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An abstract that says nothing

July 5, 2012 Filed under Blog, Featured, Writing 

This abstract comes from a recently published in an atmospheric science journal:

Previous studies have shown that numerical diffusion plays a crucial role in the ability of mesoscale models to reproduce features similar to sub-meso motions found in observations, particularly in terms of spectral energy distribution. In this study, the impacts of surface heterogeneity and frequency of lateral boundary coupling are investigated as potential factors governing or modulating the occurrence of sub-meso motions. The spectral energy distribution after the reduction of model diffusion is analysed in detail. It is suggested that a combination of physical and numerical mechanisms is responsible for the final spectral shape.

I could spend pages dissecting everything that is wrong with this abstract.

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UPDATE:

Thanks to Ivan, I’ve added this update. Let’s break the abstract down sentence by sentence.

“Previous studies have shown that numerical diffusion plays a crucial role in the ability of mesoscale models to reproduce features similar to sub-meso motions found in observations, particularly in terms of spectral energy distribution.”

“Previous studies have shown that” just adds to the length of the abstract. If the author were looking for words to cut, I would suggest this. “crucial role” is vague. What does it mean? “reproduce features similar to sub-meso motions found in observations” Which features? Which observations? “particularly in terms of spectral energy distribution”: This is verbose.

Possibly one way to fix it: “Numerical diffusion is needed in mesoscale models to accurately reproduce the spectral energy distribution of observed sub-mesoscale BLAH.” This could be improved by stating what “sub-mesoscale BLAH” is (e.g., “turbulent motions less than 10 km in horizontal scales”).

In this study, the impacts of surface heterogeneity and frequency of lateral boundary coupling are investigated as potential factors governing or modulating the occurrence of sub-meso motions.

“In this study” is unnecessary. It’s the abstract, so just tell the story about this article. The rest of the sentence is not too bad, but it doesn’t say how the surface heterogeneity and frequency of lateral boundary coupling affect the occurrence of the motions. Why “governing or modulating”? These are pretty close synonyms, so just pick one.

“The spectral energy distribution after the reduction of model diffusion is analysed in detail.”

This is a scientific study, so you should analyze things in detail. This sentence is unnecessary. Even if left in, the bit about “after reduction of model diffusion” is confusing. Because the model experiments have not been described, this phrase doesn’t make sense.

“It is suggested that a combination of physical and numerical mechanisms is responsible for the final spectral shape.”

This sentence does not describe the results of the study. What “mechanisms”? How do these mechanisms yield the final spectral shape?

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Comments

3 Responses to “An abstract that says nothing”
  1. Ivan says:

    As a regular reader of your blog and a first author of this paper I would really like to read and benefit from at least one page of your dissection. Otherwise, this post would be “A blog post that says nothing” :)

  2. Prof. David M. Schultz says:

    Good point. I’ve added an update above to address your concern. Thanks!

  3. jim says:

    Nature has this:

    http://www.nature.com/nature/authors/gta/Letter_bold_para.doc

    One for AMS journals might be helpful.

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