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Brevity in Manuscript (I)

Lengthy communications are a community-wide issue in scientific research, not just an issue for ESL authors. However, ESL authors may have their struggle with brevity exacerbated due to two primary factors:

1. Strong command of the English language allows for clear writing in fewer words. In its absence, less content will be conveyed for the same given sentence length. We call this economy of language.

2. Inexperienced writers may compensate by attempting to overwhelm reviewers with their knowledge. This is commonly seen with young, unestablished investigators.

The message here is that brevity requires talent and effort. The accomplished French polymath Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) understood this well when he commented, “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

Brevity in scientific communication is increasingly popular because it is evident that reviewers are bypassing large sections of the manuscript for the sake of time. Typically, reviewers and other readers will establish their perception of the study based on the abstract, figures, and conclusions. Additionally, there is substantial encouragement from funding agencies and institutions to provide broadly accessible scientific communications. Papers written solely for a niche, esoteric community of academics are discouraged. This is due, in part, to the burgeoning emphasis on interdisciplinary work and collaboration, given that society has witnessed its most significant modern advances borne of this approach, e.g., the computing revolution, the Internet, and the Human Genome Project.

Therefore, in this series we would like to provide some strategies for brevity, on a section-by-section basis. The following approaches will greatly improve the clarity and impact of your abstract, while helping you fit your content under those pesky journal word-count limits. Bullet points indicate useful tricks for word count reduction.


A single background sentence should provide rationale that suggests 1) the variables of interest, 2) the purported mechanism(s), and 3) the significance and novelty of the issue. You should avoid stating well known facts in this sentence. Given that the reader has already seen your title, do not provide redundant information.

Only the methods relevant to the conclusions of the abstract should be stated. Do not include ancillary methods that do not address variables encompassed by the hypothesis/conclusions. Sample sizes and characteristics must be included but limited to information necessary to validate the conclusions. Do not include statements of statistical analysis.

Statistical results must be provided. However, selectively report those results that mirror the reported methods and conclusions.

Conclusions should not explicitly restate results. It is best to answer the question or hypothesis proposed in the background. Additionally, you can state the impact of the findings. This can be accomplished in a second sentence if necessary.

Part 2 will describe a well-formed introduction, discuss the objectives of this section, and identify necessary vs unnecessary content.

(Please retain the reference in reprint:

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