Swiss Journal of Palaeontology

, Volume 138, Issue 2, pp 343–346 | Cite as

Aspects of the abstract in systematic palaeontology

  • Stephen K. DonovanEmail author
Short Contribution


The most important section of most research papers, which will be read by the widest audience, is the abstract. But abstracts are often written in a hurry after the paper is finished, when the author is in a rush to get it submitted. In consequence, they may fail to communicate the paper’s true content. Herein, I look at the abstract in systematic palaeontology and make suggestions as to how it can be improved. Do not refer to the year of publication of a taxon in the abstract, as the abstract itself may likely be reprinted without a supporting reference list, in an abstracting journal or elsewhere, but do refer to the author by name, such as Agenus aspecies Smith. Be sure that your abstract is logically structured and all-inclusive, comprehensively covering the major points of your paper. Write the abstract from scratch; do not just cut-and-paste sentences from the text. Do not repeat words from the title in the keywords; rather, derive them from that other major source of the other principal words in the paper, that is, the abstract. Formerly, abstracts sensu lato appeared at the end of a paper and were called conclusions; a modern research paper does not require both an abstract and conclusions, as they say essentially the same.


Publications Structured abstracts Authorship Keywords Conclusions 



I am most grateful to a consummate editor, Dr. A. Louise Allcock (National University of Ireland Galway), for her constructive comments on an earlier incarnation of this paper.


  1. Albert, T. (2009). Winning the publications game: How to write a scientific paper without neglecting your Patients. Oxford: Radcliffe Publishing.Google Scholar
  2. Anon, (undated a). How to choose the best keywords for your research paper.
  3. Bayley, L., & Eldredge, J. (2003). The structured abstract: an essential tool for researchers. Hypothesis,17, 11–13.Google Scholar
  4. Connah, G. (2010). Writing about Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Day, R. A. (1998). How to write and publish a scientific paper (5th ed.). Phoenix: Oryx Press.Google Scholar
  6. Donovan, S. K. (2012). Re: Graham Howard, ‘Peer review as boundary work,’ JSP 43, 3 (April 2012):322-35. Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 44, 105–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Donovan, S. K. (2017). Writing for earth scientists: 52 lessons in academic publishing. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  8. Donovan, S. K., & Doyle, E. N. (2019). Utility of crinoid columnals in palaeontology illustrated by a new species: Clare Shale Formation (Carboniferous), Doolin, County Clare, western Ireland. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association. in press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Donovan, S. K., & van den Hoek Ostende, L. W. (2009). What’s in a name? Or a namer’s name? A reply to Dubois (2008). Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society,96, 709–711.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Goldbort, R. (2006). Writing for science. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Hartley, J. (2004). Current findings from research on structured abstracts. Journal of the Medical Library Association,92, 368–371.Google Scholar
  12. Hartley, J. (2008). Academic writing and publishing: a practical handbook. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hartley, J., & Benjamin, M. (1998). An evaluation of structured abstracts in journals published by the British Psychological Society. The British Journal of Educational Psychology,68, 443–456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hartley, J., & Betts, L. (2007). The effects of spacing and titles on judgments of the effectiveness of structured abstracts. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology,58, 2335–2340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Heard, S. B. (2016). The scientist’s guide to writing: how to write more easily and effectively throughout your scientific career. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Landes, K. K. (1951). A scrutiny of the abstract. Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists,35, 1660.Google Scholar
  17. Landes, K. K. (1966). A scrutiny of the abstract, II. Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists,50, 1992.Google Scholar
  18. Lowman, P. D., Jr. (1988). The abstract rescrutinized. Geology,16, 1063.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Mack, C. (2012). How to write a good scientific paper: title, abstract, and keywords. Journal of Micro/Nanolithography, MEMS and MOEMS,11, 1–4.Google Scholar
  20. Nakayama, T., Hirai, N., Yamazaki, S., & Naito, M. (2005). Adoption of structured abstracts by general medical journals and format for a structured abstract. Journal of the Medical Library Association,93, 237–242.Google Scholar
  21. Nebelsick, J. H., Bassi, D., & Rasser, M. W. (2011). Cryptic relicts from the past: Palaeoecology and taphonomy of encrusting thecideid brachiopods in Paleogene carbonates. Annalen des Naturhistorischen Museums in Wien (serie A),113, 525–542.Google Scholar
  22. O’Connor, M., & Woodford, F. P. (1975). Writing scientific papers in English: An ELSE-Ciba foundation guide for authors. Amsterdam: Associated Scientific Publishers.Google Scholar
  23. Rajpurohit, V. (2017). Top 10 rules to identify keywords for your research paper.
  24. Silivia, P. J. (2014). Write it up: Practical strategies for writing and publishing journal articles. Washington: APA Life Tools, American Psychological Association.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Akademie der Naturwissenschaften Schweiz (SCNAT) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Taxonomy and Systematics GroupNaturalis Biodiversity CenterLeidenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations