Potential referees are typically only given the title and abstract when sent an invitation to peer review an article. It is only upon acceptance of the invitation that they will be given the full paper and supporting materials. It follows, therefore, that your title and abstract are essential to attracting and securing the right reviewers. In this blog, we discuss how to make a great first impression with your title and abstract to secure the best peer reviewers for your paper.
A well-constructed title (typically 10–20 words) should enable the reviewer to immediately understand the content of the paper without having to read the full paper. You should aim to be as concise yet informative as possible. For more information, please refer to our blog How to write an effective title.
Well-constructed abstracts (typically 200–300 words) typically follow the IMRD/C (Introduction; Methodology; Results of the Research; Discussion/Conclusion) structure, reading like a scaled-down paper.
When constructing the abstract, consider the following:
- Keep the introductory information brief.
- Include a justification for the study in the introduction.
- Clearly state the study hypotheses/aims.
- Keep the methods brief to save space for the results and conclusions.
- The results should form the bulk of the abstract.
- Include the direction and size of effects both in words (e.g., lower, fewer, reduced; greater, more, increased) and numerically. For example,
“Daily pain scores differed significantly between gabapentin-treated patients and placebo-treated patients” is a poorly written result.
“Daily pain scores were significantly lower in gabapentin-treated patients compared to placebo-treated patients (2.8 [95% CI: 1.7 to 3.4] vs. 5.1 [95% CI: 4.4 to 6.2], p<0.001)” is comparatively better.
- Include all findings in the paper. The results should clearly reflect the full report, i.e., do not only present results that were statistically significant and exclude those that were not.
- Include any contradictory or negative findings.
- Mention any limitations of the study.
- Address the main conclusions in relation to the hypotheses/aims.
Well-constructed title and abstract
The seroprevalence of untreated chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and associated risk factors in male Irish prisoners: a cross-sectional study, 2017 
Introduction: Data on chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection prevalence in European prisons are incomplete and impact the public health opportunity that incarceration provides. We aimed to estimate the seroprevalence of untreated chronic HCV infection and to identify associated risk factors in an Irish male prison.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study involving a researcher-administered questionnaire, review of medical records and HCV serology.
Results: Of 422 prisoners (78.0% of the study population) who participated in the study, 298 (70.6%) completed the questionnaire and 403 (95.5%) were tested for HCV antibodies. Of those tested, 92 (22.8%) were HCV antibody-positive, and of those, 53 (57.6%) were HCV RNA-positive, 23 (25.0%) had spontaneous clearance, 16 (17.4%) had a sustained viral response, 10 (11.0%) were co-infected with HIV and six (6.0%) with hepatitis B virus. The untreated chronic HCV seroprevalence estimate was 13.1% and the seroprevalence of HCV among prisoners with a history of injecting drug use (IDU) was 79.7%. Risk factors significantly associated with past HCV infection were IDU (p < 0.0001), having received a prison tattoo (p < 0.0001) or a non-sterile community tattoo (p < 0.0001), sharing needles and other drug-taking paraphernalia (p < 0.0001). Small numbers of prisoners had a history of sharing razors (n=10; 3.4%) and toothbrushes (n=3; 1.0%) while incarcerated. On multivariable analysis, history of receiving a non-sterile community tattoo was the only significant risk factor associated with HCV acquisition (after IDU was removed from the model) (p = 0.005, β = 0.468).
Conclusion: The level of untreated chronic HCV infection in Irish prisons is high, with IDU the main associated risk.
Poorly constructed title and abstract
A history of injecting drug use is a risk factor for hepatitis C virus in Irish prisons [2, modified]
This title focuses only on one aspect of the study – the key risk factor for HCV identified in the study, a history of injecting drug use. However, other risk factors were identified and the study also quantified the seroprevalence of various forms of the disease. Therefore, this title does not indicate how data-rich the paper actually is.
Introduction: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a major public health concern and a leading cause of liver-related morbidity and mortality globally. Despite national guidelines on HCV screening for all prisoners and a community equivalence of care in relation to HCV treatment access, most Irish prisoners are not screened or treated for HCV infection.
This introduction does not provide a clear justification for the study, nor does it state the aims of the study.
Methods: Serological screening for hepatitis B virus (HBV), HCV and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was carried out in 422 prisoners in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin, Ireland. A sustained viral response (SVR) was defined as HCV RNA-negative status at 24 weeks after completion of interferon-based treatment and 12 weeks for direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatment. Chronic HCV infection was defined as ongoing active infection (HCV RNA-positive) 6 months or more after initial exposure (self-reported data from prisoners’ electronic medical records).
The methods described here are too specific, taking valuable space required for the results.
Results: Of the 403 prisoners tested for HCV antibodies, 92 were HCV antibody-positive, and of those, 53 were HCV RNA-positive, 23 had spontaneous clearance, 16 had an SVR, 10 were co-infected with HIV and six with HBV. The untreated chronic HCV seroprevalence estimate was 13.1% and the seroprevalence of HCV among prisoners with a history of injecting drug use (IDU) was 79.7%. Risk factors significantly associated with past HCV infection were IDU, having received a prison tattoo or a non-sterile community tattoo, sharing needles and other drug-taking paraphernalia.
This is a substantially reduced report compared to the example given above. Many relevant findings have been excluded. The size of the effects has not been indicated.
Conclusion: Targeting prisoners with a history of IDU for active HCV is a priority given the high HCV prevalence rates in this group.
This conclusion is difficult to follow as it has not been addressed in relation to the study aims.
Most journals now require authors to suggest two to three potential referees. It is likely your suggestions will be considered if they align with those of the editor’s. Therefore, it is worth taking the time to carefully choose potential reviewers, putting yourself in the editor’s position.
Post-doctoral researchers are generally considered to provide the most comprehensive peer review reports . Therefore, editors typically aim to secure at least one as a referee. Look for up-and-coming researchers in your area, particularly those with recently published papers.
Provide the editor with a clear description of why you think each suggested referee is appropriate. You choices are more likely to be used if you clearly justify them.
For more information, please refer to our blog How to suggest reviewers.
- Ketcham CM, Hardy RW, Rubin B, Siegal GP. What editors want in an abstract. Lab Investig. 2010 90(1):4–5. http://doi.org/10.1038/labinvest.2009.122
- Crowley D, Lambert JS, Betts-Symonds G, Cullen W, Keevans M, Kelly E, Laird E, McHugh T, McKiernan S, Miggin SJ, Murphy C. The seroprevalence of untreated chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and associated risk factors in male Irish prisoners: a cross-sectional study, 2017. Euro Surveill. 2019 Apr 4;24(14).
- Callaham ML, Tercier J. The relationship of previous training and experience of journal peer reviewers to subsequent review quality. PLoS Med. 2007 Jan 30;4(1):e40.