Potential referees are typically only given the title and abstract when sent an invitation to peer review an article. It is only upon acceptance of the invitation that they will be given the full paper and supporting materials. It follows, therefore, that your title and abstract are essential to attracting and securing the right reviewers. In this blog, we discuss how to make a great first impression with your title and abstract to secure the best peer reviewers for your paper.
A well-constructed title (typically 10–20 words) should enable the reviewer to immediately understand the content of the paper without having to read the full paper. You should aim to be as concise yet informative as possible. For more information, please refer to our blog How to write an effective title.
Well-constructed abstracts (typically 200–300 words) typically follow the IMRD/C (Introduction; Methodology; Results of the Research; Discussion/Conclusion) structure, reading like a scaled-down paper.
When constructing the abstract, consider the following:
- Keep the introductory information brief.
- Include a justification for the study in the introduction.
- Clearly state the study hypotheses/aims.
- Keep the methods brief to save space for the results and conclusions.
- The results should form the bulk of the abstract.
- Include the direction and size of effects both in words (e.g., lower, fewer, reduced; greater, more, increased) and numerically. For example,
“Daily pain scores differed significantly between gabapentin-treated patients and placebo-treated patients” is a poorly written result.
“Daily pain scores were significantly lower in gabapentin-treated patients compared to placebo-treated patients (2.8 [95% CI: 1.7 to 3.4] vs. 5.1 [95% CI: 4.4 to 6.2], p<0.001)” is comparatively better.
- Include all findings in the paper. The results should clearly reflect the full report, i.e., do not only present results that were statistically significant and exclude those that were not.
- Include any contradictory or negative findings.
- Mention any limitations of the study.
- Address the main conclusions in relation to the hypotheses/aims.
Most journals now require authors to suggest two to three potential referees. It is likely your suggestions will be considered if they align with those of the editor’s. Therefore, it is worth taking the time to carefully choose potential reviewers, putting yourself in the editor’s position.
Post-doctoral researchers are generally considered to provide the most comprehensive peer review reports . Therefore, editors typically aim to secure at least one as a referee. Look for up-and-coming researchers in your area, particularly those with recently published papers.
Provide the editor with a clear description of why you think each suggested referee is appropriate. You choices are more likely to be used if you clearly justify them.
For more information, please refer to our blog How to suggest reviewers.
- Ketcham CM, Hardy RW, Rubin B, Siegal GP. What editors want in an abstract. Lab Investig. 2010 90(1):4–5. http://doi.org/10.1038/labinvest.2009.122
- Crowley D, Lambert JS, Betts-Symonds G, Cullen W, Keevans M, Kelly E, Laird E, McHugh T, McKiernan S, Miggin SJ, Murphy C. The seroprevalence of untreated chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and associated risk factors in male Irish prisoners: a cross-sectional study, 2017. Euro Surveill. 2019 Apr 4;24(14).
- Callaham ML, Tercier J. The relationship of previous training and experience of journal peer reviewers to subsequent review quality. PLoS Med. 2007 Jan 30;4(1):e40.