The Tao of Abstracts
Writing a good title is easy ("Alliteration!" James Buchanan once told me). Writing a good abstract is hard. You need to get across the main points of your paper and make them sound interesting in a very compact space. You have to be disciplined and produce a paragraph with a very high signal to noise ratio.
In the negative example department, here is the abstract of a recent NBER working paper where the signal to noise ratio is ZERO!
"This paper uses the first three waves of the Gallup World Poll to investigate differences across countries, cultures and regions in the factors linked to life satisfaction, paying special attention to the social context. Our principal findings are: First, using the larger pooled sample, we find that answers to the satisfaction with life and Cantril ladder questions provide consistent views of what constitutes a good life, with an average of the two measures providing a clearer picture than either measure on its own. Second, we find strong evidence for the importance of both income and social context variables in explaining within-country and international differences in well-being. For most specifications tested, the combined effects of a few measures of the social and institutional context are as large as those of income in explaining both international and intra-national differences in life satisfaction. Third, the very significant influences of both income and social factors permit the calculation of compensating differentials for social factors. We find very large income-equivalent values for key measures of the social context. Fourth, the international similarity of the estimated equations suggests that the large international differences in average life evaluations are not due to different approaches to the meaning of a good life, but to differing social, institutional, and economic life circumstances."
Aaargh!! So long, yet so uninformative. I've heard of Cantrel's Raiders and Jacob's ladder, but Cantril ladder?? But the best part is how it continually and differentiably beats around the bush as to exactly what the relevant "social and institutional" variables are. It makes me want to yell at the authors much more than it makes me want to read the paper.