Metadata – Why bother writing an abstract?

In this series of blog posts we will be talking about how to make your article more discoverable by giving it rich, descriptive metadata. If you missed it, read our first post about what metadata is and how search engines use it and our post on how to write a great title.

Abstracts – are they really important? Do you really need to write one? How much of a difference can having an abstract really make? The answer is pretty clear – any article that is going to appear online 100%, absolutely, must have a well written abstract to accompany it.

The reason for this is simple. As explained in our first post on how search engines work, the abstract for your article is going to be searched, the keywords it contains indexed, and this information will contribute to how your article is ranked by search engines. If you write a detailed, descriptive abstract, your article will be ranked higher than an identical article with no abstract. It is that simple. If you want people to find your article, an abstract is crucial.

Getting people to find it is just the first step. You also want your article to be read and cited. A well written abstract is the best tool to achieve this. By telling readers exactly what your article contains, they can quickly and easily determine if the content in your article is pertinent to their research.

So now that you’re convinced, what does a great abstract look like? Not all abstracts will look the same – they vary from discipline to discipline. An abstract in a scientific journal will look different than one in a literary journal. Regardless of your field of study, your abstract should consider the following information:

  1. What – what is the article about? What type of research is being discussed? What makes this article different than others on the same topic?
  2. How – if you are a life scientist or social scientist your abstract should describe how you conducted your research. If you are a humanities scholar, your abstract should tell your readers what theoretical approaches, if any, you are using.
  3. Where – Was there a particular geographic location, or region associated with the research?
  4. When – Was there a particular time period examined?
  5. Why – what makes this research new/interesting/important?
  6. So What – what were the conclusions, findings or implications?

Here are Antonia’s Dos and Don’ts for writing an abstract

DO

  • Write one
  • Use key words / terms / phrases
  • Define all acronyms, even common ones
  • Work within the set word
  • Obtain feedback from other subject specialists.

DON’T

  • Don’t just use the first paragraph of the article, or a collection of sentences
  • Don’t use too much technical or specialized jargon
  • Don’t include any information that is not also in the full article
  • Don’t include references – you want people to read your article, not go off and find one referenced in your abstract.

 

Takeaways:

  • Every article that will be published online absolutely needs an abstract.
  • A good abstract will increase the ranking and discoverability for search engines, and help readers decide which articles to read.
  • Abstracts should contain keywords and terms.

Next – key words!