How to write a compelling scientific/technical abstract?
A year back, I have been lucky to be a part of the team which started the virtual seminar series program at ISCB-Student Council(https://iscbsc.org/) in November 2019(before the COVID-19 lockdowns began). The intention has been to provide a platform for early-career computational biology researchers and enthusiasts to present their work as virtual seminars.
Until now, we have had three calls asking for abstract submissions from students(undergraduates to postdoctoral scholars; high schoolers are also encouraged !)all across the world. We have a good number of submissions from students worldwide, and surprisingly it seems we have touched every continent(except Antarctica, of course !). Going through the abstracts, I have realized there are no bounds to creativity and innovation in minds. But, one major hurdle I have observed lies in how the idea has been presented. It becomes a critical factor during the decision process, whether to select or reject an abstract. As per my experiences, the reason for rejection/acceptance of your abstract is quite the same in most conferences/events.
I have highlighted a few of the points which should help while writing an abstract when submitting for a poster or oral talk(with particular focus on the ISCB-Student Council Virtual Seminar Series program).
Firstly, try writing the abstract in an easy-going and straightforward language easily understandable by readers no matter their expertise in the field.No need to showcase your advanced English vocabulary. The following components are essential and should be included no matter how short/long the abstract is or the word limit is.
- Title: Have an interesting title that gives readers a brief insight into what the abstract or the work is about. Try writing in the present tense if possible.
- Introduction/Background: Not every reader going through an abstract should be knowing the domain area where the work has been done. So, the introduction should highlight what the work is about and what is the underlying motivation to carry out the work. Basically, relaying a story and describing the main characters and where they came from.
3.Hypothesis/Objectives: This should be as explicitly mentioned or as clear as possible. If possible, you may want to start this section as ‘The objective of this study is …” or “We have based this study on the hypothesis that..”.
4.Methodology: Clear explanation of what has been done to support the hypothesis or achieve the objectives mentioned.
5.Results: Give a summary of the results or highlight one of the most interesting results you have during the study.
6.Conclusions: Just like every story needs an ending, else the audience won't be happy(generally!).The abstract needs a conclusion to make it complete. Give a few lines concluding what you perceive based on the results and how this will impact the upcoming work or how your work is going to benefit in practical applications.
All these components should help create an excellent abstract ready for submissions!