As a scientist preparing for a journal article, poster presentation, or talk, you are likely required to write an abstract about the content. Make sure to check the guidelines and limitations specific to the journal, conference, or venue regarding the word limit and format, but some basic advice holds true for writing any scientific abstract.
Your goal when writing an abstract is to provide enough information for a reader to know if the content is of interest and relevance to them. Give enough detail for the abstract to stand alone, like a mini article, and include the experimental hypothesis, summary of investigative methods, results summary, and conclusion. In fact, highlighting each of the sections of the paper or presentation being described is a good approach to writing the abstract. Unlike your favorite TV series, don’t leave a cliffhanger.
There are publications on writing scientific abstracts and many websites that provide tips from academic and industrial institutions. They all take a step-by-step approach of essentially writing a sentence or two for each aspect.
- Write an introductory sentence with background about why the study was performed.
- Write a sentence explaining the hypothesis tested.
- Write a sentence about the methods.
- Write a sentence about the results.
- Write a sentence about the drawn conclusions and their implications.
When complete, use built-in tools such as spell check and grammar check as your first proofreader. Proofread your own work and then ask a friend or colleague, preferably someone not as familiar with the topic as you, to read the piece. Make the edits, take a break from it, and then do a final proofread to catch the little things your brain overlooks once you get too familiar with the content. More people will read your abstract than actually read your paper or presentation, so convey the information as concisely as possible. Develop the skill of writing a solid scientific abstract to get more interest in your more in-depth content.