Structured Abstracts

The Journal of Biogeography uses a structured abstract. Here are a few pointers on how to write one that will delight editors, reviewers, and readers.

Although less common that its counterpart the single paragraph prose-style abstract, the structured abstract has several benefits. One is that it helps readers find the key information that describes a study. Another is that it makes writing the abstract much more straightforward, guiding authors to include that key information, to align aims with methods and results and conclusions, and to avoid repetition (e.g. the location and taxon need only be mentioned once unless you are setting up contrasts among multiple locations/taxa).

As described by the journal’s Information for Authors, the structured abstract “should be no more than 300 words, presented as a series of factual statements under the following headings: Aim, Location, Taxon, Methods, Results and Main conclusions” (emphasis added). With the format set by these essential criteria, there is then some flexibility to provide different amounts of detail in each of the sections. However, the best structured abstracts also achieve a certain ‘balance’ and ‘parallel’ structure among sections, taking the reader from the context for the study, through what was done and found, to how this has advanced the field of research.

Thus, the journal’s Information for Authors goes on to note that the structured abstract’s Aim “should give a clear statement of the principal research question(s) or hypotheses,” that the Methods “should give details of materials/sampling/methods of analysis,” and the Main conclusions “should give the main take-home message.” Note that all of these things will benefit from being provided appropriate context, which we strongly recommend be used to set the scene for your study, i.e. as the first sentence of your Aim.

Although not stated explicitly, the Results section of the structured abstract should naturally bridge from the Methods — by reporting the outcomes of the analyses that justify the principal interpretations that lead — to the Main conclusions.

The journal’s Information for Authors also goes without saying that the Main conclusions should, of course, address the statements made in the Aim.

To better help you achieve these goals, to write a structured abstract that is maximally informative, we have provided something of a template below to act as a more explicit guide.


The structured abstract (length guides are approximate, and must total ≤300 words):

Aim: A contextual statement explaining (1) the conceptual/theoretical context for the study, (2) the major knowledge gap to be filled, and (3) the specific aim of the study. The specific aim may be the principal research question(s) or hypothesis/hypotheses. (Approximate length: two to three sentences [40–50ish words].)

Location: The name of the area, place, region. (Approximate length: one or few words)

Taxon: Indicate the main group. (Approximate length: one or a few words.)

Methods: Give major details of materials, sampling, and methods of analysis that will communicate your study design and its robustness, especially with respect to answering the question(s), or testing the hypothesis/hypotheses, posed in the Aim. (Approximate length: several sentences [60–100ish words].)

Results: Give major details of the results of your analyses, especially those pertinent to your question(s) and hypothesis/hypotheses. There should be no inference nor interpretation (Approximate length: several sentences [60–100ish words].)

Main conclusions: State whether hypotheses posed in the Aim were refuted or supported; answer any questions asked. Interpret your results in the context of any questions posed. Address their implications for the field of study. (Approximate length: several sentences [60–100ish words].)


Some examples of balanced structured abstracts can be found in the following papers.

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