Writing an abstract, and language and grammar – day 3: writing short sentences

Writing an abstract, and language and grammar – day 3: writing short sentences

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Writing short sentences

When it comes to writing your abstract, being succinct is the key as you have only a few words to do it in. Some journals may allow you 500 words, while others may only allow 300. This isn’t much if you have a complex study.

One thing you can do is to keep avoid complex sentences and instead keep your sentences short. Apart from helping you keep to a tricky word limit short sentences also have other advantages:

  • They lead the reader directly to the main point.
  • They can make your article easier to understand and more interesting – by cutting out the waffle.
  • Short sentences can have more impact.
  • You may find them easier to write.

Here are some tips for keeping your sentences short:

Think carefully about what you want to say – use only words that will contribute towards the meaning of the sentence. Ensure that your main point is addressed up front.

Try to cut out words – all the words should be necessary to the main point, so try to cut out words that aren’t really needed. They can make the sentences feel wordy and more difficult to understand.

Break up long sentences – if a sentence has too many conjunctions or is trying to make too many points then break it up. You can use commas or semi-colons, but better still, break long sentences into two.

Use the active voice – as the Journal noted yesterday, unless there is a precendent in your field for using the passive voice, the abstract will be easier to write in the active voice. It is the most direct way to write a sentence.

Remove redundant words – some authors accidentally write redundant words, for example instead of writing: ‘We believe it is best to follow’ just write ‘It is best to follow’. Or: ‘After some discussion we concluded that…’ instead just write ‘we concluded that…’

Remove unhelpful adverbs – words like very or actually usually add little and can be left out. For example, what is the difference between ‘very high’ and ‘high’? Or ‘very complex’ and ‘complex’? Or ‘it was actually the best method’ and ‘it was the best method’?

Write some sentences of only a few words – in the abstract more than any other part of your research article it will be acceptable to write some sentences of only a few words as in the extract below. For example: ‘100% of the population was included.’

Review and edit your work – make sure that when you come to review and check your work that you have at least one read through to remove unnecessary words and to shorten sentences. It is easier to write the abstract first and then try to shorten it afterwards than to write it perfectly short in the first place. After a while this will get easier as you see more opportunities to remove words and restructure sentences and eventually you will start writing short sentences.

Read through the extract below and see how these authors have written a succinct abstract.

Antibiotic susceptibility patterns of pathogens isolated from laboratory specimens at Livingstone Central Hospital in Zambia.



Multidrug resistance (MDR) is a global problem that require multifaceted effort to curb it. This study aimed to evaluate the antibiotic susceptibility patterns of routinely isolated bacteria at Livingstone Central Hospital (LCH).


A retrospective study was performed on all isolated organisms from patient specimens that were processed from January 2019 to December 2021. Specimens were cultured on standard media and Kirby-Bauer disc diffusion method was employed for susceptibility testing following the Clinical and Laboratory Standard Institute’s recommendations.


A total of 765 specimens were processed and only 500 (65.4%) met the inclusion criteria. Of the 500, 291(58.2%) specimens were received from female and from the age-group 17–39 years (253, 50.6%) and 40–80 years (145, 29%) in form of blood (331, 66.2%), urine (165, 33%) and sputum (4, 0.8%). Amongst the bacterial isolates, Staphylococcus aureus (142, 28.4%) was the commonest followed by Escherichia coli (91, 18.2%), and Enterobacter agglomerans (76, 15.2%), and Klebsiella pneumoniae (43, 8.6%). The resistance pattern revealed ampicillin (93%) as the least effective drug followed by oxacillin (88%), penicillin (85.6%), co-trimoxazole (81.5%), erythromycin (71.9%), nalidixic acid (68%), and ceftazidime (60%) whereas the most effective antibiotics were imipenem (14.5%), and piperacillin/tazobactam (16.7%). The screening of methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) with cefoxitin showed 23.7% (9/38) resistance.


Increased levels of MDR strains and rising numbers of MRSA strains were detected. Therefore, re-establishing of the empiric therapy is needed for proper patient management, studies to determine the levels of extended spectrum beta lactamase- and carbapenemase-producing bacteria are warranted.

This extract is taken from: Mwansa TN, Kamvuma K, Mulemena JA, Phiri CN, Chanda W (2022) Antibiotic susceptibility patterns of pathogens isolated from laboratory specimens at Livingstone Central Hospital in Zambia. PLOS Global Public Health 2(9): e0000623.  https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgph.0000623

There is no multiple choice quiz for today’s article.

Lesson tags: English for scientists, language and grammar, Writing an abstract, writing short sentences
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