Have you ever struggled to write up your results into a publishable paper only to get it rejected? Richard Threlfall, Managing Editor, Asian Journal of Organic Chemistry, gives some insider tips on how to improve each section of your article and increase your chances of getting published.
Imagine you have twenty seconds to explain the project you have been working on for months or years to another scientist who is not familiar with your area of research. You would probably try and tell them the one or two main outcomes without going into excessive technical detail. This is a good way to think about writing your abstract!
The abstract is only short, but that doesn’t mean that you have to cram as much detail into it as possible. What you want is to grab the reader’s attention with the first statement, add a few of the most important details, then leave them with the overall message of the manuscript in the last sentence. In this way it is similar to a news article. Have a look at some articles in a newspaper. Most often the first sentence contains the crucial information about the story and then the details follow after that. This is a good model for your abstract; after all, what you’re writing is news for the scientific community.
Electronic search engines and indexing services will often only search abstracts when performing word-based searches, and the abstract is frequently the first thing that is displayed when your manuscript appears in searches. From this point of view, you should make sure that there are several keywords in the abstract as well as the title (see our earlier “Titles” section for more about keywords) to give your manuscript the best chance of being found by a search.
A good abstract is concise, explains the main findings of the research, but does not overwhelm the reader with technicalities—you want the reader to be interested enough to read the whole paper, where they can find the technical details themselves. Good abstract writing is a key skill for scientists, as it is also necessary for conferences, grant proposals, and job interviews, so take your time and really think about how to make an impact.
- Next month: We look at how to explain the background of your research in the introduction.
- See all Tips for Writing Better Science Papers