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Tips to write a successful abstract


An abstract serves as a concise overview of your work. If accepted for ESCMID Global 2024, it will be published in an Open Source Abstract Book, allowing you to communicate your findings to a broad audience. It should be structured clearly and logically, addressing the essential questions: Who, What, Where, Why, and How. And emphasise the originality and uniqueness of your work.

 

Tips on writing a successful abstract

 

#1 - Title: use a 'takeaway title' for more impact and attention

 

 

 

Do

Declarative title: COVID-19 infection rate increased with city size

 

 

Don't

Traditional title: Investigating the effect of city size on COVID-19 infection rate

 

 

 

Declarative titles state a finding, takeaway, or spoiler in the title itself. They teach the reader something just by reading the title, which is important because your title is the most read part of your abstract (so it's your biggest chance to teach people what you learned).

 

Some research suggests that declarative titles may get more social media attention, citations and quickly establish your abstract as a source of knowledge. If you're concerned about 'over-claiming', phrase your title in the past tense (e.g, "Declarative titles got more citations" vs "Declarative titles get more citations").

 

Steer clear of illegible titles; remember that the title of your abstract is the initial presentation of your findings, so make it captivating.

 

 

 

#2 - Abstract: the opening paragraph of your abstract is the most important

 

The opening paragraph of your abstract is the part everyone reads first after the title. Often, it determines if the reader will dive deep into the rest of its content, so it's worth careful attention. The game of writing an abstract is to convey the need-to-know information very fast and efficiently.

 

 

 

Here are some tips on an informative abstract paragraph:

 

 

Do

Orient people to your subject quickly. The fastest way to orient people is usually by stating your research question first.

Include a need-to-know background. If it is not obvious, include a short statement on why your study matters.

Include both positive and negative takeaways. In addition to an overall conclusion about what you learned from your study, include an overall conclusion about the key limitation of your study "We found this, BUT".
 

Don't

Skip obvious background information. You don't need to say that the COVID-19 pandemic is a “big deal”.

 

 

 

#3 - Introduction: make sure your background section states your research question clearly

 

 

 

"More than half of all the papers I vet for conferences have very serious problems with their organisation and framing, particularly in the introduction"

‑ David Ahlstrom (2017)

 

 

 

Your background section should briefly summarise what was accomplished and the resulting conclusions. Emphasise the significance of your chosen topic by highlighting the knowledge gap it addresses. Many abstracts with perfectly acceptable methods and results are rejected for failing to construct a cohesive argument for why their study exists. Here are some best practices for making your argument compelling:

 

 

 

Do

Have a clear, specific research question and purpose

Include background research that directly relates to your specific question

Make the first paragraph of your introduction the most compelling

 

 

 

Don't

Generic purposes like "to examine the topic" or "explore an issue".

Just list some broad background research historically, without a close tie to your question.

Meander and take too long to start your argument

 

 

 

 

#4 - Methods: tell the story of your methods and experiment design

 

Offer a succinct description of the procedures undertaken. Detail the measurements and the data management processes employed. Whether you love or hate writing the Methods section, remember it's a story. It has characters (the authors deciding on the design, the participants), a plot (how the design was decided on), and challenges. In chronological order, tell the story of how you decided on your study design, executed it, and analysed it.

 

Need-to-know, then nice-to-know: You don't have to include all the details. You can separate key information from extra detail. Tell a cohesive story of your study design first, then address additional nuance and detail second.

 

 

 

#5 – Results and Conclusions: speak in the past tense, and don't speculate

 

Present your findings and discoveries. Be concise, avoiding the repetition of data presented in tables or figures. Ensure that tables and figures are self-explanatory, each with its title.

 

For most of the results section, speak in the past tense about what you concretely observed in your study analysis.

 

Conclusion: Summarize the conclusions drawn from your project. Keep them reasonable and firmly grounded in your study's findings. Additionally, suggest directions for future research.

 

 

 

#6 - Reflect on your limitations and have a takeaway

 

Have a quick, one-sentence 'key limitation' takeaway containing the major limiting factor of your study.

 

The Art of Writing Limitations notes that there are 3 approaches people take to writing their limitations, and only one is helpful.

 

 

Do

The Reflection - Reflect on how future researchers could better address the same research question, building on what you learned here.

 

 

Don't

The Confessional - Don’t pour out all the insecurities about your study and ask the reader to forgive you.

The Dismissal - Don’t try to downplay your study’s limitations.

 

 

 

 

In the conclusion, you should include a limitations section that isn't only meant to chronicle all the holes you can poke in your own argument. Every study has room for improvement. Focus your limitations section around the one or two aspects of your study you'd like to improve on if you did a follow-up study. And, in the same way, your study conclusions can benefit from a "punchline" or short takeaway, as can your limitations section.

 

 

 

Writing style recommendations

 

  • Concise: Utilize concise language and short sentences.
  • Active voice: Whenever possible, use active verbs (e.g., "the study tested" instead of "it was tested by the study").
  • Clarity: Keep your language simple and clear, making your information accessible to a diverse audience.
  • Avoid jargon: Refrain from using abbreviations and specialised jargon, as not all readers will be familiar with them.
  • Review and proofreading: Give yourself ample time to review your abstract and check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors (English UK).
  • Seek objective feedback: Before submission, seek objective feedback, perhaps from a colleague unfamiliar with your work.
  • Submit early: Aim to submit well before the deadline.

 

References

 

  1. Ahlstrom, D. (2017). How to publish in academic journals: Writing a strong and organized introduction section. Journal of Eastern European and Central Asian Research, 4(2).
  2. Andrade, C. (2011). How to write a good abstract for a scientific paper or conference presentation. Indian journal of psychiatry, 53(2), 172.
  3. Declarative titles may get more social media mentions: www.proquest.com/openview/16cf6df898d78fbf6726c3f8343b5cd6/1
  4. Lingard, L., & Watling, C. (2021). The art of limitations. In Story, Not Study: 30 Brief Lessons to Inspire Health Researchers as Writers (pp. 53-59). Cham: Springer International Publishing.
  5. Perneger, T. V., & Hudelson, P. M. (2004). Writing a research article: advice to beginners. International journal for quality in health care, 16(3), 191-192.
  6. Simkhada, P., Van Teijlingen, E., Hundley, V., & Simkhada, B. D. (2013). Writing an abstract for a scientific conference. Kathmandu University Medical Journal, 11(3), 262-265.