Jamal El Ouahi

Helping researchers. Posts about scientific research & its process. Academia/Government Consulting.

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Jamal El Ouahi

Helping researchers. Posts about scientific research & its process. Academia/Government Consulting.

#16 Writing your Abstract: An easy-to-follow guide

Read time: 4 min.

Hey friends,

Recently, a young researcher contacted me and asked how to write a scientific abstract.

An abstract is important because it’s often the only part of your paper that will be read with the title.

It’s a short summary that represents your manuscript.

Also, it’s one of the few elements to be publicly available in search engines.

So, the content of an abstract is critical for your paper to be found.

But, abstracts have specific structural requirements and styles

Structure

Journals usually require abstracts to be only 150 to 300 words.

There are two main types of abstracts:

  1. Unstructured. Here your abstract is a single-paragraph
  2. Structured with specific sections such as: Objective, Background, Methods, Results and Conclusions

You may also find journals requesting a graphical abstract or an image that shows the main results of your study.

Style

I like to have the structure of the abstract ready so that I can draft the first version when I plan my manuscript. See here a useful annotated guide from Nature I shared recently on LinkedIn.

Abstracts are not long introductions and should not include citations or references.

Very often, the aims, methods and results are written in the past tense because we tell what happened.

Whereas the background and the conclusion are often written in the present tense.

However, some journals in some disciplines have specific styles.

For instance, in some Mathematics, Computer Science, or Chemistry journals, authors only use the present tense.

So, it’s always a good thing to check what’s usually done in your field or in the journal that you target.

Tips and checks

In terms of timing. I usually write the abstract once the final manuscript is near completion.

Once you have an abstract ready, ask your colleagues to read it.

Then ask them the following questions.

Based on the abstract, can you identify:

–          the knowledge gap

–          the aim of the study

–          the main results

–          and their implications to your field?

Of course, you need to make sure that the abstract is consistent with your manuscript in terms of data and findings.

In summary

Make sure your abstract answers these questions:

  • What is the reason for performing the study?
  • What did you do to fill the knowledge gap?
  • What are your main findings?
  • What are the implications, and relevance of your findings?

That’s it. This is how I plan, structure, and write my abstracts.

As usual, if anything is unclear or you need help with your research projects please contact me and I will reply.

See you in the next newsletter!

Jamal 

Question of the Week

How do you write your abstract? Any tips?

Share with us your advice in the comments section.

My favorite things this week

1.      I have been invited by the Federation of the Arab Scientific Research Councils to speak about research integrity. I will conduct this session in early May.

2.      In case you missed it, I recently posted on LinkedIn a useful annotated guide from Nature that you can use to write your abstract.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for these very helpful pieces of advice.
    I appreciate how well you explained everything in detail. The clarity and thoroughness made it easy to understand and will help to apply.
    Once again, thank you for sharing your knowledge and insights

    Hafsa.

    • Most welcome Hafsa, it’s my pleasure!

      And thanks for the kind words!
      I’m glad the advice was helpful and clear.
      Your appreciation means a lot to me, and I’m always here to share insights.

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