The scientific abstract and its importance
What is a scientific abstract?
Scientific abstracts contain the most pertinent information of the scientific paper. When written effectively they represent clearly the value of the scientific work that stands behind it.
The aim of the abstract is to be a summarization of the scientific work – from the initial idea of the project, through the conveyed experiments to the results with their significance and implication.
It is also an overview of a scientific paper intended to give researchers a general understanding of a particular study without making them read the entire paper. In terms of research, reading an entire paper would be an extremely inefficient use of time, especially if that researcher is looking for a specific piece of information. They have a major role in scientific journals and research databases to display the key points of the paper and to make the information more accessible for the reader. Because the abstract is a representation of a scientific paper, it’s important to make the abstract as precise as possible. It must cover all essential academic elements of the full-length paper.
The abstract is written at the end when the author has a clear picture regarding the findings and conclusions so that he can send the most suitable message to his audience.
Why is it important to have a good abstract?
Living in times in which we are surrounded by various sources of information, the importance of a good title and abstract in a scientific paper is perhaps obvious. It helps to present complex information in a clear and concise manner. Abstracts have been compared to movie trailers because they offer previews with highlights that help viewers decide whether they wish to see the entire work.
The purpose of a title and abstract is often described as “selling” the paper: getting someone reading the title to read the abstract, and someone reading the abstract to go further and read the paper. The main aim of the title and abstract is to get the right people to read your paper. This way your work will be approachable to those who are looking for the information and results you have published. Nowadays with the huge research database we have finding a certain piece of information in a single article can be a big challenge. Often readers waste time on the wrong paper and mistakenly miss the one which is right for them.
As the title is the first thing a reader sees it should be the last thing an author writes right after the abstract.
The english writer and eccentric Charles Caleb Colton said:
“That writer does the most who gives his reader the most information and takes from him the least time.”
Types of abstracts
- Descriptive abstracts:
This type of abstract is usually very short (50–100 words). Most descriptive abstracts have certain key parts in common. They are:
- Particular interest/focus of paper
- Overview of contents (not always included)
These abstracts are inconvenient because they do not include a detailed presentation of the results. The reader must have access to the complete article.
- Informative abstracts:
From these abstracts, you must get the essence of what your report is about, usually in about 200 words. Most informative abstracts also have key parts in common. The parts include:
- Aim or purpose of research
- Materials and Methods
The abstracts provide accurate data on the contents of the work, especially on the results section.
- Non-structured abstracts:
When the abstract does not present divisions between each section, and it may not even present any of them, it is a non-structured abstract. The sentences are included in one paragraph.They are suitable for the descriptive abstracts.
- Semi-structured abstracts:
A semi-structured abstract is written in only one paragraph, where each sentence corresponds to a section. All the sections of the article are present as in the structured abstract.
- Structured abstracts:
A structured abstract has a paragraph for each section: Introduction, Aim, Materials and Methods, Results, and Conclusion . This type of presentation is often required for informative abstracts.
The benefit of the structured abstract is undoubtable – it follows a logical and well-arranged order which makes the abstract easy to find and access. The structure obliges the author to include information from all five sections and by this prevents the possibility any important data to be missing.
Structured abstracts have become required in most medical journals although in some other areas they are not used.
The preeminent researcher into the efficacy of structured abstracts, James Hartley has done research into the efficacy of the structured abstracts and has concluded that they:
- contain more information
- are easier to read
- are easier to search
- facilitate peer review
- are preferred by readers and authors
- Suhasini Nagda. How to Write a Scientific Abstract. J Indian Prosthodont Soc. 2013 Sep; 13(3): 382–383. 2013 Jun 28. doi: 10.1007/s13191-013-0299-x
- Chris A. Mack. How to write a good Scientific Paper. 2018 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE)
- JoAnn Grif Alspach. Writing for Publication 101: Why the Abstract Is So Important. Crit Care Nurse (2017) 37 (4): 12–15. doi:/10.4037/ccn2017466