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How To Write a Massive "Public Abstract"

Learn how to write a "public abstract" – a version of your paper or a paper in your field geared towards mass audiences

Published onMar 13, 2017
How To Write a Massive "Public Abstract"

This is intended to be a loose guide for writing a summary of your paper (or a paper in your field) for a mass audience. Your summary does not need to fit all of these criteria to be submitted to Massive, and we welcome feedback on how we can make this guide better.

Audience and Language

Our goal is to build a database of text-based research summaries that are interesting and readable by the general public, but comprehensive enough that scientists in adjacent fields can get value from the summary (i.e. how many use the bites family of blogs). Learn more about Massive here.

Imagine you're telling a story to non-scientist friends around a dinner table. It's a friendly audience, but one that you want to captivate and impress with your storytelling skills and knowledge without going over the top.You should therefore assume that most of your audience comes to this piece with only basic science literacy, and no prior knowledge of the specific field or sub-field. Try to describe the field itself as succinctly as possible, the context of the study, and why it's important first. Avoid jargon and acronyms in favor of plain, simple language. However, assume your audience is intelligent and generally interested in science. If you tell a compelling enough story with enough context, they will follow you into technical and complex places. People surprisingly love methods if you describe them! The key is to keep readers interested in going along for the ride by providing enough context and detail for them to understand what you're talking about, but not too much that they're overwhelmed by information or have no gaps to fill in on their own.Like a good story at a dinner party, you'll know you've succeeded if you can entice your audience to ask more questions and want to dig deeper once you've outlined it.


Max: 1500 words / 2-4 hours. Please time-box yourself! It’s helpful for us to know how long this takes you. Please provide all citations as hyperlinks in your written text and include a reference list/links at the end of any other articles or publications you used.

Be sure to address the following in your piece:

  • Write five headlines for the research. This helps us understand how you understand the importance or relevance of the research.

  • Summarize the abstract in plain language that your grandma and your precocious 13 year-old cousin would understand. Include what you believe is the most significant takeaway/figure of the paper.

  • Describe the historical context of the paper. What important research is this study building on? What came before it? What successes and what failures?

  • What are the existing schools of thought (if any) that this research is responding to? Is it creating a new school of thought or theoretical framework? Is it a null result that confirms an existing theory or school of thought?

  • In plain language, describe the methods and tools the researchers used to conduct the study. Did they invent new methods as part of the study? Do you see any glaring problems, omissions or errors in their methods section?

  • What are the other labs or groups working on similar research (‘competitors’)? Please provide a few links!

  • What are the questions left open by the paper? What do you think the next steps are for researchers in the field?

  • What's the personal story of how the experiment came to be? Who thought of the idea? What was the inspiration? Does the intro of the paper mention this? If possible, can you easily get a quote from the PI or lead on the study?

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