Writing effective abstracts

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  • 1. WRITING EFFECTIVEABSTRACTSHelen E. Hodgson, Ph.D.Westminster CollegeSalt Lake City, Utah
  • 2. What is an Abstract? An abbreviated, accurate representation of adocument without added interpretation orcriticism Two general types Indicative (descriptive) Informative
  • 3. Why is an Abstract Important? It is the part of the article that is read mostoften. For some readers, it is the only part read. Other readers use it to determine whether thearticle is worth reading. Researchers use it to determine the relevanceof the research to their work. For conferences, it is often the sole criterion onwhich a presentation is judged.
  • 4. What are the Differences BetweenIndicative and InformativeAbstracts?Characteristic Indicative InformativeFunction (andalternatename)Descriptive ComprehensiveContent Qualitative Qualitative andquantitativeSubstitute fordocumentNo YesUse(s) Descriptivepapers, newmethods,ExperimentalfindingsCharacteristic Indicative InformativeFunction (andalternate name)Descriptive ComprehensiveContent Qualitative Qualitative andquantitativeSubstitute fordocumentNo YesUse(s) Descriptivepapers, newmethods, reviewarticlesExperimentalfindings
  • 5. Special Types of Abstracts Abstracts of the same document can beprepared in different formats for differentpublications or purposes. Case report abstract Meeting abstract
  • 6. What is the Anatomy of aTypical…?Journal Article (IMRAD) Introduction Materials and Methods Results and Discussion andConclusion(s)Structured Abstract Objective Design, Setting, StudySubjects, Interventions Main Measurements andResults Conclusion(s)Ann Intern Med 1987;106:598-604.
  • 7. What is the Function of Each Partof an Experimental Article? Introduction Provides context for study question (optional inabstract) Clearly and precisely states study objective(s)or hypothesis Materials and Methods Briefly describes study design, setting, studysubjects, interventions, and statistical methods
  • 8. Function of Each Part of anExperimental Article—Continued Results Provides key results, including methods ofassessing subjects and statistical results Discussion Article: Highlights, without repeating, ―Results‖ Abstract: Excludes ―Discussion‖ or combines with―Conclusion(s)‖ Conclusion(s) Directly answers study objective
  • 9. What Phrases Help Signal theReader? To determine whether . . ., we . . . . We found that. . . . We conclude that . . . .Zeiger, Essentials of Writing Biomedical ResearchPapers, 2000.Zeiger. Essentials of Writing Biomedical Research Papers 2000.
  • 10. What is the Best Approachto Writing an Abstract? Start with the journal’s instructions forauthors. Review sample abstracts from the targetjournal. Remember that the abstract will bepublished by itself and should be self-contained.
  • 11. What are the Main Problemswith Abstracts? Incomplete Inaccurate Misleading Poorly organized Lacking in coherence Excessively detailed
  • 12. What are the Qualitiesof an Effective Abstract? Is both clear and concise Conforms to required length limit (usually 250words) Stresses the most important aspects of thestudy Avoids general statements Contains nothing that is not found in the bodyof the article
  • 13. Writing Style and HintsThe generally accepted rules for good writingapply to the writing of abstracts: Write concisely and clearly, making eachsentence highly informative. Write in fluent, simple prose and make clear,direct statements. Be exact and unambiguous; avoidgeneralizing whenever possible.
  • 14. Writing Style and Hints—Continued Condense, but do not interpret, the contentof the report. Indicate the scope of the research in theopening sentence without repeating the title. Begin with a statement of the Objective, notwith the phrase ―This report . . .‖ Indicate the treatment of the subject (eg,brief or exhaustive, case history or survey,etc).
  • 15. Writing Style and Hints—Continued Use complete sentences unless the journalallows fragments in structured abstracts (eg,objective or setting). Be brief, but avoid terseness and crypticcomments. Use the past tense. Use active voice, especially for informativeabstracts. Passive: B was exceeded by A. Active: A exceeded B.
  • 16. Writing Style and Hints—Continued Avoid ―laboratory semantics,‖ repetition, andunnecessary words. Use trade jargon and abbreviationssparingly, defining them at first use. Maintain the tone and emphasis of theoverall manuscript. Edit the abstract carefully, scrutinizing everyword.
  • 17. What Should Be Excludedfrom (most) Abstracts? Jargon andundefinedabbreviations Detaileddescriptions Examples Well-establishedfacts Tables and graphs Excessivenumerical results Speculation byauthor Information not indocument References
  • 18. The Introduction Consists of 1–3 sentences that introduce the topic and explain why it is important state the research question and, briefly, how youwent about answering it
  • 19. Ways to Reduce Word Count Use plurals to eliminate articles. Use abbreviations where permitted, defining atfirst use. Remove redundant words and phrases. Avoid nominalizations. Limit the use of prepositional phrases. Eliminate spaces between mathematicaloperators and numbers Avoid starting sentences with numbers that haveto be spelled out.
  • 20. ConclusionAbstracts should be as clear and concise as possible contain only essential information start with the research question, why it isimportant, and how you answered it report your principal findings end with a summary of your findings and theirimplications