Guidelines for Abstract

Please have your abstract ready to submit in the following formats:

A. Format of abstract for a proposed study

  • Title (20 words)
  • Research Question (Introduction, hypothesis, and objectives) (150 words)
  • Methods (50 words)
  • Keywords: Maximum five words (other than the words in the title)

B. Format of abstract for partially/fully completed study

  • Title (20 words)
  • Research Question (Introduction, hypothesis, and objectives) (150 words)
  • Methods (50 words)
  • Results and Discussion (100)
  • Keywords: Maximum five words (other than the words in the title)
Following information provides useful tips and guidelines to help you write your abstract. Dr. Geoff Hyde (NCBS, Bangalore) has provided the content for this page, with help from Nandini Velho.

Guidelines for writing abstract

Below we will assume that you are reporting on a research project where you have already collected some results. Of course, people are also encouraged to discuss less complete projects, for example, where you are still refining the methodology you will use. If this is the case, please use a suitably modified version of the schema suggested below.

Your abstract should be organized in the following four sections, each with its own sub-heading (in bold):

  • Research Question (Introduction, hypothesis, and objectives)
  • Methods
  • Results and Discussion

What is expected in each of these sections? This is explained below with reference to a fictional abstract. This abstract reports a descriptive study, so as to demonstrate that even if you are doing science that is not model-driven, your report can still provide context and a valuable discussion.

A survey of skink diversity in Mouling National Park, Arunachal Pradesh

 

Abhijit Kumar1, Savitha Gupta1 and Shiva Rajah2. Himalaya Univ., Arunachal Pradesh and Univ. Cambridge, U.K. Email: sgupta@fakemail.com

Research Question. The herpetological diversity of India is poorly studied, particularly in the far north-east. In this study we surveyed, for the first time, the diversity of ground-dwelling skink species in the forests of Mouling National Park in the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.

Methods: Using quadrats and pit-fall traps, we surveyed the number of skink species in the three altitudinal ranges of the park (low: 750m-1500m; mid:1501m-2250m; high: 2251m-3000m), over a two-month period (June-July) at the peak of the summer season. The number of quadrats and traps used in each area was double that indicated as sufficient by a species accumulation curve developed during a pilot study.

Results and Discussion: The numbers of species found in the three zones were: low-altitude: 3; mid-altitude: 8; high-altitude: 5. Interestingly, while the high-altitude zone had lower diversity, the phylogenetic spread of its species was the highest, and included a new species, tentatively named Eurylepis ngarba. We consider that our results accurately estimate the true skink diversity of Mouling National Park because (1) the survey was thorough with respect to areas sampled; (2) more intensive surveys in two nearby (and similar) parks have shown that (a) all skink species in those parks are highly active at the peak of the summer season and (b) all skink species in those parks are non-cryptic. In this study, the number of species at low altitude was unexpectedly low, a likely result of increased human disturbance in this park, compared to nearby parks. We recommend a local education program to reduce the impact of shifting cultivation on skinks and other threatened species of the lower slopes of this valuable park.

Guidelines for writing each section of abstract

Research Questions

In this section you are expected to provide the general context for your study, and to indicate your research question.  In the sample abstract above, the context (Research Area) is provided by the first sentence: “The herpetological diversity of India is poorly studied, particularly in the far north-east.” We might consider this the study’s “Big Question”, and like most such questions, it is interesting but rather intractable. Your Research Question will be more specific and must be, largely, tractable. In the sample abstract, the Research Question is suggested, rather than stated directly: “What is the diversity of ground-dwelling skink species in the forests of Mouling National Park, Arunachal Pradesh?”  The Research Question is the pivotal question of any research report. If you are in doubt as to which of the questions addressed in your paper is the Research Question, the clarification is simple: the Research Question is the question that the title of the paper answers (or promises to answer).

Your Objectives (as defined here) are more specific (and more answerable) than your Research Question. In the sample abstract, the objective is to count, and identify, the total number of skink species caught in quadrats and traps spread across three altitudinal zones in Mouling National Park in June-July. Note that these are answerable questions, but the answers are only a guide to the total diversity of skink species in the park (the Research Question). In science, the objectives can often have an obscure relationship to the Research Question. For example, Louis Pasteur addressed important questions about spontaneous generation by experimenting with what happens in meat broth – a topic that itself has no intrinsic interest.

Methods

The Methodology describes the specific things you have done to acquire and analyse your data. In this section do not over-elaborate on the Methods that you have employed. The focus should be on the objectives – the Methods are a means to an end. Note how, in the sample abstract, the objectives still remain the main focus in this sentence: “Using quadrats and pit-fall traps, we surveyed the number of skink species in the three altitudinal ranges of the park (low: 750m-1550m; mid:1500m-2250; high: 2250m-3000m), over a two-month period (June-July) at the peak of the rainy season.”

Results and Discussion

The Results provide the answers to the questions represented by the Objectives. Few scientists have trouble understanding the nature of their results. However, many fill their abstracts with unimportant details, at the expense of what is much more important: discussing the most significant results. In the sample abstract, the main answers are, with respect to species caught in June-July: “low-altitude zone: 3 skink species; mid-altitude zone: 8 skink species; high-altitude zone: 5 skink species”.

The discussion component must firstly, and compulsorily, tell the readers the answer/s to the Research Question (not the objectives). In the sample abstract, the discussion starts with an extensive argument that the answers to the main Research Question can be obtained directly from the Results, i.e. the answers to the Objectives and the Research Question are, in this particular case, the same or similar.

After having discussed the believability of your proposed answers to the Research Question, you can then (optionally) consider the implications of your proposed answer, or suggestions for further work. In the sample abstract, “speculation” is restricted to: “We recommend a local education program to reduce the impact of shifting cultivation on skinks and other threatened species of the lower slopes of this valuable park.”

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