Guidelines for abstracts

WaterNet/Warfsa/GWP-SA Symposium and Special Issue of Journal of Physics and Chemistry of the Earth (JPCE)

Abstracts for papers and posters submitted to the WaterNet/Warfsa/GWP-SA Symposium and subsequently to the special issue of JPCE should not be more than 350 words. Abstracts should briefly specify the aims of the work, the methods used, the main results obtained, and the conclusions drawn, in a way that does not require reference to the body of the paper. In addition, 4–6 keywords (in alphabetical order) should be placed beneath the abstract and these will enable a subsequent information retrieval system to locate the paper. Writing a good abstract is one of the most difficult things for any researcher to do, because it is an entirely different skill from writing the original paper. An abstract must be clear and concise, and it must convey the whole of your paper in just a few words.

As you are writing your abstract, there are several factors to keep in mind:

  1. the purpose and audience of the abstract,
  2. the basic components of a paper/poster abstract,
  3. the elements that make a good abstract, and
  4. tips for writing a good abstract.

The purpose and audience of the abstract
Your purpose in writing an abstract is to get your paper accepted for presentation at the conference. The audience you are trying to impress are the members of the conference scientific committee, who will be reading dozens of abstracts and trying to decide which papers should be presented, and which should be rejected. The wording of the abstract should be very direct. Do not leave your audience guessing at what you mean; tell them. In addition to being clear and brief, your abstract must also be interesting. It must grab your audience and say “look at me.” Your abstract is your first, and maybe your only, opportunity to persuade the scientific committee that your paper deserves to be presented. The people who will come to the conference are a secondary audience for your abstract. They will be reading your abstract to decide if your paper/poster is worth their time to attend. However, if you do not impress the review committee first, this will be a moot point.

The basic components of a paper/poster abstract
An abstract must condense your entire paper/poster into just a few short sentences in one or two paragraphs. The four components of an abstract are:

  • The introduction: Start with one or two sentences which clearly expresses the purpose of your study or presentation: why is this important? What was your research problem and objectives?
  • Your methods: Briefly review the methodology you used to do your research. This part should explain the methodology used for your work/study (including study design and experimental methods. What did you do, and how did you do it?
  • Your findings: Concisely but adequately summarise the achievements of the work and/or all the major findings of the study. What did you discover in your research?
  • Your conclusions: Outline what is significant or useful in your research. What do your findings mean? You should summarise the overall findings, the possible improvements of the methodology and if/how this work is part of an overall strategy /research.

In other words, an abstract should tell the reader WHY you conducted the research, WHAT you did, HOW you did it, WHAT you found and WHAT it means. For each of these components you are walking the fine line between giving enough information to be clear and informative and staying below the word limit for the entire abstract.

The elements that make a good abstract
A good abstract is:

  • Complete: it covers the main part of your research/work.
  • Clear: your abstract should be easily read, well organised and without too many jargon words (a reader does not want to wade through complicated terms in the abstract).
  • Cohesive: the different parts of your abstract should be properly linked.
  • Concise: each sentence of your abstract must work toward your purpose of impressing the review committee with the academic merit of your presentation. The abstract should not contain any excess words or unnecessary information. A good tip to be concise is to write down a first draft and to delete as many unnecessary words and sentences as possible.
  • Self-contained: except for standard abbreviations (e.g. vs. for versus), define all abbreviations and acronyms. Do not expect the readers to be specialists in all fields. Define any unique terms or usages.
  • Accurate: clearly present the content and purpose of your paper and only describe information that actually appears in your paper. If you are doing a study, state whether your research extends or replicates previous investigations.
  • Non-evaluative: do not add personal opinions about the value of your work.
  • Readable: The review committee may read dozens of abstracts in a sitting; if your abstract has stilted sentences, misspellings, faulty grammar, poor transitions, or fuzzy logic it will not be viewed favourably.

Take care to edit your abstract before you send it in; remember you are trying to say “Pick me! Pick me!”

Tips for writing a good abstract
The following suggestions may help you as you work on writing your abstract:

  • The theme of your paper should be clearly stated in the first sentence (and no later than the second sentence). It should not be vague, unclear or buried in the middle of the abstract.
  • An abstract is nearly always read along with the title, do not repeat or rephrase your title. In fact, do not ever present the same information twice in your abstract.
  • Use key words from your paper. Many readers will look for the keywords to quickly understand what a paper is about. If they do not find the keywords they are looking for in the abstract they may not read your paper or attend your presentation.
  • Write in clear and dynamic prose. Use the past tense when describing what was done, but where appropriate use active rather than passive verbs.
  • Provide logical connections/transitions between the information in your abstract. Your reader should not have to guess where you stopped presenting your introduction and began your methods section.
  • Use complete short sentences. Do not omit articles or other small words in order to save space.
  • Vary your sentence structure to avoid choppiness. A boring, repetitious abstract suggests that the presentation will be the same.
  • Avoid sentences that contain no real information. If a sentence does not move the reader toward your purpose, leave it out.
  • Use simple words and avoid jargon and acronyms which would take up valuable word space to explain.
  • Unless a number begins a sentence, use digits for numbers.
  • Be concrete, but do not let your abstract be too speculative. Your abstract should be close to the limit, but not over it. If your abstract is much shorter than the word limit, you have probably left something out of it.
  • Ensure that all listed co-authors have reviewed the abstract, taken responsibility of its contents and accepted to be co-author.

Finally, do not just knock out an abstract and send it in. Write a rough draft, edit it for weaknesses in organisation, drop unnecessary information and wordiness, add important information that is missing, strengthen your transitions, read your abstract out loud, and check and double check the grammar, spelling and punctuation. An abstract is not just a bit of busy work that has to be done to get into a conference, but an integral part of your presentation. Remember your abstract is going to be published in the symposium volume of abstracts. You only have one chance to do it right.

Guidelines for submitting a paper to this journal are available at: