How to Write an Abstract

As you prepare to publicize and share your research findings, it is essential to know how to write an abstract. Abstracts are typically the only element you submit to conferences for presentation. When your research is published, the abstract is often the only item that is read.

chart close up data desk
How to Write an Abstract; Photo on Pexels.com

While specifics may vary, abstracts generally follow the same format: introduction, methods, results, conclusions. There often is a word count limit with 250-300 words being fairly standard. Knowing how to write an abstract is an important skill to have in your research tool chest. We’ll go over some basics of how to compose an abstract.

Start Somewhere

The hardest part about writing an abstract is getting started. It can be difficult to succinctly yet adequately describe your months of hard work in just 250 words. The best place to start is by just writing down your thoughts. If you had two minutes to give a sales pitch, what would you say? It is much easier to cut down once you already have some thoughts written on paper. Briefly contextualize your study, then expound more into what you did, what you found, and why it is important.

Introduction

Provide a one to two sentence background of your topic and why this research is relevant. This can be extremely difficult. One helpful tip, assume that the typical reader has some basic knowledge of terms or conditions that are commonly encountered in that particular field. Finalize your introduction section by listing the objectives of the study.

Methods

You will not be able to include every detail of how you performed the study. Still, you want to give the reader a good idea of what you did. Paint broad strokes with intermittent specifics. Be sure to mention any primary endpoints and statistical tests that you used.

Results

While in the paper you should report all of your results, in the abstract simply include the results that best convey the objectives and conclusions of your study. It is helpful to include basic demographic data and summaries. However, don’t spend too much time focusing on ancillary data points. Report the data in an organized manner and be sure to include p-values and confidence intervals when applicable. It has been shown that just including a p-value in your abstract makes it more likely to be accepted.

Conclusions

When you write an abstract, the conclusion section is debatably the most important portion. Here you should contextualize your results for the reader and reveal the impact and significance of your research on the broader literature.

Follow these steps for each of the four main sections when writing an abstract. You will assuredly require editing from your co-authors and may need to trim the abstract to meet the requirements. Proofread your work several times before sending it to your residents and attendings for review. You want the copy they see to be free from grammatical errors so that their comments can be content based. If you are struggling getting started or are confused about formatting, look to examples in the literature. There are countless published abstracts instantly available to you for consultation.

Learning to write an abstract is a process and takes time. Take every opportunity you can to practice this skill. With time, you will see major improvements in both the quality of your abstracts and the speed in which you can write them.

Have you written an abstract before? What was the hardest aspect for you? Share your thoughts below.

Back to more resources on performing research in medical school.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: