Tips for Editing a Scientific Abstract

A scientific abstract provides a structured summary of your manuscript, research proposal, or academic presentation. Abstracts give the initial information a reader will use to form a first opinion about your work. They let other researchers know whether to read, cite, and even purchase your journal article.

Therefore, abstracts must be brief while clearly describing key elements that capture the reader’s interest and convincing them of the significance and rigor of your work.

Why is it important to edit an abstract?

Because abstracts are so condensed, it can be challenging to describe your study and include all the required content clearly and completely. Not to mention create an abstract that is stylistically acceptable and grammatically correct. This is why, after writing your abstract, editing and proofreading play a critical role.

The quality of writing in an abstract can make the difference in a submitted research article being accepted or rejected by journals. Therefore, before submitting a manuscript, academic editing is often needed to polish a research abstract and prepare it for publication. This article provides some tips on what to look for when proofreading and editing your scientific abstract.

What to focus on when editing your abstract

On their website, Academic Conference and Publishing International (ACPI) presents abstract examples and lists some guidelines for research paper abstracts. Among these guidelines are “capturing the reader’s interest,” “making a clear statement about the topic and purpose of the research,” and being “well written in terms of language.” Therefore, when editing your abstract, pay attention to both the content and wording, along with the grammar and punctuation.

Confirm the abstract guidelines of your target journal

Before writing your abstract (and certainly before editing it), find out the guidelines set out in the “Guide for Authors” section of your target journal’s website. Each publisher has unique requirements for formatting and structure. The following are some common questions to address:

  • Is there a maximum or minimum word/character length?
  • What are the style guide and manuscript formatting rules?
  • What is the required abstract type?
  • Are there additional content or organization rules that apply?

Follow the stated guidelines when submitting your manuscript and abstract and avoid instant rejection by journals.

Abstracts should summarize all major sections of your research paper.

Terminology and Content Issues

Give the background and purpose of the study in the first sentence.

Do not go into great detail about the context of your study. However, give the reader a brief overview of why the study is important and why you have carried it out.

Ensure that key terms are included.

After writing an abstract, check that you have included your keywords in the first few sentences. Do not overuse keywords, but make sure that they are sufficiently outlined.

Limit abbreviated terms.

If possible, avoid using abbreviations in the abstract. Instead, write out the terms in full and then abbreviate them in the Introduction section.

Do not include literature.

Literature should not be referenced or cited in the abstract. Present your review of the literature in the Introduction section as well. If you have included references to specific studies or texts, remove the publication details. Replace them with statements such as “recent studies” or “some researchers say” to support your position.

Limit details about methods and findings.

Unless your study uses a novel method that is central to the research, do not discuss your study methodology in detail. Likewise, if you must refer to a study result, keep it short and concise and do not go into details.

Wordiness and Readability Issues

Regardless of the types of abstracts, research authors need to be aware of word limits. Descriptive abstracts are usually 100-200 words in length. Informative abstracts are anywhere from a paragraph to a page in length (an average being 300-500 words). In either case, concise writing is key.

Editing an abstract is largely a process of removing excess terms and phrases. The abstract should be as “bare bones” as possible, but still use language that will entice readers to read your full paper.

Keep the language simple and concise.

With most academic transactions being conducted online, this means that you have even less time to impress readers. If your abstract text is full of extraneous terms that do not contribute to summarizing your study, remove them.

Check for unnecessary relative clauses and avoid nominalizations.

Sometimes wordiness issues are simply a matter of sentence structure. If you notice many relative phrases (those beginning with “that,” “which,” “who,” etc.), assess their usefulness in getting your point across. Many pronoun clauses can be shortened by using a modifier such as an adjective instead:

  • Relative Clauses: It has been shown that animals who live in saltwater environments are more robust than those that live in freshwater regions. (21 words)
  • Adjective Modifier: Studies have shown that saltwater animals are more robust than freshwater animals. (12 words)

Another major cause of wordiness in abstracts is nominalization. Despite this overly long term, the concept is simple. A nominalization is a noun that has been created from an adjective. To remove wordiness caused by nominalizations, simply remove the useless verb and change the nominalized noun to the main verb:

  • Nominalization: When assessing the impact of X, we took into consideration several factors.
  • Strong Verb: When assessing the impact of X, we considered several factors.

Flow and Consistency Issues

Make sure sentences are natural and clear.

Readability is perhaps the single most important factor in academic writing. To convey your research, the writing in your abstract needs to be clear and understandable—not only to researchers in your subject area, but to those in other fields of science. Using proper natural English expressions conveys to researchers that your study will also be well written.

Make sure the language is at an academic level.

Awkward and un-academic terms can signal to readers that your arguments and analysis are not sophisticated.

One way you can boost your academic writing is to use stronger, more academic verbs. Avoid using phrasal verbs and verbs with prepositions. Instead, use verbs of Latin origin to ensure academic language:

Verbs with ConjunctionsLatin Verbs
carry outconduct
look atexamine, analyze
talk aboutexplain, discuss
come aboutappear, emerge

A paper editing service can prove especially useful when it comes to style issues. They usually employ native English speakers and academic language experts who are adept at natural English terms and phrasing. They also understand the subject matter and can perform substantive editing for research content.

Use consistent spelling, punctuation, and formatting.

While academic proofreading catches errors in grammar and punctuation, you must apply punctuation marks, capitalizations, and mechanics elements consistently throughout the abstract and scientific manuscript.

Grammar, Punctuation, and Formatting Issues

Proofreading includes a grammar and spelling check, removal of typographic and punctuation errors, and resolving issues with formatting and mechanics. Proofreading rules are straightforward, but they must be adhered to in academic texts. For more information about proofreading, please see our article on proofreading academic manuscripts.

Using a Professional Abstract Editing Service

While many researchers prefer to edit and proofread their own abstracts and manuscripts or give it to a peer, a professional editor is often the best option. And academic editing services use editors with real academic writing experience. Wordvice academic editors are also scientists and researchers and can revise your abstract into a more readable, grammatically correct text while highlighting your key points and the significance of your work.

The best abstract editing services will help readers understand the work summarized by your abstract and extend its appeal to researchers beyond your immediate subject area. Our professional editors are adept at journal editing and understand the manuscript revision process. Receiving editorial assistance also allows you to focus on your research rather than worry about the detailed work of perfecting an abstract.

For high-quality language editing services, including scientific editing and proofreading for academic papers, Wordvice Editing Service is among the best in the business. Our professional editors have subject expertise in over 1,500 academic fields, and many have successfully published research in academic journals.

To prepare your manuscript for publication, check out our complete menu of academic editing and proofreading services.