Your abstract is the first part of the manuscript that staff editors, academic editors, and reviewers will see. A strong abstract can help your manuscript move through peer review more quickly and smoothly.

After publication, abstracts are indexed in PubMed, Google Scholar, and other search databases, where they influence keyword search results, and give readers a first glimpse into what your article has to offer. After the title, the abstract is the second-most-read part of any research article.

Perhaps the best test of a man's intelligence is his capacity for making a summary. - Lytton Strachey

The perfect abstract

Your abstract should be a concise, stand-alone piece with a clear message. Some journals may require a structured abstract with specific headings; others will leave the organization up to you. Either way the content will be the same: a short summation of the most important information about your study.

Try it

When you sit down to write your first draft, ask yourself these questions:

1. Why did you do the study?
2. Why is the study relevant or important?
3. What methods did you use?
4. What did you learn?
5. What can you conclude from this?

What to watch out for

As you write, avoid these these common pitfalls by following these simple rules:

Keep it short. Focus on key results, conclusions, and take-home messages. Don’t include too much detail.

Discuss implications realistically. Don’t overstate or sensationalize your research, and avoid speculating about where the research might lead in the future.

Consider a checklist. There are standard checklists available for certain types of studies. Some, like CONSORT or STROBE are fairly general and can be helpful in reminding you what to include in the abstract


Do you have a journal in mind?
If so, take a moment to check their guidelines for any abstract length requirements. It’s easier to write an abstract of the right length the first time, rather than having to come back and cut it down later.

Further reading

Quick Checklist

For more guidance, check out Hilda Basian’s quick checklist for writing an abstract.

What’s next? Watch for our next issue, where we focus on writing your methodology.

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