Abstracts are the OG Tweet

By Aaron Ellison & Manisha Patel

In our last post, we discussed how as scientists, we are all expected to effectively communicate our science, but neither formal nor informal science-communication skills are usually taught in any of our courses. We spend seemingly endless hours, days, months, or even years filling our notebooks with methods and data, analyzing and graphing the results, and putting it all in the context of previous research. And then it’s time to share our findings with peers and colleagues by giving talks, presenting posters, or writing papers. But no matter the format, we always begin by summarizing the research in an abstract.

An abstract is a body of text that tries to explain complex research with clear and succinct language.

Abstracts as we now know them date back to the early 1800s. It came as a surprise to us that the first abstracts were not written by the study’s authors. Instead, they were written by professionals who were paid to write short summaries of papers for other scientists who wanted to keep up with the latest research but didn’t have time to read every paper that was being published. 

In the last 200 years, some things have changed about abstracts while others have remained the same. They are still short—anywhere from 50 to 100 words but rarely more than 350. But now we write our own abstracts, and often pay to publish or present them. Abstracts are no longer stand alone but rather an integral part of journal articles. We also write them as part of the “application” to present our research at scientific meetings.

Whatever the reason for writing them, abstracts are here to stay (and may even outlast Twitter!). They are the invitation to our talk or poster, and may be the only part of the paper that anyone actually reads. So writing a clear, readable, and inviting abstract that gets across the key messages is a skill worth learning and practicing.

With that in mind, we are offering a three session, hands-on workshop in Communicating Scientific Knowledge this summer. The first session focuses on writing an abstract (and maybe even a tweet or two). 

Want to learn more and hone your skills? Register today!

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