Abstracts are incredibly important. After the title, the abstract of your paper (or presentation) is probably the most important part because most people will use it to decide whether it’s worth reading any more of your paper or not.
What’s more, when trying to get your paper published, the abstract will be used by editors to help them decide whether your paper is a good fit, or whether they should desk reject it.
As such, it’s important for the person who’s writing the abstract to make it as appealing as possible to the potential reader to gain as many readers as possible, and so that the editor will be more likely to accept it for peer review.
Many supervisors have little trouble writing a good abstract – you’ve written many before, so it’s no big deal.
But for most students, it’s very difficult – most have little experience writing one. So, even if they write a good one, they can’t even tell – they don’t know exactly what a good abstract is because they’re new to it.
As a supervisor, it’s important to go through what a good abstract does (as we mentioned above – it helps grab the reader and makes them want to read your paper), and how to write a good one (which we’ll cover below). By doing that, your students will find writing abstracts far easier.
Let’s break down what makes a good abstract, because as we get more experienced with writing abstracts, we often forget all the nuances involved – they become second-nature to us, so we don’t even think about them any more.
The first thing people want to see is what your paper is about exactly. If they don’t know, then it becomes very difficult to determine whether the paper is even in the same field. So, the abstract needs to start off by including what the focus/question/problem of the paper is. Once that is done, the reader now knows whether the paper is even relevant to their interests. If it is, then they’ll want to read more!
Next, the reader would like to know what the general method was. The reason why this is a good aspect to cover in your abstract is because if you omit it, then the reader may be left confused about how exactly you got the results you reported. Sure, they can read the paper, but if you take that route, then the reader will be left in a state of confusion for a long time before it is finally cleared up. One of the goals of a paper is to make things as clear as you can to the reader, that way, they more easily understand what you paper is actually about instead of spending all this brainpower on trying to decipher it. What’s more, the more confusion they have about the method, the less they’ll trust your results simply because there are just too many questions popping up. So, including a short and general description of the method in your abstract is very beneficial to your reader.
The final part you need to cover is the results. Now, there’s not enough room to include every result. However, you need to hook the reader. How do you do that?
By including your most impressive result, the reader will be interested to know more. In fact, you don’t even need to include all the details about your main finding, but just the overall finding. Leave the details for the rest of the paper, so that the reader really wants to read more.
By going through these aspects and nuances of writing an abstract with your students, they will be able to write abstracts much more easily AND will be able to recognize when they’ve written a good one – a good one simply checks the boxes, it’s nothing fancy.
These boxes are simply: presenting the question your paper answers, the method used, and the main result. These aspects are included to appeal to the reader and to make any future editor understand the value and relevance of your paper to their journal – the more you do that, the easier it will be to publish the paper.
If you want to help your student with writing papers and getting them published, get them to read our book, “How To Write An Academic Paper 101”. It covers writing abstracts in more depth as well as the title, introduction, literature review, method, results, discussion, conclusion, and references. It also covers how to handle reviewers’ comments and the publication process, as well as conference papers.
You can find it here: https://phdvoice.org/product/writing-an-academic-paper-101/