[To appear in Jan-Feb 2018 issue of IETE Technical Review]
With the proliferation of journals and the increasing number of research articles they publish in a given research area, getting researchers to read your journal article may pose a unique challenge to you as an author. We live in a world dominated by information content. Your article has to compete against many other articles which clutter the ability of the reader to pick up your article. It is more like window shopping. In a short span of time, the reader will make a quick decision either to read or disregard your article.
In one of my earlier editorials , I mentioned that the first contact that a reader makes with a research paper is through its title. Busy researchers often skim through only article titles. Writing good titles is, therefore, the first step to draw the attention of the reader. But what next ? How will you entice the reader to go through your full article? Here comes another important component of an article – the abstract.
Research papers in a good journal always carry an abstract because they are so invaluable to the reader to get a “feel” for the contents of the article even without reading it fully. Authors, therefore, have to pay special attention while writing the abstract of an article by including the most appropriate and relevant information.
When a reader scans through the abstract, what they are looking for is whether the work presented in the article will meet their need. The reader will read the rest of the article only if this condition is fulfilled. A poorly written abstract may arouse negative feelings about your article which can act as a stimulus forcing the reader to determine that the contents of the article are less aligned to her needs. Therefore, an abstract should effectively summarize the work presented in the article and provide the conclusive remarks to heighten the interest of the reader. Abstracts are certainly not like movie trailers whose purpose is to entice the viewers to buy a ticket and go to a movie. Unlike an abstract, movie trailers neither summarize the movie nor give away the ending.
Before your article is published, it invariably undergoes peer review. When a reviewer gets an email from the editor to review a manuscript, initially all that the reviewer can get access to is the abstract of the paper. A poorly written abstract may dissuade a good reviewer from accepting to review your paper. Getting critical and detailed reviews from active peer reviewers is essential for improving the quality of the article. Therefore, be aware of the potential negative consequences of a poorly written abstract.
A well written abstract shapes the perception of value a reader attaches to your article and the consequent decision to read. If you consider the following simple steps while preparing an abstract, it may enhance the chances of your paper being picked up for a serious reading.
- State the objective clearly.
- Indicate the scope and procedures briefly.
- Include concise and principal conclusions.
- Mention practical application of your findings if appropriate.
- Be economical in the number of words you use in an abstract.
- Do not cross the word limit set by the journal.
- Always use simple English.
- Do not cite references.
- Include information based on only what is presented in the article.
- When abbreviations are used, expand them at their first occurrence.
- More importantly, prepare the abstract only after writing the entire article.
Happy writing and reading.
- M.J. Kumar, “Making Your Research Paper Discoverable: Title Plays the Winning Trick”, IETE Technical Review, Vol.30 (5), pp.361-363, September-October 2013.