Webinar Review: How to Write Abstracts that Capture Your Audience

Over the course of the semester, our trainees are reviewing webinars in their given fields and preparing abstracts to help colleagues outside their discipline make an informed choice about watching them. As our program bridges diverse disciplines, these abstracts are beneficial for our own group in helping one another gain key knowledge in each other’s fields. We are happy to share these here for anyone else who may find them helpful.

How to Write Abstracts that Capture Your Audience

Celia Elliott, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Science Writer & Technical Editor

August 7, 2014

American Chemical Society

Sara BellAnalysis by Sara Bell:

Every scientist needs to know how to communicate their research. Whether it be to the public, fellow scientists, or funding agencies, explaining the importance and novelty of your science is critical to success. The most common forms of science communication are journal articles and oral presentations, both requiring abstracts. Abstracts serve as the hook to reel your audience into reading your paper or attending your talk, so the quality of abstracts is of utmost importance!

In this ACS webinar, science writer Celia Elliott presents her four-step process to create an outstanding abstract that works in your favor. Throughout, she effectively drives home the point that abstracts are a scientist’s most important tool to capture their audience’s attention. To effectively do so, all abstracts need to convey what is new and relevant about your research. It can be tempting to turn your scientific journey into a mysterious story with the results and conclusions locked away in the full text. Elliott rightfully points out this often leaves readers uninterested since the relevance of your study wasn’t clear. Instead, an abstract should reflect the entirety of the paper or talk. To do this, she provides a four-step recipe summed up delightfully by a four-letter mnemonic: M – motivation, M – methods, R – results, C – conclusions. Your abstract should start by clearly stating your motivation or why you did the research (MMRC), followed by how you did it (MMRC). Next, results should be stated quantitatively (MMRC) and summed up with concrete contributions to the field (MMRC).

She notes, by this recipe abstracts shouldn’t contain any fluff such as broad background that the audience would already know. This is generally good advice, but it assumes your audience is familiar with your research area. This highlights the need to consider your audience when writing any piece. If the motivation section assumes the reader is an expert, your work may become inaccessible to a broader audience. While this recipe does provide the framework for everything that is needed in your abstract, it is still a delicate balancing act when deciding how deep to dive into each section.

The key takeaway from this webinar is that abstracts should tell an intriguing story that persuades your audience to listen to you. Fully utilize the space and time given to you and always consider your audience’s expertise. Last, remember that revision is just as important as writing that initial draft. Overall, this webinar provided valuable directions for how to write a successful abstract. For further resources, Celia Elliott’s profile provides ample opportunities to learn more!