Have you ever been in the following situation?
You have selected a conference you would like to attend, and you have all the information you need for writing the abstract (the conference topic which suits your work, the maximum amount of words, submission through a website or email). Maybe you’ve googled “How to write an abstract”. And there you are, with a new Word document and a scary white page in front of you. You go and get a cup of coffee, and stare at the screen. You play around with some words to come up with a good title which is within the maximum amount of characters allowed. You go and get another cup of coffee. Check Facebook. Get a snack… And before you know a few hours have gone by and Word is still showing an almost empty screen.
I’ve found what really works for me to write an abstract in roughly 30 minutes. As I was googling “How to write an abstract” in the past, I came across this article by Philip Koopman which caught my attention.
What I most like about this website is the questions it has in the different sections your abstract should contain:
Motivation: Why do we care about the problem and the results?
Problem statement: What problem are you trying to solve?
Approach: How did you go about solving or making progress on the problem? Did you use simulation, analytic models, prototype construction, or analysis of field data for an actual product?
Results: What’s the answer?
Conclusions: What are the implications of your answer? Is it going to change the world (unlikely), be a significant “win”, be a nice hack, or simply serve as a road sign indicating that this path is a waste of time (all of the previous results are useful)?
In fact, whenever I now write an abstract, I simply copy and paste these questions into a new document. Then I start answering them one by one. Sometimes I just talk out loud and write it down. Style and grammar don’t matter to me at that point – I just need to get the ideas out first.
These answers then make up the first draft of my abstract. I simply delete the questions, and print out this first version. At that point, I start manipulating the abstract into a readable text, in correct English (as good as possible in my case), and making sure the entire piece flows from its starting point and background description towards the results and conclusions.
Do you have a method which helps you to write abstracts?