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My field is mathematics. I am editing a preprint for submission to a journal and one requirement is an abstract length of 150-250 words. I find it quite surprising that there is a minimum length for the abstract. My abstract has 60 words and three statements: The result, the method, and the halfway point. I also see similarly short abstracts in many other math papers.

What is the likelihood that I can safely ignore the minimum-length rule?

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    Are the other math papers in the same journal around the same time?
    – user111388
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 15:44
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    Ask the journal. Maybe they care maybe they don't. Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 16:01
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    user111388, I don't know if that was your intention but your comment made me check and I found that the majority of papers in the most recent issue have below 150 words in the abstract. This answers the question for me. Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 16:07
  • I wonder if the journal is one that published one of these? If so, you can cite precedent :-) The Shortest Ever Papers - Numberphile
    – uhoh
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 7:40
  • Ask ChatGPT to write you a 200 word abstract after pasting your paper into it... Then use that to give you some idea about how to fill out the rest of your abstract. Don't just copy what it gives you but it should give you a shove in the right direction Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 15:55

3 Answers 3

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Your question has 82 words, 35% more than what you claim your abstract has. If you claim that within that length, you can adequately express the content of a paper, your expectations of your audience are probably too high. Surely it is not asking too much to outline your work in a way that is accessible to not only those who have thought about the field for years and understand the relevance of a work from the statement of a result. Instead, spend some time and space thinking about how you would explain what you do in the paper at a level that is understandable to a second-year graduate student. I think that, generally, writing research papers so that they are understandable to second-year graduate students is the right level -- and that would then include also explaining why they should care (e.g., what a result implies, how it connects to other knowledge, what one can do with the result), rather than just dropping a true statement onto your reader.

There you have it -- in 179 words.


What I write above is of course not an answer to your actual question. It is a justification for why the limit is there to begin with: Because in pure math, there is a tradition of brevity to the point where it is essentially impossible for outsiders to a field (including those second year graduate students) to understand what the point of a paper is: The paper is simply the statement of a result, without any context. Minimum abstract lengths are an attempt of at least requiring authors to think about explaining themselves slightly better.

In practice, it is possible that no-one is going to call you on that unless there is a part of the online submission system that counts words and will only let you submit the paper if you meet the minimum requirements. But I think you ought to consider changing your writing style by taking into account the point of publications: Namely, to teach. Papers aren't repositories of facts (or at least they shouldn't be), but they are a way of teaching others about what you discovered. You write them for people, not machines, so take into account how others will read your papers and learn from them.

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    Thank you for the advice. It is somewhat ironic because I myself am a first year PhD student :). The abstract is short because the paper is not very long and I had the impression abstracts are supposed to be as concise as possible. Now I am considering extending the abstract, but I also believe now that it is okay if I submit it with my current abstract. Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 16:09
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    @RobertWegner I added two more paragraphs to the answer. I know that in many areas of pure mathematics, there is historically little recognition given to writing papers for people. I believe that that ought to change. Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 16:11
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    @RobertWegner "I had the impression abstracts are supposed to be as concise as possible." Why? What do you imagine is the harm in writing an abstract that is 150 words or 250 words instead of 60 words? Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 19:49
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    @RobertWegner Abstracts are suppose to be as concise as possible while telling the target audience reader what the paper will be about. Don't forget that you know the material much better than your target audience (even though you're a PhD student). You could try showing it to other math PhD students that you know to get a feeling of how much you are overestimating their ability (I expect your target audience also includes PhD students) Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 9:56
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    @RobertWegner As concise as possible, but no more concise. If it doesn't outline what you've proven, and how you've proven it, it's probably not enough. (And if it does, great! Some results are shorter than 150 words.) Would extending the abstract make the paper more, or less, accessible?
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 10:04
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What I would do in this case is to submit the paper as is. Most likely, your paper will be recommended for acceptance or rejection based on its content, not on the length of the abstract. If it is rejected, then you might be resubmitting it to a different journal with a different set of requirements.

If the managing editor objects to the abstract, then expand the abstract. There is a very good chance that nobody on the editorial board really cares about this restriction, as it is coming from the publisher that uses this as a requirement for all its journals regardless of the area.

For the record: my area is pure math and I have about 100 published papers, many of which were initially rejected. But it was never on the basis of some formal requirements such as the length of the abstract.

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    Thank you for your advice, I will do this since the journal has also published other papers with short abstracts. Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 16:08
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My purpose here, is simply to relate an amusing story that supports the suggestion by @MoisheKohan, that you send your paper as it is, with an abstract of the length you think is appropriate.

In his book, Tracking the Automatic Ant, David Gale (p. 28) tells the tale of these two papers:

Anning, Norman H., and Erdős, Paul. Integral distances. Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 51, 598-600 (1945). [MF 12821]

Erdős, Paul. Integral distances. Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 51, 996 (1945). [MF 14475]

that describe the Erdős-Anning theorem.

The second paper, which was a mere 143 words long, improves on a result reported in the first paper. According to David Gale, the subsequent review in AMS Mathematical Reviews of the second paper was actually longer than the paper itself (by four words!) because it included the introduction: "The paper read as follows:" So there you have a paper of 143 words, and a review of 147 words ... both of which are shorter than the (supposed) minimum abstract length that you are facing.

Take a chance! Take @MoisheKohan's advice.

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  • See here for even shorter papers (for instance, the one by Conway and Soifer: 16 words, 2 diagrams, no references). Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 13:27

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