Release date: March 12, 2020; Category: Online Training Series; Author: Joe Prieto

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Drawing Attention to Your Important Information

The use of summaries of key findings by many academic and scientific journals is well established[1]. Once an article is accepted for publication the author is required to submit those key findings. What isn’t so widely established, but has undoubtedly spread in popularity is the use of highlights.
The purpose of highlights is to draw attention to important information in a paper. Highlights are 3 to 5 short sentences containing the core findings of the research[2]. Effective highlights allow the reader to find and view in an extremely concise format the presented results, therefore providing the opportunity to quickly determine whether they want to read the paper or not.
While the highlights are only available online, the purpose is designed to create greater visibility and discoverability, which tends to lead to greater readership and a possible higher citation count. In a word, the highlights give a paper advantage in the digital publication.

They make it possible for search engines to find a manuscript and match it to an interested audience. In terms of discoverability, the highlights widen the reach of the research by making interested colleagues across a larger spectrum aware of the article. Aside from distribution, greater awareness and accessibility creates the opportunity for further collaboration.
If an author understands the relevance of highlights to lead readers to their research, then it is important enough to know how to effectively prepare them.
To start, the length, content, and format of highlights for a research paper differ slightly among academic and scientific journals. Where one journal requires a bulleted list of keywords and phrases, another may require a complete summary of the research results. For this article, we will focus on the former.

When creating the highlights an effective method to keep in mind is to use the following key criteria:

  • Communicate the core findings
  • Convey the essence
  • Express the distinctiveness of the research

A good model to follow is to provide three to five highlights, with each one not exceeding 85 characters, including spaces.

Communicating the Core

In research, the details tend to be the focus of the writing. Yes, details are important, especially if they are challenging, much more so to allow a peer to reproduce the experience in the research. However, the details of the process or experiments are not the nature of the research. It is for this reason that the details shouldn’t be the highlights. The nature is the WHY factor.

Why is the research taking place in the first place?
What is the ultimate answer the research is trying to provide?
What is driving this research?

Having a clear view of the WHY factor is essential for writing the highlights.

Convey the essence

When communicating your findings, it is important to keep in mind the audience. A common flaw in writing highlights is the lack of thought for those readers who are not experts in the field. Highlights are the window to the world. If the content is not clear, your message is not understood. The essence of your research must be prepared with the idea that the audience knows little about the topic, and the highlights must express the complexity of the research in simple, clear, and concise words.

Evidence of distinctiveness

Typically, you have less than ten seconds before a reader decides it’s time to click away. Therefore, it’s imperative to make use of the highlights to provide evidence of the research contribution in a succinct point. The following are two examples ineffective and effective highlights:

“a hollow-cone spray is used in an impinging process occurring on a flat surface”

Consider that research in impinging sprays occurs on a surface, “Why is this a highlight?” The example does not explain the nature of the research, nor does it express any contribution in the field[3]. However, the sentence can be structured to state the distinctiveness of the research and in turn create an effective highlight.

“Hollow-cone sprays in cooling processes address heterogeneities in the temperature field.”

The sentence meets the required 85 characters and contains the nature of the research. The effective example introduces the type of spray in a cooling process and states the impact, which is the cooling of the surface and addressing heterogeneities in a temperature field. A small change can make a difference between ineffective and effective highlights.
Depending on the journal you are submitting a manuscript, they may not specific instructions or guidelines for an author to develop the highlights. The varying preferences simply mean that it is wise to review the published material, in particular, any papers similar to the subject matter. Take note of the form the highlights are required and when.

Concise and to the point

Regardless of the required format, highlights need to be concise to communicate complex information in a limited textual space. Shortening phrases, simplifying vocabulary, eliminating redundant words, and using the active voice will help with observing word and character limits, and replacing long words with shorter synonyms will also help with the latter.

Proofread your highlights

An important step that should never get overlooked in the process is the proof. Any error in spelling, grammar, or logic in the highlights reflects on the rest of the paper. The reader will expect the manuscript to be poorly written if there is an error staring at them in the face. Consider having a colleague review the section to catch any errors you may have missed. If you have your manuscript professionally edited, be sure to write the highlights before you submit the manuscript for editing so they are included in the professional revision.
Keeping both the reader and the research firmly in mind as you write the highlights is the key. It is not possible to simply shorten the language and throw away thought to create form-fitting and engaging highlights. This can lead to oversimplifying or exaggerating research findings, especially since the highlights must stand alone without any of the explanations of the main paper. It is therefore imperative to draft the highlights after the manuscript is written and serious thought is given to their development, ensuring an accurate representation for the readers the core findings, the essence, and also distinctiveness presented in the paper.

The highlights will probably be the first thing after the title that a prospective reader will read, so you want the highlights to make a great first impression and draw attention to your important information.

Scientific Writing Workshops

If you like our articles, try our MasterCourses. Our training courses and webinars are based on the material from our scientific writing workshops, which cover these and many other topics more thoroughly, with more examples and discussion.
We offer on-site workshops for your event or organization, and also host workshops that individual participants can attend. Our on-site scientific writing workshops can range from 1-2 hours to several days in length. We can tailor the length to suit your needs, and we can deliver a writing workshop as a stand-alone activity or as part of scheduled meetings.
Our scientific writing workshops consistently receive high praise from participants including graduate students, post-docs, and faculty in diverse fields. Please see our MasterCourses page for details.
If you found this article helpful or if there is a topic you want us to address in a future article, please use our online comment submission form, or contact us directly. Your comments and suggestions are valuable!

References

  1. Guyatt G, Sackett DL, Sinclair JC, Hayward J. Cook DJ, et al. User’s Guides to the medical literature: IX. A method for grading health care recommendations. J AM Med Assoc 1995;274 (22):1800-04
  2. Green B, Johnson CD. How to write a case report for publication. J Chiropr Med 2006;5(2):72-82 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2647062
  3. Panao M, Writing meaningful highlights in scientific papers

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