Watkinson, A. Digital journals, Big Deals and online searching behaviour: a pilot study. Aslib Proceedings 55, 84–109 (2003).

Nicholas, D., Huntington, P., Jamali, H. R. & Watkinson, A. The information seeking behaviour of the users of digital scholarly journals. Information Processing & Management 42, 1345–1365 (2006).

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