As researchers prepare their findings for publication, they have to keep in mind where each part of their studies is going to come into play in the written submission. Certain aspects, such as methodology and outcomes, are easily integrated into the article in obvious places. Others, however, aren’t quite as simple to compile, such as the abstract.
The abstract is an integral piece of the overall research paper, even though it doesn’t technically contain any information that you gleaned from your experiment. Whether you’re publishing in a journal or an open-access forum, the abstract is the place where readers will review your summary of your work and decide if it’s interesting enough to them to warrant reading the entire article. Because it’s such a critical part of your paper’s potential impact, the abstract needs to be optimized just as carefully as the rest of your article.
What Should Be in Your Abstract
The abstract is similar to a summary of your paper. It touches on the ideas that will be disclosed in detail throughout your research report. You don’t want your abstract to be too long or too short. Rather, each part of it should parallel the importance of the main idea as it is written in your paper. Much of an abstract contains implied, not explicit, information, teasing the reader, as it were, to continue reading on if they want the rest of the answers.
Your abstract should consist of the following components:
● The background behind your study to put it in context for the reader as you introduce the topic
● The problem the research was supposed to address and the questions it was intended to answer
● A basic review of prior research in this field and an overview of what is already known about it that you took into your study as a foundation of knowledge
● The intended goals of your research and why you felt it was important for these questions to be answered
● The methods you used to approach your research and what those methods found, as a general overview, not detailed
● How these findings were of significance to the field of study or any implications they may hold
As an overall piece of your paper, the abstract should be able to stand alone. This does not mean you have to have all the conclusions inside this little section, but the reader shouldn’t have to read all the pages of your paper in order to understand what it is about.
Things to Avoid Doing in Your Abstract
There are a few practices that automatically create a bad abstract that researchers can avoid doing if they know ahead of time, such as:
● Making the abstract too long. A good abstract averages somewhere around 200 words. Any longer and you’ve lost the reader’s attention, but any shorter and they won’t get the sufficient point enough to grab their attention.
● Including references. The rest of your paper is long enough to warrant citations. These are not necessary within your abstract itself.
● Not structuring the abstract well. Your summary should parallel your final paper, so if the abstract seems jumpy and you used your paper as an outline to follow, you may need to look back at the entire draft and ensure it is structured well.
● Including scientific language. The abstract is intended to grab the reader’s attention. If it’s already complicated and difficult to read, chances are the rest of the paper will be, as well. Use the abstract to speak formally but to the average reader, not a specific scientific community.
Keeping these tips in mind as you formulate your abstract will help you to avoid common mistakes.
Optimizing Your Research Abstract
Avoiding mistakes is one thing; optimizing your abstract is another important part. To ensure your abstract is well-written and easy to find through web crawlers, include these sections clearly:
● Keywords in your objective to help your work get found easier when a user types in queries
● Clearly state the methods you used to find your answers
● Include the results, without too much detail, and be sure to reference keywords in this section as well
● Bring in the conclusion and significance of your findings, again without giving too much detail
With these four sections in your abstract, keeping the language clear and bringing in keywords, you will have a well-written, optimized section of your paper to attract your reader’s attention.