Scientific abstract writing guide
A scientific abstract is a concise summary of an experimental result or research project. It communicates with fellow scientists (who have scientific background knowledge and may or may not be familiar with your work) what you are studying, how you studied it, and what your results and conclusions were. Abstracts also advertise your work and entice others to take interest and read your full results to learn more. Abstracts have length limitations when written for scientific journals or conferences. For this class your abstract should be less than 250 words (some journals require them to be even shorter!). If your abstract is shorter than 250 words, this is fine, but make sure it includes all the important points. For reference, this paragraph contains 167 words, so it is just over 65% of the maximum length that your abstract can be. Choose your words carefully and efficiently. You may need to first write your abstract, then go back through it once you are done to trim it down.
An abstract should contain the following parts, in more or less this order:
Backgroud/purpose: Give a brief background that explains what problem you are studying and why it is important. Science is often a sales pitch – why should your topic get attention, and why should you get funding to do or continue this research? The background given should answer some of the following questions: What is your topic and the motivation for studying this topic? Why does this need to be studied? Why should anyone care about this topic? What is the purpose or goal of doing this experiment? What hypothesis or specific question are you addressing?
Methods/Techniques: Give an overview of your methods and/or techniques. Remember to assume some level of scientific knowledge in your audience. Be brief, but summarize clearly. What methods did you use to study the topic? What samples were made? What treatments were applied? What variables were controlled and which were varied? What special techniques or precise equipment was used?
Results: Give 1-3 main findings from your research or experiment. The main result is often associated with the purpose or goal of the research project, is often a numerical value (with correct significant figures and units), and often comes from calculations performed using data that was collected.
Conclusion: Give the conclusions drawn from the results, or any broad implications the results might have. This is another opportunity to re-emphasize why this field or topic is important to study (and demonstrate why you are so good at studying it!). What do your results tell you? How do they affect the field of study?
Following is an example pre-writing outline and abstract based on Lab 2 Part A: Burning Mg to find the empirical formula of MgxOy.
Why the empirical formula is important (motivation)
How the empirical formula of MgO was determined (change in mass after reaction)
What empirical formula was found
What are the implications of this result? Does it agree with theory? If yes, state that it supports theory. If no, how do you explain the discrepancy? (Where might the errors be, are additional experiments needed, is theory being challenged? If you trust your result over theory, how does this affect (what are the implications for) the scientific community?
Determination of the Empirical Formula of MgxOy
Dr. Kimberly Horsley and Dr. Kathryn Kitzmiller, Grand Canyon University
The empirical formula is used for ionic compounds when writing the chemical formula and when calculating the formula weight. Determining the correct empirical formula, therefore, is critical to working accurately with ionic compounds. In this experiment, we determined the empirical formula of MgxOy by burning Mg metal in atmosphere and then comparing the weight of the product to that of the original Mg reactant. The weight of 0.24 g of Mg was found to have increased by 0.14 g after the reaction, indicating a final Mg:O molar ratio of 0.98 : 0.88, and an experimental empirical formula of Mg10O9. Our result falls just short of the 1:1 ratio theoretically expected for MgO, which could be due to error in the weight measurement, or incomplete reaction of the Mg with atmospheric O2. Due to the importance of the empirical formula in working with ionic compounds, a more precise experimental set-up may be called for.
Word count: 153
Below is a second example abstract from an outside source, https://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/presentations_abstracts_examples.html; U Wisc Madison.
Understanding Cell-Mediated Immune Responses Against Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV)
Sean Spenser and John Loffredo, David Watkins (Mentors), Primate Research Center
Each day 14,000 people become infected with HIV/AIDS, making the development of an effective vaccine one of the world’s top public health priorities. David Watkins’ laboratory is attempting to develop HIV vaccines that elicit cellular immune responses utilizing the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) – infected rhesus macaque animal model. A major component of the cell-mediated immune response are cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTL). It is thought that CTL play an important role in controlling HIV and SIV. Most standard immunological assays do not measure antiviral activity directly, limiting our understanding of CTL effectiveness. To address this, the Watkins laboratory developed a novel neutralization assay that quantifies the ability of virus-specific CTL populations to control viral growth. Evaluating the antiviral activity of CTL of different specificities will identify those CTL most effective against SIV. This information will likely impact the design of future HIV vaccines.
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