Titles and abstracts are the parts of your paper that will be read most often, and they may be the most difficult sections to compose effectively. What Zinsser (1998) says about avoiding clutter and sticking to simplicity is particularly true for titles and abstracts. They should be written with simplicity, clarity, and as few words as possible. They serve (1) to disclose the basic information in the paper and (2) to help readers decide whether to read the entire paper. Key words from the title and abstract are used for indexes for literature searches. Informative abstracts along with their titles are often abstracted for separate publication, and it is essential that each be an entity that can stand alone. As you write them, keep the purpose and audience clearly in mind, and keep them uncluttered and concise.
The title may be the most notable phrase you write. The title is the first impression you make on your audience. It should attract attention, but most important, it should be informative. Many people will read it, but few will read the rest of your paper. It should use the following:
1.The most precise words possible
2.Words that indicate the main point of the paper
3.Words that lend themselves to indexing the subject.
One technique for creating a title is to write the objectives first and then write the rough title, which is sometimes called the working title. Go on to write the entire paper, and then rewrite the title. Write and revise the abstract, and then check the title again. It may need another revision.
Common problems with titles are in their length and in the selection and arrangement of words. Be sure your title will make sense to someone not familiar with your subject. Use words that other readers might consult to find information such as your paper contains and use them in a sequence that is not ambiguous or misleading. Study your title for unnecessary words and put the most important ones first. Avoid abbreviations, trade names, and jargon. Provide adequate information but keep your title relatively short. Eight to twelve words is a good range to target. Scientific titles should not be news-paper headlines. Scientific readers are not looking for a journalistic sensation story; they want information. A full sentence with an active verb is usually not a good title. Just be informative and as specific as possible.
The journal may also request a running title, or running head. This is sim-ply an abbreviated form of the title that appears on journal pages beyond the first page of an article. For more suggestions about titles, see Day and Gastel (2006). Hofmann (2010) has some examples of good and bad titles. Also, take a look at the versions of a title in Appendix 8. Style sheets of journals will give you details on what is expected in titles for their articles.
Abstracts are of foremost importance to the research paper or proposal and are also used as a single entity for abstracting services or conferences. The word abstract is used loosely to refer to almost any brief account of a longer paper. The term is often applied to abbreviated forms or summaries of reports, pro-posals, reviews, posters, and presentations as well as journal articles. Content summaries such as descriptive summaries or executive summaries of proposals are sometimes referred to as abstracts, and conference proceedings sometimes publish extended abstracts.
The descriptive abstract, or indicative abstract, describes the contents of a paper but does not give a precise condensation of the information contained therein. Its contents would be relatively worthless if it were not accompanied by the report. It is the best form for some reports and reviews. Like a table of contents, it is helpful for a reader in deciding whether to read the entire paper. But one must read the entire paper for substance. Descriptive abstracts con-tain too little information to substitute for the informative abstract that most refereed journal articles require. They can be helpful summaries of reviews or reports and for papers presented at meetings, especially if research to be reported is not yet complete.
Conference proceedings may also publish extended abstracts, which are more lengthy than those for journal articles. They are still summaries of research studies but can contain more details of the methods or include more data (sometimes even a table or figure) than can an informative abstract of a journal article. The executive summary for a proposal is also longer than the abstract for a journal article and serves a different role for the audience.
It concentrates on the need, the feasibility, and the benefits of a proposed study. For further comment on the executive summary, see Chapter 5.
Do not let all this fuss over definitions confuse you. Just know that these strange breeds exist, and then recognize that for journal publications you need the informative abstract. Informative abstracts used with scientific journal articles are a more structured form than a loose definition permits. The organi-zation follows that of the article, and the length is restricted. Like the report, this abstract must include the following:
1.The research objectives and rationale for conducting the investigation
2.The basic methods used
3.The results and significant conclusion that can be drawn.
Notice that the two parts generally included in the full paper that are omit-ted from the informative abstract are the literature review and the discussion. This abstract should contain no reference to the literature. A concluding state-ment may give an interpretation or conclusion to the results, but any lengthy discussion or speculation is out of place. Although some journals will require fewer words and some will allow more, many style sheets specify that the abstract should not exceed 200–250 words or 3–5% of the length of the paper and that the form should be one paragraph. This concise summary can be pub-lished alone or disseminated electronically as a complete document. Some societies publish collections of abstracts as in Biological Abstracts. Study the sample abstracts in Appendix 9. McMillan (2001) also presents and discusses some examples of abstracts.
The structured abstract as described by the AMA Manual of Style (Iverson et al., 2007) is a form of informative abstract with side headings of the several parts required in medical reports. Other style guides will give infor-mation on acceptable form and content for abstracts. Silyn-Roberts (2000) has a good chapter including checklists on the various kinds of abstracts. Study the journal to which you will submit a manuscript to obtain specific instructions and to read examples of published abstracts. You will find a few differences between journals, such as length allowed, but any informative abstract must do the following:
1.Show readers quickly whether the full report is valuable for their further study
2.Be extracted abstracted) from the full report for separate publication or electronic distribution
3.Furnish terminology to help in literature searches by individuals or by lit-erature retrieval specialists for indexes and electronic databases.
To serve these purposes, the informative abstract must be a short, concise, but completely self-explanatory report on a scientific investigation.
Although brief and concise, along with the essentials (i.e., research objec-tives, basic methods, and results), the informative abstract should maintain
clarity and avoid a choppy style that does not flow smoothly. Emphasize the main points and avoid long lists of information. In presenting the main points, be as specific as possible. For example, say “20 and 40 kg ha1 of nitrogen” and not just “two rates of nitrogen.” Keep the tone strictly objective. Provide any scientific information, such as scientific names for species, that is impor-tant for a complete understanding of your subject. Avoid jargon, brand names, and abbreviations that are not immediately evident to the scientific commu-nity. Use no references to the literature or to any other material that would require a footnote or pursuit of external information.
When you think about it, all these requirements for the informative abstract simply emphasize its purpose: to be a concise, complete report of your work that can stand alone without further explanation. In addition to the references listed here, study titles and abstracts in the journals in your discipline and any instructions your publisher provides.