Writing abstracts

I went to the inaugural lecture last night for a new professor who used to be part of the Business School, now moved onto better things. It was good to be able to go to these sorts of things and be at least on nodding and ‘small talk’ terms with a few people.

In the after-lecture buffet (something which I strongly agree with, maybe student attendance would improve if we fed them after the buffet), I was asked by my friend Beverley Maynard to come up with some tips for research students and others who are struggling to write abstracts to be accepted at conferences and journals. Here they are!

1)    Audience, Purpose, Medium. The abstract should be readable my anyone, not just a specialist in the field which you are writing. Avoid using abbreviations, in-jokes, and situations which are specific to your academic institution. Always imagine you’re trying to explain your research paper to a member of your family.
2)    Sell the paper. If you’re submitting an abstract in the hope it will be accepted by a conference, then you need to do a little selling of the paper. Ensure that your paper includes the latest ‘buzz words’ and hot topics. The first abstract for the paper recently written included the words FaceBook, MySpace and Web 2.0 – all ‘hot topics’ at the moment.
3)    Don’t hold anything back. This was an error I made originally when writing abstracts, I wanted the paper to have a ‘punch line’, which I didn’t want spoiled by anything that was in the abstract. This error was pointed out to me quite robustly at the time, and I’ve not forgotten it since. It’s true for PowerPoints presentations, report writing and abstracts – “Say what you’re going to say, say it, and say what you said”.
4)    Write to at least 90% of the word limit, but don’t go over. Some abstracts will be rejected because you exceed the word limit, even by one word. But you’ll be unable to make a persuading case if you only use half of the allocated words. Do the judges use the word limit to see if you can write succinctly?

    Some more general guidelines are available from the academic conferences site here, they do seem to reinforce the tips above.

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    4 comments so far

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