The abstract of a paper is not an afterthought.
Nor is it a summary nor a Frankenstein-like compilation of the first sentences of each section.
It has to state what was done and what the major findings were, but more importantly, it has to put what was done into a context that will attract readers and make them want to open the rest of the paper.
What makes you pay to see a movie?
Think of what would best encourage you to go a movie theater and buy a ticket to see a movie – i) a plot summary that gives you the highlights or ii) a trailer that immerses you into a dramatic problem and shows you the cool new special effects and action scenes, all designed to catch your attention?
There is a reason why movie makers don’t show you a shortened version of a movie in the trailer…they need to get you to buy tickets, and without a compelling reason to do that, it just won’t happen.
Think back to the last 10 papers you read.
Why did you open those papers?
Like most people, I also fool myself into thinking that I open papers because the science sounds really good/important, because I am a good scientist able to discern other good science, and I want to learn more about the topic.
However, there are only two major reasons people read papers:
- Searching for a specific piece of information for their own research or writing.
- The abstract made them want to keep reading.
I can hear it now…
“But I was not ‘tricked’ into reading a paper only because the abstract was good!’
“I am genuinely interested in the research that this group did!”
“I am a discerning scientist and know that this is important research that is worth my time!”
But how do you know this?
The abstract told you.
If the abstract is not convincing, readers won’t pick up that paper, regardless of the quality of the science.
Why is this? Think about how much time you have to devote to perusing manuscripts. I guarantee that amount of time isn’t nearly as much as you’d want.
Check your browser tabs right now and be truthful – how many are papers that you are going to get to “someday”? When, exactly, is someday going to come?
Do you ever actually get around to reading all of the papers you want to?
Do you have the time, therefore, to give a chance to the quality of the science in manuscripts that don’t catch your attention with the abstract?
So how do you pick which papers you actually read as opposed to the ones that sit as unread browser tabs?
Go back to the two reasons I listed for why people read papers, and I can bet you its either because you needed a specific piece of information from that paper or because something about it especially caught your attention.
So how do we write an abstract that interests readers in the rest of the paper?
Easier said than done, right?
After watching client after client struggle with their abstract more than any other part of the paper, I wanted to see if there was a formula for putting together a compelling abstract.
Therefore, I’ve spent the past year reading hundreds of abstracts, and patterns started to emerge for which ones were most effective.
After taking notes about what works and what doesn’t for capturing your reader’s attention while still writing an effective abstract,
I’ve now boiled my copious notes down to a 12-page guide that will:
- Walk you through generating the information you need to compose the 6 main parts of your abstract.
- Put this information together in the right order and within the word limits of your abstract.
- Provide practical advice and tips for creating the perfect abstract.