In science and engineering, it is common to write an abstract. The abstract is important because it is the link between the contents of a document and the reader. In many journals, the abstract is the only piece of a document that is freely available, meaning that a powerful abstract is what can compel potential collaborators, donors, and readers from gaining access to the article. For students, an abstract is common manner for summarizing research results and justifications in projects and dissertations. In sales and funding proposals, the abstract can be the make-or-break that gains the interest of potential donors. Because of this, how to write an abstract in important in every branch and level of science and engineering.
Internet Searching Means SEO for Abstracts
As the internet has become an increasingly important tool for research, the abstract also has value as a search tool. A powerful abstract promoted on popular scholarly sites, such as Science Direct, among others, can generate international interest in your work. It is important to keep in mind modern search engine optimization techniques in designing an abstract that will be publicly available, keeping in mind target key words and phrases
Goals of an Abstract
The abstract of a paper should speak to the content and the author's message, including relevant justifications.
What an abstract should do:
- Summarize the content of a paper
- Briefly state results
- Justify why the contents of the paper is important or significant
- Promote interest in the paper itself (i.e. SELL the paper)
What an abstract should NOT do:
- Explain materials and methods in detail
- Contain unnecessary information
- Make findings sound subjective by using phrases such as 'I think...' or 'We believe that...'
- Go into detail on results
When should I write an Abstract?
An abstract should tie a paper together and make any big points about the paper's merit. This means that the abstract should be written as the last step of the writing process, when the author has ironed out the ideas that form other sections of the paper.
How to Write an Abstract
The abstract should be drawn from the content of the paper, without repeating the paper explicitly. The way that abstract writing is sometimes taught in school is to take a single sentence from each major section of the paper and string them together to form the abstract. This, however, generally results in a poor abstract. Instead, an abstract should be written by writing a brief, original summary of each section, and concluding with an original sentence justifying the work.
An abstract should contain all elements to make it clinically relevant. In short, the abstract should state:
- Abstract Contents
- The nature of the problem
- The paper's main topic (i.e. What was done in the paper?)
- The solution or findings
- Unique or special points about the techniques used or the findings themselves
For example, the example abstract "Searching for Antibiotics in Marine Bacteria" consists of:
"The search for new antibiotics is more important than ever as drug resistance grows [identifies the problem]. In order to find new antibiotic frameworks, bacteria were collected from sediment samples from the continental shelf of the Atlantic ocean at depths of greater than 100 meters [identifies what was done in the paper]. Two new heterocyclic compounds have been isolated that show activity against resistant cell lines of the common flu virus [summarizes the solution and describes its importance to common subject-the flu virus]. The potential for new compounds from the sea to combat the flu are virtually unlimited [comment on the future potential of the project as a special "selling" point]."
This sample abstract provides an example of how to write an abstract, though it is generally advisable that the abstract be as unique as possible to the paper topic. An abstract will be evaluated on scientific merit, clinical relevance, originality, and suitability for a certain audience or journal.
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Angela Nicole Johnson is a Formulation Chemistry Expert at Angie Biotech, LLC responsible for leading the design team in developing new fragrance and soaps in the natural products division. She has worked in the natural products industry for over eight years and developed hundreds of bath and body products.