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Publishing in English: Writing an Abstract

An upcoming guide to English-language publication for Japanese scholars


An abstract is a short, concise and powerfully written statement that provides a complete overview of a larger work.  An abstract is an original document, not an excerpt and should include key words that draw a reader to consider the larger work.  An abstract is neither a review nor an evaluation, rather it is an enticing capsule summary of a work that is often the first words read by potential readers.   

What is an abstract used for?

How do I know what to Include?

What is an abstract used for? 

  • Abstracts help readers to quickly decide about reading a longer work and have the potential for greatly increasing the readership of a work. 
  • Abstracts of dissertations and works in a specific field of study may be published together and provide excellent visibility for a new work. 
  • Increasingly online databases include abstracts of longer works but not full-text content. 
  • Abstracts are often required in applying for grants and for proposing a paper or a panel for a professional meeting.

How do I know what to include? 

  • Follow the guidelines exactly.
  • Think of key search phrases and keywords that readers will use to search for your work.  Some venues may request specific “keywords” which are used to aid keyword index searches and may be used to assign a work to a review committee or to be assigned to a panel or group of papers at a scholarly meeting.
  • Follow the limitations on word count.  If your abstract is too long it may be rejected or simply cut off at the required number of words leaving your argument dangling, unfinished, and unlikely to be selected.  A word limit of 100-200 words is common.
  • Use straight-forward phrasing, do not write in the passive voice. 
  • Don’t use jargon, but also don’t shy away for popular terminology, and don’t try to be clever, the goal of an abstract is to make readers want to read a longer work. 


Below are some tips for writing in English:

  • Place your arguments at the beginning of the paragraph/sentence. 
  • Use active rather than passive voice whenever possible. (
  • Remember to clearly specify the subject. Even if the subject seems obvious in the context of the sentence, English writing requires that the subject and object are articulated to the reader. 
  • Place emphasis on the narrative flow and argument structure, rather than getting bogged down on detailed descriptions of the data.  Make sure to allocate a significant portion of your writing to explain: What does the data convey? Why should the readers care about your data?  

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