A Guide to Undergraduate Research Summaries for Astrobites

Here at Astrobites, we write our articles with the intent to summarize and share current papers, ideas, and topics in the field of astronomy and astrophysics; breaking them down to a level appropriate for undergraduate students around the world. This serves a dual purpose of not only disseminating astronomical research and current events to a global audience, but for our authors, it is a great exercise in science communication – a very important yet often undervalued skill in our line of work.

While our authors are primarily graduate students, we also realize that developing these skills can be important at any stage of your career in astronomy (or even outside of it!). As a result, Astrobites also offers the opportunity for you — undergraduate students — to write about your own research, thus both developing your ability to communicate scientific topics to audiences outside of your adviser(s) and research group(s), and helping you cultivate a stronger understanding of the work you are doing.

While we do offer the ability for, and strongly encourage, undergraduates to make full-length guest posts here on the site, we also have a submission system designed specifically for publishing Undergraduate Research Summaries, which can be found at the following link:

https://astrobites.org/about/undergraduate-research-abstract-submission/

This guide aims to answer some questions you might have about these particular types of summaries, and to help you get started in the wonderful world of science communication. You’ll find in the end that it’s not quite as daunting as it may initially seem!

Figure 1: Your undergraduate research project could make it onto Astrobites! Image created in Canva by fellow author Katya Gozman

How does it work?

While our usual Daily Paper Summaries are longer articles breaking down published scientific papers, the intent with Undergraduate Research Summaries is that they be shorter and more casual, more like a quick presentation to peers rather than a formal talk. You can write about your research, which does not have to be completed or published – it could even be something you’re working on in your own time for personal interest. It also does not technically have to be about research; you can write about any experience you’ve had, or something you’ve put time and effort into, that you want to share with us!

We expect the main submission to be one or two paragraphs long, under 200 words or so. We would also love it if you submitted a short bio about yourself, and there are also spaces for uploading optional images and figures if you wish. All that information is also included in the submission form above.

Once you have submitted your summary, we will reach out to you and pair you with one of our graduate student authors, who will help you edit the piece, offer feedback and suggestions, and take care of publishing on the back end. This can also be a great opportunity to ask questions about developing scicomm skills and techniques, or about being a graduate student author at Astrobites! Finally, we make sure that all submissions are eventually published on the site, and you’ll be notified right away when they are. This is not only a good way to practice writing about scientific topics or sharing experiences, but also looks good on a Resume or CV!

What should I include in my Summary?

The key thing to keep in mind is that, unlike a full-length article or a scientific presentation, we want to keep these submissions as concise as possible. Remember: we’re aiming for 1-2 paragraphs, and around 200 words max. If you’ve read scientific papers before, imagine you’re writing the abstract to a paper that describes your research. This is the type of summary we’re aiming to emulate here.

With that in mind, we suggest the following basic structure for research summaries, though this is not at all strict:

  • One to two sentences introducing the basic background of your field of study, and/or question(s) your research is trying to solve.
  • How you attempted, or will attempt to, answer the previous question(s). Research methods, techniques, literature searches? A succinct explanation that elucidates these ideas conceptually without delving super deeply into the nitty-gritty details.
  • What results did you obtain, or are you expecting to obtain? A figure or table can be nice, but is also not compulsory. Again, we’re looking primarily for an explanation more in words than numbers – leave the hard data for a scientific paper or publication!
  • What is, or would be, the significance of said results? How would this answer the research question(s), and would it pose new ones? What future work would need to be done based on your conclusions?
  • Optionally: are these results going to be published or presented anywhere?

This might seem like a lot to include in such a short space, but it can be done! The idea here is to underscore the importance of being concise and focused in your writing, as it is an important skill both in grad school and beyond – you will only have so many minutes to give a talk, for example, or to pitch your work to a committee or journal. If you need inspiration, consider reading past Undergraduate Research Summaries here.

As for your bio, we’d love it if you simply wrote 1-2 sentences about who you are, where and when you did the research you’re writing about, and your current year in your undergraduate program. You can also include a fun fact about yourself if you wish, and (again, optionally) a photo!

So how do I write a good Summary?

The two most important things to keep in mind are your target audience and the tone of your writing. This is true for both the summary and for our Astrobites articles, as well as for scientific communication in general! We’re aiming for our writing to be clear, concise, and understandable; communicating the main ideas of the research we’re writing about while attempting to keep the reader engaged. We want our readers to learn, and to not get bored while doing so.

Knowing your public is key for this. For both our articles and your summary, we’re targeting an audience of undergraduate students of any year, who might have some background in astronomy but not necessarily in your particular area of research. That being said, we try to keep our posts within reach of a general audience as well. As such, the writing should be pretty informal, and avoid using scientific jargon as much as necessary. When scientific terms do need to come up, either a brief explanation (one sentence or even less!) or a hyperlink to another site or resource that explains the idea clearly is important. Imagine you’re hanging out with your peers and a friend of a friend asks you about your research (and seems genuinely interested) – that’s the level we’re aiming for. Not as casual as slang and in-jokes amongst close friends, but not as formal and dependent on knowledge of the field as if you were presenting to a committee or your research group.

Furthermore, the main ideas of your post should clearly flow from one point to the next. Imagine you’re trying to craft a narrative in your post such that every sentence flows naturally from the one that came before it. If you stick to our post outline above, this shouldn’t be too hard; but feel free to play with the narrative if you think it sounds better some other way!

Finally, don’t be afraid to play around with your summary in whatever way you wish. While we are trying to keep these summaries short, concise, and focused on the research, it’s still your submission. The personal touch is arguably the most important, both for this and in particular for science communication in general. Scicomm is way more engaging when the audience feels they’re listening to an individual, rather than reading a template or a news story!

Other Resources

With all that in mind, the best way to practice and perfect your writing is to jump onto it and learn through doing! If you need more inspiration, check out the following resources:

Here is a link to a collection of past published Undergraduate Research Summaries. We highly encourage prospective authors to take a look and see what your peers are working on!

Are you thinking about submitting a longer piece, whether about your research or about your experiences in astronomy and beyond? Check out this guide for ideas and submission guidelines!

Looking for a longer, in-depth guide to writing a summary? Check out the following workshop video led by fellow astrobiter Haley Wahl, which goes more in-depth into everything we’ve discussed above, alongside many examples! She also has a fantastic Twitter thread which contains all these resources and more if you need them!

Astrobite edited by Katya Gozman

Featured image credit: Katya Gozman

About Aldo Panfichi

Hello! I'm currently finishing up my Master's degree in Physics at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru in Lima, Peru, writing a thesis project related to asteroids. I previously got my BSc in Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago. In my free time, I like spending time with my friends (and my dogs!), going swimming in the summer, and cozying up inside in the winter, playing games or reading science fiction.

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