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Marc Abernathy | Write abstracts that get you found, read, and cited. These five tips show you how – Example 2
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Write abstracts that get you found, read, and cited. These five tips show you how – Example 2

 

 

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

 

Before

 

Classification schemes have been popular to tame the diversity of root-infecting fungi. However, the usefulness of these schemes is limited to descriptive purposes. We propose that a shift to a multidimensional trait-based approach to disentangle the saprotrophic–symbiotic continuum will provide a better framework to understand fungal evolutionary ecology. Trait information reflecting the separation of root-infecting fungi from free-living soil relatives will help to understand the evolutionary process of symbiosis, the role that species interactions play in maintaining their large diversity in soil and in planta, and their contributions at the ecosystem level. Methodological advances in several areas such as microscopy, plant immunology, and metatranscriptomics represent emerging opportunities to populate trait databases.

 

Word count (before): 112

 

My commentary

 

Classification schemes have been popular to tame the diversity of root-infecting fungi.

 

[Marc Abernathy (MA): While it identifies the topic of the paper and includes essential keywords, this first sentence is overly broad.]

 

However, the usefulness of these schemes is limited to descriptive purposes.

 

[MA: Identifies a problem but doesn’t indicate yet what the paper does about it.]

 

We propose that a shift to a multidimensional trait-based approach to disentangle the saprotrophic–symbiotic continuum will provide a better framework to understand fungal evolutionary ecology.

 

[MA: This third sentence tells us what the paper is proposing, but could be made stronger by explaining in the same sentence what the disentangling and framework will help us understand.]

 

Trait information reflecting the separation of root-infecting fungi from free-living soil relatives will help to understand the evolutionary process of symbiosis, the role that species interactions play in maintaining their large diversity in soil and in planta, and their contributions at the ecosystem level.

 

[MA: A good summary of the contribution, but I think it could be made stronger. Words like “understand” and “contributions” are unspecific. This sentence could also be more strongly connected to the framework concept introduced in the third sentence.]

 

Methodological advances in several areas such as microscopy, plant immunology, and metatranscriptomics represent emerging opportunities to populate trait databases.

 

[MA: This sentence floats, meaning that I don’t see how it links to the ideas in the other sentences. How do the advances and databases connect with the classification, framework, disentangling, and understanding introduced in the previous sentences, for example?]

 

 

A proposed revision (potential keywords highlighted)

 

A multidimensional trait-based approach provides a better framework for understanding fungal evolutionary biology than current classification schemes and could help disentangle the saprotrophic-symbiotic continuum. Current schemes help tame root-infecting fungi diversity but are only descriptive. Separating root-infecting fungi traits from free-living soil-relatives traits will help us better understand evolutionary symbiosis, species interactions that maintain broad diversity in soil and in planta, and how these interactions contribute at the ecosystem level. Trait databases can be populated thanks to methodological advances in microscopy, plant immunology, and metatranscriptomics.

 

Word count (after): 85

 

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

 

  1. create a keyword yellow brick road? Yes, and now there’s even more space for added keywords, especially those related to relevance, significance, and specific fields and applications.
  2. waste any word? I think not, especially since 27 words were cut.
  3. tell from the first sentence? I think so. The first sentence now has a strong, direct start.
  4. give us a complete story? I think the authors could make it more complete by identifying more of the deficiencies of the current schemes and identifying more of the advantages of the multidimensional approach.
  5. think like the searchers? There is room for improvement, such as considering which searchers would be interested in this paper and what terms they would use to search for and find it.

While my edited and revised version might not be exactly what the author intended, 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 will make the abstract more accessible to audiences less familiar with the subject, such as students, other researchers, and the general public.