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How to write an effective journal article abstract

Have you heard the saying “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”? For most research articles, the abstract is the first – and possibly the last – impression an author has on a potential reader. If ineffective, the researcher will move on to the next abstract in the search results. If effective, your article will be read further, and potentially cited in the new research.

The ability of your abstract to encourage the researcher to read further determines whether you have an opportunity to make an impact with your article. So how do you ensure a quality first impression?

1) Be concise

Most abstracts are between 150-250 words in length. Summarize the key elements from your article in a way that describes what you have written but encourages readers to read further for the details of your research and argument.

2) Be complete

The abstract should represent the entirety of your article – introduction, methodology, results, and conclusions. Key research questions addressed in the paper should be identified, followed by the methods used to conduct the research, the significant results of your study, and finally why your paper matters.

3) Be factual

The abstract should be unbiased and present the factual elements of the article. Any arguments made by the author should be done within the article. The abstract should focus on what research was conducted, how it was done, the results of the study, and why it matters as a contribution to the discipline.

4) Be articulate

The abstract represents not only the content of the article, but the writing abilities of the author. This first impression should be grammatically accurate, ideas should flow naturally from introduction through conclusion in a logical progression consistent with the body of the article, and unnecessary information should be eliminated to improve readability (and meet word count requirements).

Although your abstract is often the first impression for a potential reader, it should be the last thing you write. By writing the abstract after the paper is completely edited, you can ensure that you are concise, complete, factual, and articulate while accurately representing the paper as a whole.

For more advice on writing abstracts, be sure to register for the TAA webinar, “How to Structure and Write an Article Abstract”, presented by Mark Pedretti on April 25th.

Eric SchmiederEric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.