The research highlights concisely summarize the main results and provide readers with an overview of the thesis or article. They include three to five vignettes that describe the spirit of the research (e.g., results or conclusions) and highlight what is unique in the study (Ciambella, 2008),

Understand the meaning of highlights

Things are changing in the world of research and there is a movement towards the relevance of having more “readings” of your article or thesis, rather than publishing in high impact factor journals.

If you understand what the featured ones can represent to lead people to read your article or thesis, you will realize how important it is to know its meaning.

These convey the main findings and give readers a quick overview of the article’s text. Highlights describe the essence of the research (e.g., results and conclusions) and highlight what sets it apart.


Main results.

Quick summary.

The essence of research.

These are the key words to understand the meaning of the highlights. The challenge is how to express them in shorter sentences than a tweet.

Clear view of the nature of your research

When the details of our research work are challenging, we tend to focus our writing on describing them. Details are important, especially if they are challenging, because someone else might want to reproduce your experience and needs those details. But the details of your thought process or your experiments are not the nature of your research. Therefore, they should not stand out.

The nature of your research is your WHY.

What is the ultimate question your research is trying to answer?

Why are you researching a certain topic in the first place?

What drives your research?

Some topics are easier than others, but having a clear view of why your research is essential to writing meaningful summaries.

Realize that people know little about your topic

I remember speaking to a small audience and feeling like I don’t make myself understood. This is a common flaw. Even if you have one, two or more experts in your field in front of you, when presenting an article at a conference, you should always assume that there is someone in the audience who is not an expert in your field. And when you prepare your presentation, you’ll be talking to this person, not the experts.

The most prominent audience is the world. Therefore, you are 100% sure that people who know little about your subject will read your highlights. You must write to them.

This is a big challenge because, ideally, you should be able to express the complexity of your topic in simple, clear and concise words. One way to test these highlights is to ask for the opinion of a friend from another field.

Evidence your contribution in the field

Researchers often waste their highlights with things that do not contribute to the nature of their research or evidence its contribution. Here are several examples.

Example 1

If we write: “A hollow cone spray is used in an impact process that occurs on a flat surface” Why is this a highlight? In all research on impact aerosols, is it not logical that this impact should occur on a surface? Why is this a highlight? The surface may be flat, curved, dry, wet, structured or not, but this sentence does not explain the nature of the research, nor does it express any contribution in the field.

If we wanted to change this sentence to something more meaningful, it could be; “Hollow cone aerosols in cooling processes address heterogeneities in the temperature field.”

The sentence is not perfect, but it has 85 characters (after 2 iterations) and contains the nature of the research. Introduces the type of aerosols; if they are used in cooling processes, it means that their impact on a surface is logical; and sets out the purpose of that impact, which is to cool the surface and address heterogeneities in temperature fields, thus signaling the challenge.

Example 2

Another example where a small change can make a difference.

“The effect of drop dynamics, surface temperature, and spray height on the liquid film formed after spray impact.”

Firstly, it is too long, so it needs to be shortened. But it contains what is included in the scope of the article, when the journal requires the main findings. Suppose the authors find that these three parameters produce an effect on the result, a small change can solve the question,

“Droplet dynamics, surface temperature, and spray height affect the formation of the liquid film.”

While the highlighting of the first example contextualizes the reader, spray cooling involves the formation of liquid films. And through this highlighting, the reader knows which parameters affect the result and, if interested, will read the article to know how.

Be clear, concise and get straight to the point

A not inconsiderable number of works I’ve reviewed doesn’t pay much attention to the 85-character limitation. It obliges us to seek clarity in our statements. You have to be concise in the words used to convey the meaning. And get straight to the point because that’s what the standouts are for, right? It leads the potential reader to make a quick assessment on whether to read the article or not.

A good exercise is to distance yourself from your article. Put yourself in the place of the reader and be critical.

Use simple terms

Schonlau et al (2004) point out, this is probably the biggest challenge. But it’s important to understand what we mean by simple terms. Some research topics include words that are not simple because they are part of the lexicon used in the field. Simple terms arise naturally when we have a mature and clear view of our major advances.

The advances help refine the message of the research, highlighting only what really matters. And when we express what matters in simple terms, the reader should experience clarity and the desire to know more.

These reflections are not exhaustive and I hope these “guidelines” motivate you to be more careful when writing meaningful summaries.

How to do it?

Powell and Lynn (2004), point out the following aspects:

Include the most important part of your research in your highlights.

The highlight is the first thing anyone online will read. Use the highlights to tell that potential reader what’s best about your article and why they want to read it.

Conversely, good highlights also prevent a potential reader from wasted time. If your article doesn’t cover the information they need to know or are interested in, the highlights let them know immediately so they don’t have to read half the article before discovering it.

Use the active voice to make your writing concise.

Take the important ideas from your research work and reformulate them so that the sentences are in subject-verb-object order. Use active verbs, such as “show” and “affect,” to describe what your study has discovered.

For example, write “UV rays affect overall skin health” instead of “Overall skin health is affected by sun exposure.”

Research papers often use the passive voice, which is more verbose and difficult to understand. Since featured articles have a strict length requirement, using active voice allows you to stay within the character limit while including the most important information in your article. For example, you may write, “Prolonged exposure to light damages skin cells.”

Review for a general audience and not for your peers.

When you write the highlights, your audience is the world at large, not other researchers in your field. Remove jargon, acronyms, and other art terms from your summaries. They should explain their work the way they would explain it to a child.

Use the simplest words possible, even if they are not technically accurate. For example, instead of referring to “squamous cells,” you could say “skin cells” or simply “skin.” Your work will enter the specific cells studied.

Carefully correct the highlights.

Because the highlights are so brief, a typo will stand out like a sore thumb. Errata in featured texts can also cause it to not appear in as many search results as it should, nullifying the purpose of featured texts.

One method of correction is to read the featured texts backwards, word for word. This encourages you to focus on each of the words rather than the sentence as a whole.

It’s also a good idea to let someone else read your featured texts. Someone unfamiliar with your highlights or your work might notice mistakes that you’ve repeatedly overlooked because you know what you meant.

What should and should not be included in the research highlights?

The following are the points that should and should not be written in the summaries:

What to do

Include 3 to 5 highlights.

A maximum of 85 characters in each highlight, including spaces.

Only the main results of the work should be included.

Write down the highlights of the research in the present tense.

Be concise and specific.

Provide an overview of the study.

Describe the distinctive results and conclusion of the work.

Cover only the essential results.

What not to do

Do not provide unnecessary information on research highlights.

It should not be too long.

Don’t describe all of your findings in the highlights.

Example of research highlights

Applied Catalysis A: General

Volumes 411-412, January 16, 2012, pages 7-14


Highly oriented ZnO nanowires were cultured on the c-axis on glass using aqueous solutions.

The growth temperature does not exceed 95 °C at any step of the synthesis.

The photocatalytic and wetting properties after UV irradiation have been studied.

ZnO nanowires show superior photocatalytic activity.

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Bibliographic References

Schonlau, Matthias, Ronald D. Fricker, Jr., and Marc N. Elliott. 2002. Conducting research surveys via
e-mail and the web. Santa Monica, CA: Rand. 118 pp.

Ciambella, C. 2008. Review of Research Methods in Information. Legal Information Alert 27.1
(Jan.): 11-12.

Powell, Ronald R., and Lynn Silipigni Connaway. 2004. Basic research methods for librarians. 4th ed.
Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited. 360 p.

You may also be interested in: APA Standards 7th Edition

Research Highlights

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