Writing a great abstract: tips from an Editor

Advice for young scientists
Writing a great abstract: tips from an Editor

One day, I looked up the word ‘abstract’ in the dictionary and found the following 1:

ab·stract (ăb‐străkt′, ăb′străkt′).


  1. Considered apart from concrete existence
  2. Not applied or practical; theoretical
  3. Difficult to understand; abstruse

n. (ăb′străkt′)

  1. A statement summarizing the important points of a text
  2. Something abstract

How paradoxical that the word commonly used for the summary of a scientific article (as in the first definition of the noun), should also mean ‘abstruse’, ‘difficult to understand’, and ‘apart from concrete existence’ when used as an adjective!

As Editor of FEBS Letters, I have read a great many abstracts through articles submitted to the journal, presubmission enquiries, shortlisting of conference abstracts for poster prizes, and running abstract‐writing workshops. I have come across abstracts of all kinds, some among them fitting better with the adjective than the noun. So with time I have learned to appreciate the contradictory meanings of the word ‘abstract’.

At a very early stage of their studies, PhD students are required to present a poster at a scientific meeting. Somewhat later, they will face the demanding experience of writing their own paper. In both cases, their work is introduced by an abstract, and all too often the importance of this abstract is underestimated.

This article is meant to shed light on the secrets behind scientific abstracts and provide early-career scientists with quick and down-to-earth guidelines on how to write one. Read more...

Ruffell D. Writing a great abstract: tips from an Editor. (2018) FEBS Lett https://doi.org/10.1002/1873-3468.13304