Writing An Abstract

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By Mark Winteringham

updated 15 days ago

On the surface, writing an abstract seems pretty straightforward. Come up with a catchy title, write a description of what you want to cover and then submit it. But if you want to improve the odds of your abstract being selected, you need to know how to create the best abstract possible. This means having an understanding of what contributes toward an abstract that’s likely to be selected versus one that’s likely to be rejected.

Tip: Sometimes, creating a title is easier once you have written a description. So don’t worry about the order in which you complete these steps.

Writing a Clear Abstract Title

When writing your abstract, clarity is key. This is doubly important for the title of your abstract. The title is the first point at which an attendee or reviewer will engage with what you’re sharing. So whilst you want to make it catchy, it’s more important to make it clear what an attendee might learn from you.

For example, let’s look at this title:

Getting Agile With Agile Testing

At first glance, the title looks ok. It's catchy and plays on the word ‘agile’. But ask yourself, what is this actually about? It’s not clear what the reader will learn from the session.

We can improve the title to show more of the value of the abstract to the reader by updating it to:

Succeed With Agile Testing

This communicates the benefit of the talk. But it loses its ‘catchiness’ and is no clearer on what is actually going to be shared. So let’s improve the title further to make it more focused on what is being shared:

How to Introduce Agile Testing to a Waterfall Team

This is a much better title because it communicates exactly what the topic is for the session and it also clearly states what could be learnt if attended. It does lose a bit of the cheeky snap of the first iteration, but clarity on what you are offering should always take priority over a play on words.

Creating a Clear Description

If your title is there to draw someone in, your description is there to provide more detail and seal the deal. Once again, clarity is the key to success in your abstract description. Let’s look at some patterns to avoid and how to remedy them.

Descriptions That Are Too Long or Too Short

One of the quickest ways to get rejected is to create a description that is too short or too long. If an abstract is only one or two sentences long, it won’t be long enough to communicate what you intend to share and how it benefits others. Equally, if your abstract is too long, the reader will likely lose interest because the points are not being made concisely enough.

Sadly, there is no hard and fast rule to description length, but abstract descriptions are more likely to be successful if they are around two to three paragraphs long. If you are not somewhere around that target, you need to ask yourself if it’s:

  • Too short: perhaps you can share more detail about what you’re covering. You don’t have to keep the details a secret.

  • Too long: can you cut or rewrite sections to be more concise?

Lack of Clarity in Descriptions

If there’s one thing that can muddy the waters of an abstract, it’s assumptions. As the author; you already know what you want to share and have all the context and information at your disposal. The reader doesn’t. So you need to structure your description in a way that clearly states what is being covered and how it can help the learner. To help you with this, we suggest structuring your abstract description as follows:

  • Grab their attention - Start by focusing on specific problems the learner is facing that your submission can help them with. So if you want to do a workshop on designing good automation code, start by asking if the learner has struggled with bad automation code.

  • What you will cover - Next, share what you will cover during your session. In this section, you want to be as clear as possible on what you’re covering, but that doesn't mean covering every single detail. Aim for a clear summary of the key points as opposed to an agenda.

  • Relate what will be covered to problems faced - Finally, end with a sentence or two that says something like “So if you are facing problem X, learn how solution Y can help you”. It’s a nice way to sign off an abstract, it brings home the benefit of your session, and it allows the reader to determine if what you’re sharing is going to be of use to them.

Buzz Words and Phrases

A final thing to be aware of in the world of assumptions and abstracts are buzz words and buzz phrases. Far from being appealing and catchy, their use results in an unclear and off-putting abstract. Here are a few examples:

  • "Everybody knows that X doesn’t work"

  • "Everybody knows that Y involves ABC"

  • "X is dead. We now all do Z"

Beware of making claims that you can’t back up. How do you know that everybody knows or does the same things as you? Here are some more examples to avoid:

  • "I’ll share how I used XML in an ETL system to improve OKRs by 50%"

  • "You’ll see a demo of TestToolIncorporated"

Not everyone will know the tool your using or the acronym you’re referring to. If it’s something that is domain-specific, either clarify what it is or remove it.

Activity - Reviewing Abstracts
Taking the time to see how others write abstracts is a great way to learn patterns that make up a great abstract and patterns that contribute to the not-so-great abstracts. That’s why for this activity, we encourage you to head over to our Continuous Call for Papers and review at least ten abstracts. See what you can learn from reviewing other people's work that you can factor into your own abstract writing.

Note: Can’t see any abstracts? It may be that we don’t have any open call for papers right now. Keep an eye on the contribute page for when new CFPs will open. Or alternatively, why not review abstracts from old conferences and see how they wrote theirs?
Activity - Complete Your Abstract
Now that you’ve explored abstract patterns you should avoid and approaches that help make great abstracts, it’s your turn. Create a draft version of your title and description for your session. Don’t worry about submitting it right now; we’ll explore how feedback can help you in the next guide. Just get something written down that you feel is at least 80% of what you want to communicate to others.

Learn More

What Is An Abstract? - Learn what an abstract is exactly and how it's made up of different elements

Improving Your Abstract With Feedback - Learn how getting feedback on Abstracts before submitting them is essential

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