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Marc Abernathy | Write abstracts that get you found, read, and cited. These five tips show you how – Example 1
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Write abstracts that get you found, read, and cited. These five tips show you how – Example 1

 

 

Here’s how I would edit a management abstract to complete all five steps I outline in the article.

 

Before

 

We extend theories of self-regulation of physical commons to analyze self-regulation of intangible commons in modern industry. We posit that when the action of one firm can cause “spillover” harm to others, firms share a type of commons. We theorize that the need to protect this commons can motivate the formation of a self-regulatory institution. Using data from the U.S. chemical industry, we find that spillover harm from industrial accidents increased after a major industry crisis and decreased following the formation of a new institution. Additionally, our findings suggest that the institution lessened spillovers from participants to the broader industry.

Word count (before): 100

My commentary

 

We extend theories of self-regulation of physical commons to analyze self-regulation of intangible commons in modern industry.

 

[Marc Abernathy (MA): Introduces the topic and hints at the significance, yet to an outside reader, the main topic of inquiry in this first sentence is still vague.]

 

We posit that when the action of one firm can cause “spillover” harm to others, firms share a type of commons.

 

[MA: Introduces the hypothesis, but we still don’t have a “findings first” orientation by this second sentence. The authors are still warming up.]

 

We theorize that the need to protect this commons can motivate the formation of a self-regulatory institution.

 

[MA: To me, another warm-up sentence: more hypothesizing, not enough substance to easily see the big picture.]

 

Using data from the U.S. chemical industry, we find that spillover harm from industrial accidents increased after a major industry crisis and decreased following the formation of a new institution.

 

[MA: This is the main idea, the findings, the heart of the research. But note that we had to wait until the fourth sentence to find this out. Scanners of abstracts may never have gotten this far.]

 

Additionally, our findings suggest that the institution lessened spillovers from participants to the broader industry.

 

[MA: Additional key findings, hinting at the broader significance of the research. I would argue that the findings in this sentence could be taken further and the significance expanded on.]

 

A proposed revision (with potential keywords highlighted)

 

Spillover” harm from industrial accidents increases after a major industry crisis and decreases after an industry forms a new institution, which lessens spillover impact on the broader industry. We investigated whether one firm’s action can harm other firms sharing a commons and whether this commons motivates other firms to self-regulate by forming an institution. Using data from the U.S. chemical industry, we extend theories of physical commons self-regulation to intangible commons in industry.

 

Word count (after): 73

 

Now let’s evaluate the proposed revision using the checklist. Does the revised version

  1. create a keyword yellow brick road? Yes, but I think the authors could add even more keywords
  2. waste any word? I think not, especially since 27 words were cut.
  3. tell from the first sentence? I think so.
  4. give us a complete story? Yes, and now there’s room for even more detail (which would also add keywords). The significance of the results could also be further developed.
  5. think like the searchers? Yes, but it could be made even stronger if such terms as “commons” were explained in more detail and if the authors added additional relevant keywords and implications.

My edited and revised version might not be exactly what the authors intended, but it stays pretty close to the original and reduces word count by 27, a precious savings in a rigorously word-limited section of the paper. And these saved words can be used to add technical terms, more explanations with greater detail, or other important keywords, all of which would make the abstract more accessible to audiences less familiar with the subject, such as students, other researchers, and the general public.