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Writing Basics

What are Manuscript Highlights?


Teri Surprenant, MA, Managing Editor, Language Editing

April 2021

Journals have different requirements for publication. Some may stipulate that you provide a list of abbreviations, some may have word limits, and others may mandate that sections are formatted in a certain style. Another requirement may be to provide a highlights section.

What are manuscript highlights and what is their purpose?

Highlights make your article more visible to search engines. The more recognized terms that you use, the more likely your paper is to be featured during an online search. Think of highlights as a way of connecting your work with members of the research community.

Highlights are not a short version of your abstract, they should not consist of a paraphrased version of your title, and they are not a truncated description of your methods. Highlights offer an overview of your research. Highlights may consist of a brief summary of your results or mention the use of new technologies or research techniques. They inform the reader about what makes your paper unique and, with all of the articles that have been published, why your manuscript is worthy of reading instead of another paper. The highlights section answers the question: What does your paper contribute to the scientific community?

You should always check with your target journal; however, the majority of journals require the following for highlights:

• There should be 3–5 highlights listed in bullet point form.
• Each highlight should be no more than 85 characters (including spaces and necessary punctuation).
• Highlights do not typically have terminal (ending) punctuation marks.

Highlights speak to a general audience, so you should not use very technical wording, terminology, or abbreviations. You can be general in your highlights and then specific in your paper where you can elaborate on research techniques and findings. In general, it is best to use active voice to stay direct in your presentation of your work and meet the character limit. Highlights draw in your reader, so you want to be sure to showcase your research properly in the short space that highlights are given. A good way to test how functional your highlights are is to take a step back after you have formulated your highlights and read them (or ask a colleague to look them over) and then answer the question: Would I want to read the full article based on these highlights? If the answer is yes, then congratulations on a job well done!

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