The title and abstract are the most widely-read sections of a paper.
Over 2.5 million scientific papers are published every year, and the number of publications increases every year (Ware and Mabe, 2015). Clearly, it is not possible for any scientist to read any more than a fraction of the published research. Scientists must be selective, and only read papers with clear and important conclusions.
Papers are typically judged first on their title and abstract. Potential readers may decide to devote time to a paper based on the title or abstract alone. Therefore, titles and abstracts are important parts of scientific papers.
Strong titles are as specific as possible.
One way to convince a potential reader that a paper has valuable information is to provide the reader with specific information in the title.
For example, the conclusion of a study can make a useful, specific title:
"Sagittal plane biomechanics cannot injure the ACL during sidestep cutting" (McLean et al., 2004).
Not all studies lend themselves to clear, one-sentence conclusions. However, one reasonable goal for titles is to convey as much specific information as possible to readers.
Sometimes titles use specific questions instead of conclusions. For example:
Questions can effectively stimulate reader interest. Questions can also introduce a framework to structure a study, such as the dichotomy between elastic energy storage and acceleration.
Overall, strong titles convey as much information to potential readers using as few words as possible.
Abstracts explain the reasoning of the study.
Abstracts (sometimes called "Summaries") are typically limited to approximately 250 words (or less). Like titles, abstracts must also convey as much information to potential readers using as few words as possible.
Abstracts lead readers through the reasoning of the study, and summarize the Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion. Each section must typically be explained in 2-4 sentences (very little).
The abstract of a paper will be read much more than the rest of the paper. Therefore, the primary purpose of the Abstract is to explain the hypotheses and conclusions of the study in a way that readers can understand.
Time invested in writing a strong outline can be returned when writing an abstract. If an outline consists of conclusive subheadings, then one place to start writing an abstract is by collecting all of the subheadings of the Introduction, Results and Discussion into a single paragraph. A strong outline will result in a single-paragraph Abstract that summarizes the reasoning of the paper. Brief explanations of methods and definitions may be necessary to clarify the text of the abstract.
Abstracts can (and should) contain data. However, data should not be the focus of an abstract. Data in a strong abstract clearly and strongly support the conclusions.
Titles and abstracts convey as much information to readers in as few words as possible. Strong titles have a clear purpose (e.g. conclusion or question), and strong abstracts faithfully summarize the reasoning and conclusions of the study.