Bad vs. good abstract

Girl with blank diary and pen sitting on wooden bench

When people search through articles on ScienceDirect, they may look at the table of contents of a journal or use the search function to find relevant articles. The title should tell them whether the article could be of interest, but to find out more they have to click through to see the abstract.

As an author, this is where you could either grab or lose your reader’s attention. A good abstract will keep them reading but a bad one could put them off, even if your research is relevant to them, which means you could miss out on a download or even a citation. Here are some notable differences between good and bad abstracts that could help you when writing yours.

Length

Bad: Too short and readers won’t know enough about your work; too long and it may be rejected by the journal.

Good: Depending on the journal’s requirements, 200 words is short enough for readers to scan quickly but long enough to give them enough information to decide to read the article.

Structure

Bad: Jumping from point to point with no clear flow will confuse your readers.

Good: Follow the structure of your paper: summarize the background, motivation, methods, results, conclusion and impact. Some journals require this to be broken down into sections, so check the Guide for Authors.

Content

Bad: Focusing on the wrong information, such as too much content about others’ work, will put off readers

Good: Pick the pertinent points. The content of the abstract should reflect the most important points and main findings presented in your article. This ensures it reflects your work accurately, attracting the right readers.

Style

Bad: A badly written abstract will confuse or turn off readers, who will not want to read a badly written article.

Good: Clear, concise, careful writing will help readers understand the information quickly and enjoy reading it. Using a professional editing service, such as Elsevier’s English Language Editing service, can help.

Language

Bad: Too much jargon makes an abstract difficult to read and even harder to understand.

Good: An abstract that is accessible to a wider audience – one that contains no jargon – will encourage researchers from other disciplines to read the article.

Conclusion

Bad: A weak – or worse, no – conclusion does not reflect the impact and importance of the work.

Good: A strong, clear conclusion presented near the end of the abstract shows readers the research in a nutshell, helping them decide to read on.

Keywords

Bad: Too few keywords in the abstract means the article is difficult to find in searches.

Good: Optimizing your abstract for search engines by using the most important keywords from your research helps make it discoverable for the right readers. Again, a language service can help.

Graphical abstract

Bad: A text-only abstract can be lost in a list of graphical abstracts.

Good: If the journal you want to publish in accepts graphical abstracts, it is a good idea to submit one, making your article more noticeable. Professional illustration, including through Elsevier’s Illustration Service, can help make it impactful.