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Frank Simon | MPI for Physics | Germany

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Abstracts: Little Pieces of Art?

Somehow these are very busy times: I am still teaching, I have to prepare for a meeting next week at KEK in Japan, and many other deadlines are coming up. Among them are deadlines for conferences: If you want to present your research at a conference, you usually have to submit an abstract: A short description of your work and of what you are planning to present. Based on that, the conference organizers decide who will be invited for a presentation. So those typically 100 to 200 word long texts are quite important. They have to read well, have to arouse the interest of potential listeners, and have to convince the conference organizers that the research is well founded and mature. It is often not easy to fit all this into a short text.

At the moment, I am working on several abstracts, not just for presentations I want to make, but also for others in my research group and for the collaboration in general. And whenever I have to write one of these, I think with some jealousy about the text on the back cover of bestselling novels. Of course, these serve more or less the same purpose: They have to be exciting, and have to get you to buy the book. Very often, those texts are even shorter than the typical physics abstract. After all, they have to get their message across to people browsing through a bookstore, so they really have to catch the attention with the fewest possible words. And at least in a few cases, this works extremely well: Some of these little texts are really nicely crafted pieces of art. That always makes me whish to be able to write abstracts like that. But I guess those back cover texts are written by real pros, and a lot of time (presumably much more than I can put into an abstract) goes into it. Plus, they’ve got the advantage that they don’t have to convey hard facts in addition to the excitement about the text they are advertizing… so it is not quite like physics after all.

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