An abstract of a scientific article contains 6 types of information very useful to judge the interest or relevance of the article. In general it starts by describing the general context of the study. It then identifies current shortcomings in knowledge or technology. This makes it possible to set out the objectives targeted or the problem addressed by the study. It identifies the means (methodology, techniques, ....) used to achieve these objectives. It describes the results obtained. It outlines prospects for future work.
Beware, all these elements are not systematically present, not necessarily in this order, and can sometimes be combined together !
However, with a bit of practice, these pieces of information can be identified very rapidly, with a few tips below to quickly locate them:
- Context - usually at the beginning
- Shortcomings - search for the words: however, but, although, previous, ...
- Objectives, problem - introduced by: the objective, in this paper, this work, in this study, this approach, herein, in order to, ...
- Means - search for the words: through, using, we use, ...
- Results - search for the words: we provide, step(s) towards, we report, highlight, ...
- Prospects - usually at the end when present
Depending on what one is looking for, the information discovered may be sufficient to decide whether to save the article for reference, cite it, access the full text to exploit the results, or save the author(s) for later contact.
With this method and a bit of experience, a couple of minutes are enough to judge whether the article is of interest or not. Scanning through 100 articles - if you use the right search engine ;-) - may take only half a day !
A fine example is shown below. The various sections have been highlighted with different colors.
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