How you structure your article can affect how much it gets read—and cited. Each section serves a purpose, and does so in a particular order.
In this blog, we’ll take a look at the overall structure that you should follow in your article. And then we’ll focus specifically on the abstract—one of the most important sections that can help your article get attention.
Structuring your article well helps readers find the information they’re looking for, and helps them easily follow your methodologies and arguments. To help do this, most articles follow a common pattern and structure—after the title and abstract and before the references—called IMRaD.
IMRaD stands for Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, (a)nd Discussion and Conclusions. And although this is how you should structure your manuscript (in most cases), it’s not the best order for writing it.
You would actually want to start your writing with the Materials and Methods sections, followed by the Results. And you can work on these sections while running your experiments or doing your research as they describe what you’re doing.
Once you have results—and you’ve analyzed what they mean—you can work on the sections that describe that. So that’s the Discussion, Conclusion, and Introduction.
Only after that would you turn to the title and the abstract.
So let’s look next at how to write the best abstract.
The first part of your article—after the title—that readers will see is your abstract. Readers will often only see your title and abstract, among lists of other articles on similar topics. This means that really well-done abstracts can have a big impact on how much your article gets read—and cited.
The abstract must outline the most important aspects of the study while providing only a limited amount of detail on its background, methodology and results. So you need to critically assess the different aspects of the manuscript and choose those that are sufficiently important to deserve inclusion in the abstract.
Once the abstract is ready it can be helpful to ask a colleague who is not involved in the research to go through it to ensure that the descriptions are clear. After you have drafted the manuscript, you should go back to the abstract to check that it agrees with the contents of the final manuscript.
Abstracts should have a structured format, serving several purposes: it helps authors summarize the different aspects of their work; it makes the abstract more immediately clear; and it helps peer reviewers and readers assess the contents of the manuscript.
The abstract structure varies between journals and between types of articles. You should check that the abstract of their manuscript is consistent with the requirements of the article type and journal to which the manuscript will be submitted.
TIP: Journals often set a maximum word count for Abstracts, often 250 words, and no citations. This is to ensure that the full Abstract appears in indexing services.
These tips and suggestions should help you get started.
Best of luck with your next manuscript!