How To Write Highlights for an Academic or Scientific paper


Highlights in scientific papers are a recently introduced feature by journals. This is a modern phenomenon, developed by the digital journal repository Elsevier, to help ease digital searching by readers. Given the stature of Elsevier and the quick popularity of the highlights feature amongst readers, it is now imperative for every author to provide highlights along with an abstract or executive summary to journals for publication.

However, this also creates confusion amongst authors as to what exactly needs to be written in the highlight section! So, here are some tips to keep in mind while writing highlights for your research paper.

Elsevier describes Highlights are three to five (three to four for Cell Press articles) bullet points that help increase the discoverability of your article via search engines. These bullet points should capture the novel results of your research as well as new methods that were used during the study (if any). The key feature of highlights is the usage of ‘keywords’, the main currency in the age of digital search. Today, digital services shortlist a reader’s search based on the replication of keywords used by the user in their search string. As per most search algorithms, the content that matches the maximum number of items in the search string is highlighted as the best match to one’s search. But unlike staccato keywords, highlights allow authors sentences of not more than 85 characters (including space) to describe their academic paper.

According to Elsevier, the highlights convey the core findings and provide readers with a quick textual overview of the article. Highlights describe the essence of the research (e.g. Results, conclusions) and highlight what is distinctive about it. Thus, the highlight must be developed on the 3 major points highlighted, quick overview, essence of research, and core findings.

Core Findings: the first highlight should address the WHY behind the research paper What is the main question you are seeking to answer/address in this paper? This can take the form of (a) what is the ultimate question you are answering (b) why research on a certain topic or (c) What is the driving reason behind the research, depending on the exact details of the research paper.

Quick overview: This is another key highlight for the academic paper. Describe in one single sentence the entire exercise undertaken and the result sought. This can be something as simple as stating you undertook such an experiment, using a certain methodology, to establish a certain key hypothesis. This will also cover the main keywords for the paper as well as give a definitive idea to the reader what exactly to expect.

The essence of the research: this is where you talk about the key finding of the academic paper. This also highlights your main contribution via the paper.

The three sentences covering the above mentioned three points gives a gist of your paper to a potential reader and this is the key for highlights.

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