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For any scholar who aspires to publish his or her research, composing an impressive abstract is a big challenge. It is the first test that the scholar needs to pass to prove the value of the completed research because the decisions of the editors of a journal or a conference are based exclusively on the quality of the abstract submitted. The abstract creates the first impression about the quality of your research and you as the scientist and academician.

The Abstract of a research paper is like the show window of a boutique. In a tiny space, the show window presents to the prospective customer all the essential information about the boutique – what it sells; what is the range of products, what class and age group of the customers it serves; what is the likely price range etc. A prospective buyer’s decision to enter the boutique (or not), depends mostly on what he/she sees in the show window. Similarly, your Abstract helps the reader to decide whether to continue reading the entire paper or abandon it.

The recommended length of an Abstract is generally specified by the journal and can range from 150 – 300 words. This is the toughest test of your writing skills because in those few words you need to achieve several objectives: you need to tell the reader why the chosen topic is important; what is the scope of your paper; what methodology you adopted for research and analysis; what are some of the key findings and finally what further research is recommended. It is very useful to pick 3 to 4 key terms for your paper because the search engines works with them.

 The writing has to be concise with perfect word choice and tone.  It must establish your credibility as a serious, ethical professional. A standard recommendation is to plan six to ten sentences where each sentence fulfills a specific objective. The first sentence should give an extended definition and the objective of the topic/problem chosen by you. The second sentence should talk about the importance of the problem and the scope of your research. The third sentence should show what efforts have been made so far and what is missing (this will be based on the literature survey you have conducted as a part of your research). The fourth sentence should focus on the methodology you followed to achieve your objective. The fifth sentence can talk about the results obtained (remember negative results are also results). The sixth sentence should bring out the impact of the results obtained and finally, you may close with what areas will benefit from further research.

Once you have composed the Abstract, review it after a gap of at least 48 hours and read it not as the writer but a scientist/reader. Make the required modifications. Two important points to keep in mind are: 1) choose passive voice and ii) use past tense because the abstract is describing the research that has been already completed.

Normally, an Abstract is composed in two phases. First, as you start research, put down important points that you would want your readers to know. As the research progresses, you will continue to jot down key statements. Finally, when the paper is complete, you organize and edit the points into a concise powerful paragraph that covers all essential components of the research, and serves like a very impressive and informative show window for your research paper.

Let us try and analyze an abstract of an old published scientific paper. The indicators in red are NOT a part of the abstract. I have added them to establish the function each sentence is serving.

“Understanding Cell-Mediated Immune Responses Against Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV)”

Sean Spenser and John Loffredo, David Watkins (Mentors), Primate Research Center

Each day 14,000 people become infected with HIV/AIDS, making the development of an effective vaccine one of the world’s top public health priorities. (Importance of the subject) David Watkins’ laboratory is attempting to develop HIV vaccines that elicit cellular immune responses utilizing the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) infected rhesus macaque animal model. (Scope of the research undertaken) A major component of the cell-mediated immune response are cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTL).  It is thought that CTL play an important role in controlling HIV and SIV. Most standard immunological assays do not measure antiviral activity directly, limiting our understanding of CTL effectiveness. (What existing research has not achieved) To address this, the Watkins laboratory developed a novel neutralization assay that quantifies the ability of virus-specific CTL populations to control viral growth. (Methodology) Evaluating the antiviral activity of CTL of different specificities will identify those CTL most effective against SIV.  (Expected results) This information will likely impact the design of future HIV vaccines. (Impact of this research)

– Dr. Veena Kumar, University of Maryland Global Campus, Executive Director, IUCEE International Engineering Educator Certification Program