Manuscript Tips: Abstracts

The following is the next installment in a series on writing for publication from Kris Greiner, editor in the Design Center. Explore her suite of editing services.

Summing up an entire study or research project into about 250 words can be challenging. Whether you’re submitting an abstract to a conference or writing one for a manuscript, here are some ideas to keep it focused.

First, as always, read through given instructions, especially word or character count. If your abstract is over the limit, your work may be automatically rejected for revision.

Is the requirement for a structured or unstructured abstract? If structured (with section headings), use exactly the section headings required. If the instructions state that “Background” should be your first heading, don’t use “Introduction.”

Use abbreviations where possible, but be sure to spell out everything at first use.

Do not include references.

To keep word count down:

  • Don’t give broad or general information in the Background or Introduction. Because you’re writing for an audience that already understands the subject, you can get right to the specific problem you studied.
  • Look for places to remove articles: words like “the” and “a” or “an.” Examples: “The Results demonstrated” or “A CT scan revealed”
  • Look for phrases that can be shortened: “In order to determine whether” can be rewritten “We examined”
  • Use active voice. For example, “Patients who had previously failed first-line therapy were enrolled” can be rewritten “We enrolled patients who have failed previous therapy.”

To keep character count down:

  • Use mathematical symbols instead of words: “greater than” becomes >
  • Delete spaces between mathematical symbols: p = 0.001 becomes p=0.001

Have questions about a particular abstract? Feel free to contact me,

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