The short and sweet guide to preparing an abstract for a scientific meeting

You’ve just seen the call for abstracts for the annual meeting of your favorite scientific association. You have some amazing, leading-edge research that you want to highlight to your peers in an oral presentation or in a poster, but you’re not quite sure how to go about preparing the abstract before the looming deadline date. Here are some key do’s and don’ts to get you started.

DO:

  1. Consult the guidelines provided by the association putting on the meeting. The call for abstracts for a scientific meeting will often contain a link to the guidelines from the organizers. These guidelines will contain essential information on permitted length, preferred style, and process to submit.
  2. Keep it short and sweet. Remember, in the scientific world, an abstract is meant to impart “just the facts, ma’am”. It should allow your peers to quickly understand what you did, why you did it, how you did it, what were your main findings and what is your take-away message.
  3. Include the following sections:
    1. Title: With so many presentations and posters to choose from, your title needs to compel your peers to spend their precious life energy attending your presentation.
    2. Introduction and Objective: In the opening one to two sentences, let the readers know why they should care about finding out more about your study.
    3. Materials and Methods: In two to four sentences, clearly explain how you carried out the study in order to define the scope of the work. Include pertinent information on the experimental design, data collection and analysis, and the statistical analysis. Pare down the details to include only those that directly enhance the understanding and interpretation of the results.
    4. Results and Discussion: In three to five sentences, present the results in a condensed but clear form. Use actual numbers in a table or graph whenever possible. Interpret the results and state whether or not they are statistically and scientifically significant.
    5. Conclusion: In one sentence, wrap up the take-away message so the reader is not left saying, “So what?”
  4. Give credit where credit is due. If the research was a team effort, include those who contributed to this effort as co-authors.
  5. Ask your team members and/or peers to review the abstract before submitting it. If they don’t get it, it is unlikely others will, either.

DON’T:

  1. Fail to comply with the submission requirements.
  2. Use tons of jargon or undefined abbreviations in the text.
  3. Include meaningless statements such as, ‘The results will be presented.” This will mean nothing to the person who is reading your abstract five years later, trying to figure what the heck you actually found.
  4. Include results or conclusions that are completely unrelated to the stated objective.
  5. Submit at the last minute or late. Give yourself enough time to run the abstract through the spell checker and ensure there are no typographical or grammatical errors. If the abstract is to be submitted online, waiting until the last minute could also mean that the submission process is very slow or even unavailable.

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