Scientific writing in Life Sciences: Writing an abstract | Sunday Observer

Scientific writing in Life Sciences: Writing an abstract

5 September, 2021

In the previous week’s a write-up on drafting scientific article titles was presented. Today’s article summarises how to write an ideal abstract in scientific communications. An abstract summarises the content of your research paper. The most common mistake when writing an abstract is not paying much attention to it. The abstract provides a time-saving shortcut for busy researchers. It highlights the contents of your entire research paper.

Therefore, the abstract provides a quick and clear understanding of the content. A well-written abstract helps speed up the peer-review process. A well-balanced abstract of a research article should address a) a brief introduction about the research work. b) A briefing about the methods used. c) What did you find? (Results). d) Why are these findings useful and important? I have seen some improper abstracts in publications. It is nothing more than the first paragraph of the introduction.

Good abstract

Needless to say, such poor abstracts make it difficult to encourage or convince a journal editor to send your paper to peer reviewers. A poor abstract will cause your paper to be rejected within a few days. Therefore, a good abstract will give a total estimation about your work at the initial editorial processes. Scientific journals and conferences receive thousands of abstracts every year, giving reviewers or evaluators a hard time at the initial editorial evaluations. As they prefer glancing rather than careful reading at the initial editorial evaluations, your abstract should be concise and straightforward and strong enough to convince them.

Following the publication as well, most of the readers first read your abstract rather than reading the whole article. Therefore, the abstract should comprise an important summary of your study. If your abstract is boring or not eye-catching, it will not ensure a far-reaching visibility and a widespread broadcasting of your research work. The first few lines of an ideal abstract should start with background information and lacunae in the literature about your investigation. Then, your abstract should indicate materials and methods used shortly. Methods should not describe results of the study. It should only describe your methods. Importantly, if you have used a modern or hi-tech method or technique in your study, it can be included in the abstract to highlight your article among reviewers or popularise among peers.

An abstract should not contain references. Following methods, results are normally written in abstracts. Results are the most significant part of the abstract. Indicate them clearly without using long and confusing sentences. It is advisable to use statistics when reporting results. Always try to make your fact with data, not assumptions and thoughts. Finally, you should present you conclusions in the abstract. The conclusions should be straightforward, clear, brief and specific to your observations.

Three types of abstracts

Three main types of abstracts are seen in research papers: 1. Structured abstract 2. Indicative abstracts and 3. Informative abstracts. Structured abstracts or grouped abstracts contain grouped sections [Introduction (I), Methods (M), Results (R) and Discussion (D)] according to the IMRaD rule as described in my previous article. Indicative or descriptive abstracts are not grouped and written as single paragraphs. They summarise all the topics covered in the entire document including the background, main topic and issues discussed. Indicative abstracts are frequently seen in review articles. Informative abstracts also follow the IMRaD rule without grouping into Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion.

When using abbreviations in the abstract, always try to define them. I have come across several failures in abstracts. Some of them include, failure to state the hypothesis, justification for the study, sample size and main conclusions. Some authors have failed to state the novelty of the study in the abstract. It is essential to highlight the novelty of your study in the first or second sentence of the abstract. Abstracts highlighting the novelty of the work can attract readers substantially.

Authors from non-English speaking countries are advised to get your text checked by a native English speaker as publications having abstract with grammar or typo errors are rejected without being peer-reviewed. However, regular support for text checks can slow down your English language development. In opinion, try to avoid frequent test checks by native English speakers.

Nowadays, many journals request graphical abstracts. A graphical abstract visually represents the content of an article, allowing readers to identify the main message of the article. Normally, the graphical abstract appears online. It does not appear in the printed version of the article. Tips for writing a successful introduction for Life Science based research papers will be presented in an upcoming article.

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