The need to write an effective abstract: A case study
Case: An author submitted his manuscript to a journal, but was extremely disappointed when he received a rejection from the journal a few days later. It was clear from the status descriptions that this was a desk rejection and the paper had not been sent for peer review. The rejection email stated that the work did not add significantly to the existing literature.
The author, however, was very sure that the research findings were indeed valuable. The manuscript was the result of extensive research that had taken months to complete and the author’s professors had been very sure that the study had merit. The author could not understand why the paper had not even been sent for review and strongly felt that the editor had just read the abstract and had taken his decision based on it rather than reading the whole paper. The author approached Editage Insights asking whether he should request the editor to go through the entire paper and reconsider his decision.
Action: We informed the author that often journal editors do not have the time to go through the entire paper at the initial screening stage, and often screen manuscripts based on the title and abstract. We asked the author whether the title and abstract were very strong. The author admitted that the title could be slightly confusing and sent us the title and abstract for our opinion. After going through the abstract, we found that although it provided a good description of the methods and results, the purpose and objectives of the study were not described well, and hence, the conclusion drawn from the study was not clear.
We explained to the author that the paper might have been rejected because the abstract was not strong enough. We advised the author to submit the paper to another journal. However, we emphasized that before submitting the paper elsewhere, he should revise the title and abstract so that the novelty of the study is adequately conveyed through these elements.
We also recommended that the author should write a strong cover letter explaining the merits of the study and how it will benefit the journal’s target audience. The cover letter and abstract should impress the editor sufficiently to generate an interest in the paper. The author followed our advice and submitted the paper along with a revised title, abstract, and cover letter to another journal. This time, the paper cleared the initial editorial screening and was sent for peer review.
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Summary: The cover letter and abstract are vital parts of a submission package and are crucial for clearing the initial editorial screening at the journal end. These are the elements that the editor reads first, and based on these, forms his or her impression of the manuscript. Some editors screen papers by reading the cover letter and abstract and do not read the entire paper if they do not find these interesting enough.
Often, the abstract and cover letter are written at the end, and authors do not spend adequate time on these as they are in a rush to submit. Authors should give sufficient time when writing the abstract and should also give an attractive title to the paper. Additionally, the cover letter should not be just a summary of the paper: it should also make a case for the paper by focusing on the novelty, highlighting the merits, and explaining why the target audience of the journal will find the paper interesting.
You might also be interested in the following articles and videos:
- A 10-step guide to making your research paper abstract more effective
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- How to write an Abstract: Some useful tips
- Dos and don'ts for a great cover letter
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- The complete guide to writing a brilliant research paper