A great summary is like a good story that stops people in their tracks. Let’s see how you can write one for maximum impact!
First things first — the audience
Do you know who reads you on Sparrho? It’s scientists like you, but from other fields, laypeople, interested in research and even potential employers. Meaning, most of them are not experts in your field. So, keep their level of understanding in mind!
Well, yes! Let’s think of your summary as a science story. Research says we relate to information better if it’s presented as a story. Science is often about a sea of data… but if you find a story among them, you’ll be on your way to rockstar status among your readers.
Well, let’s consider this. A good story has:
We’ll explain all this using an example below.
Fine! We will dissect a summary by Flavia Oliveira, who started out as a biomedical scientist and found a position in scientific publishing. Flavia put together a pinboard about an intriguing discovery: how a compound in chillies can slow down lung cancer. Let’s have a look!
A good title shouts about the discovery and it also makes us care. How? It mentions the problem (lung cancer) and an interesting solution (chillies slow down metastasis). Imagine trying to sell a newspaper in the street. Aim for 6–8 words.
OK, so people got interested. Don’t let them go away, this is your chance to draw your reader into the story. Summarise the discovery but don’t get lost in the detail. Imagine you’re pitching your story to a picky editor. Aim for about 320 characters.
OK, you got them hooked. Now set up the story with a bit more detail. Mention the most significant part of the discovery and the science underpinning it — notice the compound’s name is first mentioned here. Aim for max 200 characters.
Now you can dive right in. What exactly was the discovery or what are you trying to find out? Here you can mention the processes that were studied but remember your audience.
Don’t assume they have the same level of understanding as you. Introduce notions gently explaining with a half-sentence here and there what they mean — like Flavia did with Src. Aim for max 450 characters.
Here you can develop the plot with a story within a story. What method did the resarchers use? How did they prove/disprove their initial idea? Was there a trial involved? Who took part? Aim for max 450 characters.
The next few paragraphs give you a bit more freedom. You can carry on describing the science — for example, your field — underpinning the discovery. In this case, Flavia mentioned that the compound could be effective against other cancers, not just lung cancer. Which is nice to learn! Aim for max 450 characters.
OK, we’ve heard about an exciting discovery in detail, but now it’s time to zoom out. Your audience wants to hear your expert opinion. What now? How did this discovery improve our understanding of the subject? When will it find a practical application to benefit humanity? Close your summary with a forward-looking paragraph or two.
Flavia answers here the question on everybody’s mind: when will this discovery be turned into a drug? This could be a great closing paragraph. But as an honest scientist, she cannot avoid mentioning a complication on the way.
Great, having covered it, she can close the summary with a high-level forward looking statement about the role of capsaicin in cancer therapy. Aim for max 350 characters per paragraph.
And finally, this is totally optional! Some Curators like to mention quirky or interesting details — stuff that doesn’t quite fit into the expert summary above. This is something that a storyteller would share with their audience sitting by the campfire. Fancy trying your hand at it?
And that’s it. Thanks for reading through it! Now, that you’re trained up, we’re looking forward to your ace pinboard summaries.
Endre Szvetnik is Senior Editor at Sparrho. Endre works with Sparrho Heroes to curate, translate and disseminate scientific research to the wider public.