What advice would you give to prospective authors to make their abstracts stand out?
Michelle Hughes, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine
Section of digestive diseases, Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.
Turning your hard work from a QI project into a successful abstract can seem daunting. There are a few things to consider to help your findings reach your target audience. First, an abstract should be clear and concise. Limit background content and focus on highlighting your project’s methodology and results. Remember, readers look for a comprehensive overview so they can easily understand what you did and found without a lot of extra content obscuring the main points. Everything in your abstract should tie back to your stated aim. Does the background build a case for your project? Do the results and conclusion clearly answer the hypothesis and/or clinical question? If a reported result does not help answer your question, then it should probably be left out. Another tip is to always carefully follow the guidelines for abstract submission. Ensure you use correct formatting and follow all outlined rules. Ask a colleague to review and proofread your abstract draft prior to submission. Lastly, before you start writing, decide what take-away message or statement makes your project meaningful. Refer to this as you write and finalize your abstract so that you keep your message clear and remain focused. You did the hard work to execute your project – but without an effective abstract, the impact of your work may get lost.
Manol Jovani, MD, MPH, therapeutic endoscopy fellow
Division of gastroenterology and hepatology, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore
The abstract is the “elevator pitch” of your year(s)-long work, and as such it must be very carefully crafted. Dedicate specific time to the style and quality of your presentation long before the deadline. As for elevator pitches, first impressions are very important. For an abstract, it begins with the title. Select a declarative title that draws the interest of the reviewers/readers and tells them exactly what to expect, which also accurately represents the main findings. The introduction and aims should be very short and to the point. For example, it is counterproductive to start with “Ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease (CD) are the two major types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).” This does not add any information, states what is obvious to any GI reviewer, uses up 92 characters, and possibly gives a subconscious sense of unoriginality. Throughout the description of your methods/results, use clear language. A well-written abstract will explicitly and concisely state the populations included, statistical analyses performed, and specific outcomes. Make it easy for reviewers to follow along by presenting the results in a logical progression and by striving to use as few acronyms as possible. In addition, less is often more. The abstract should have only one main message, enunciated with the title, evident in the results, and interpreted with the conclusion. If you have additional space, use it to make compelling concluding remarks. As in an elevator pitch, the conclusion is as important as the introduction. Conclude by giving a clear message to the audience/reviewers on what the main findings are and suggest specific implications for future research. Do not end with “more studies are needed,” but rather suggest specifically how these results will influence our future understanding. Finally, know your audience and adapt your presentation to their needs, knowledge, and interests. This includes being mindful of the section to which you are submitting your abstract. An excellent abstract that could have been an oral presentation in one section may end up being a poster in another. Something important to remember about abstracts is that, while the content of the research is the most important part, the quality of its presentation serves to alert the reviewers and readers about it.
Ms. Mietzelfeld is a coordinator of data and training initiatives for the American Gastroenterological Association in Bethesda, Md.