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I'm currently preparing an article for a very good journals in mathematics (AMS, Acta, Advances, etc.). I have never had a result worthy of these journals until now. I would like to know whether I can count on the editors to at least read my one-page introduction before making a decision. Or could they stop after the abstract? The reason I ask is currently my abstract is very short and gives zero background. If someone were to only read it, they could undervalue my paper.

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    Why did you write an abstract that leads people to undervalue your paper? – henning Apr 27 at 20:43
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    There will typically be a maximum length for any abstract: use it. The well written abstract allows the expert to determine if the paper is at all relevant for her own research. Journals receive many, many submissions, so do not give them any reason to do a desk reject of your paper. – Carl Christian Apr 27 at 20:51
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    Can you include a cover letter with your submission? – Anyon Apr 27 at 21:17
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    @CarlChristian That's an answer to the question and should be written in the section marked Answers, otherwise the whole point of Stack Exchange is undermined. – pipe Apr 28 at 0:43
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    @pipe "Man single-handedly undermines Stack Exchange with one comment" – MCMastery Apr 28 at 3:38
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No, there's no such guarantee. A top journal gets an awful lot of submissions, and you can expect them to be aggressive in rejecting papers which do not make a strong case for their importance, in the way that involves the least work for the editors.

If the editor, after reading the abstract, does not understand why the results would be highly interesting and significant, I would fully expect them to reject the paper without reading the introduction or any other part of the paper. (I can even imagine cases where they could make such a judgment by only reading the title.) As such, your abstract definitely should provide motivation for your results, such that a reader who is generally familiar with the area can see why they are of interest.

If your abstract just states the result ("we show that every snark is a boojum"), then it had better be such a well-known topic that every reader in the field would immediately know why it is of interest to know that every snark is a boojum. If that is not the case, then your abstract should briefly explain why people should care, perhaps relating it to previous work. ("Previous work of Smith showed that every reticulated snark is a boojum. In this paper, we show that the assumption of reticulation is unnecessary, thus resolving a conjecture of Jones.")

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    +1 Also bears noting that you should avoid giving background on a topic with which everyone in the field is familiar. – Daniel R. Collins Apr 28 at 2:28
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    -1 Excessive snark. ;-) – David Richerby Apr 28 at 9:34
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    @DavidRicherby - don't be reticulatous. – davidbak Apr 28 at 20:20
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To my knowledge search engines for scientific publications like SCOPUS or ISI Web of Science don't even index any words of your manuscript apart from the abstract and the title (google scholar is indexing everything). Therefore, if the online submission system or journal guidelines for submission don't allow you to write a submission letter to further explain, why you think your manuscript is of high importance, then, as Nate pointed out, only title and abstract are read at all.

Therefore, writing a concise abstract and putting the right keywords into (-> search engines) it is crucial to get at all one foot into the review process.

On the other side I have read abstracts which consist of not much more then 1-2 lines/one sentence. The author is then mostly a famous professor who knows that he is known and his paper enters the review process. Still, I think when then a 3-4 pages manuscript is following for the sake of finding his manuscript via a search engine with some keywords, it would be nice to write a longer abstract.

Top journals are also more inclined to take a deeper look on a submission if the topic is trendy and more researchers care about it or work on it.

I also doubt that manuscripts are read in a linear way, from title to conclusion. With so much literature to choose and to read, the editor might overjump your introduction and look into the conclusion first. That's how I read published papers, I rather overfly the whole paper (conclusion paragraph, graphs,...) before deciding to read it completely from the beginning.

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    Why is it relevant which parts are indexed? And the final part does not really apply to math, since papers rarely have a section for conclusions. – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 28 at 8:05
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    @TobiasKildetoft I guess the point is that at least one significant piece of academia believes that the abstract alone should be enough to tell you if a paper is worth spending time on, so one could make inferences about other parts of academia. I think one can make better arguments (especially, more subject-specific ones: as a theoretical computer scientist, I've never used Scopus or ISI, so I'm guessing mathematicians don't, either) but it's not completely irrelevant. – David Richerby Apr 28 at 9:33
  • @TobiasKildetoft a problem on this site is that, and maybe every question should be tagged therefore math/cs/psychology, all (I feel many) the standards applied in math don't apply in other branches of STEM. So reading such Q&A here and applying those advices could have bad outcomes...And of course, editors also read an abstract like a search engine indexing their journal does it to improve it, called SEO. Good SEO, advertising, fancy graphics,....high impact journals, nature science etc. – user847982 Apr 28 at 11:46
  • @DavidRicherby An important distinction is that those indexing engines will for the most part not be able to show more than the abstract anyway, since it will be behind a paywall. And this is of course not the case for paper submissions. – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 28 at 16:59
  • I am almost certain that editors of good subject specific journals (at least in math) will be completely ignorant of any sort of SEO practices and not have them in mind at all when deciding the fate of a submission. As for the subject: The question asks specifically about math. Answering in a way that applies to another area is fine (imo), but ought to be labelled with what area it applies to then. – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 28 at 17:00

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