On Writing Hightlights For A Scientific Article

Recently, major publishers, such as Elsevier, have started to require a new Highlights section that improves the search-friendliness (also known as search engine optimization, SEO) of an article. This is beneficial for both the authors (more people reading your article!) and for the journal (more people subscribing, buying, or citing an article). But for a first-time author or an English as a second language writer, following the guidelines for writing a Highlights section can feel daunting.

What is a Highlights section?

A Highlights section is a document separate from the main text that includes several bullet points with statements that are a maximum of 85 characters including spaces. Highlights should include the main aims, results, and conclusions in three to five short, bullet-pointed statements. It is important to note that periods are not required, which helps to save on the tight character count.


Writing a Highlights section

Squeezing the main aims, results, and conclusions of the study into three to five short statements of 85 or fewer characters is a challenge, but it can be done. Let's take a snippet from my own publication as an example. This article was not required to have a Highlights section, but let's create Highlights based upon the Abstract (below).

Journal of Pollination Ecology, 16(11), 2015, pp 72-81


Elizabeth Georgian*1,2, Zhendong Fang3, Eve Emshwiller1, Anna Pidgeon4

1Department of Botany, University of Wisconsin-Madison, U.S.A.
2Department of Botany and Genetics, Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania

3Shangri-La Alpine Botanical Garden, Shangri-La, China
4Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, U.S.A.

Abstract—Identifying the pollinators of Rhododendron species is of great interest due to potential conservation threats in the native range of the genus, but the pollinators of species in Rhododendron subgenus Hymenanthes section Pontica subsection Neriiflora are unknown. Bees (Hymenoptera; family Apidae) are thought to be the pollinators of many Rhododendron species; however, species in subsection Neriiflora have ornithophilous floral morphology. We studied R. floccigerum (subsection Neriiflora) to determine the identities of visiting, potentially pollinating, and robbing species through in-person and time lapsed camera trap observations. We compared floral morphological characteristics of R. floccigerum with visitor morphological measurements to determine if visitors could fit inside the corolla. Thirteen species were observed visiting R. floccigerum (two insects, two mammals, and nine birds) and this study provides the first empirical evidence of both bird and mammal visitors to Rhododendron species. We determined that the following species are potential pollinators: Bombus sp. (an insect genus), Aethopyga gouldiae, Garrulax affinis, Heterophasia melanoleuca, and Yuhina diademata (all bird species), and we suspect that Apis sp. (an insect genus), Dremomys pernyi, Tamiops swinhoei (two mammal species), Minla ignotincta, M. strigula, Parus major, and Phylloscopus affinis (four bird species) likely rob R. floccigerum. All visitors were able to fit their heads/bodies into the corolla. We also found that though predation is frequent, the number of robbers and variety of robbing methods is unlikely to contribute to floral morphological evolution or speciation. Further understanding of the pollination biology of species in subgenus Hymenanthes will allow for effective conservation.

Keywords: Rhododendron, robbers, ornithophily, pollination syndrome, potential pollinators


Possible Highlights for this article:

  • Unknown pollination syndrome for red-flowered Rhododendron in subsect. Neriiflora [81 characters with spaces]

  • We found 13 species—two insects, two mammals, and nine birds—visiting R. floccigerum [84 characters with spaces]

  • Five species are thought to be pollinators and seven species observed as robbers [80 characters with spaces]

  • Provided first empirical evidence of bird and mammal visitors to Rhododendron spp. [82 characters with spaces]


Can you challenge yourself to create another highlight from the information provided in the Abstract of this article?

Let's now note some commonalities among the bullet points in these newly created Highlights.

  1. Most of the points are incomplete sentences, yet the information is still clearly presented.

  2. Many of the points are in the active voice (v.s. the passive voice), which saves on the character count.

  3. All extraneous words have been omitted; note that I did not use any introductory phrases (e.g., moreover, furthermore, additionally...) or exemplary phrases (e.g., like, including, such as).

  4. I carefully selected the proper abbreviations in the above Highlights, but did not include any other abbreviations or jargon. Specifically note the abbreviation of Rhododendron as R., subsection as subsect., and species as spp.

  5. The punctuation used was minimal but correct (e.g., serial comma, em-dash, period following abbreviations).

Further reading:




Need Help Writing your Highlights?

If you are still finding it difficult to limit your bulleted points to a maximum of 85 characters including spaces, please feel free to get in touch with me at egeorgian[at]gmail[.]com. We'll work together to minimize the characters while maximizing the content.