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How to prepare a well-written abstract

Writing a high-quality abstract is essential if it is to be selected for presentation at an internationally-renowned conference. For many of the major gastroenterology conferences, acceptance rates are approximately 1 in 20.

Abstracts are often rejected not because of poor science but because of the authors’ inability to communicate effectively in written English. Grammar, spelling, sentence structure, or incorrect abbreviations, and poorly designed supplementary tables or graphs can confuse or unintentionally mislead the reader. Generating a focused, meaningful abstract based upon years of study and data is difficult to distill into a limited number of words. As such, some abstracts suffer rejection because of vagueness while others are too specific and fail to succinctly summarize key findings. Adhering to conference-specific format requirements for the abstract is also imperative for acceptance. – from Pierson DJ. 2004. Respir Care. 2004;49:1246-52 and Hopewell S, Clarke M, Askie L. J Clin Epidemiol. 2006 Jul;59(7):681-4.

There is a substantial quantity of information about medical writing and preparing conference abstracts. Select quality sources have been used to present a comprehensive, concise, step-wise set of instructions specific to the needs of busy gastroenterologists. Examples are provided to clearly illustrate what is and what is not acceptable or meaningful.

Abstract: Stepwise instructions
Information collected from the following sources will be used to create a step-by-step instruction algorithm that will be easy to use and understand:

  1. CONSORT guidelines about preparing conference abstracts for randomized controlled trials
  2. Journal of Emergency Primary Health Care – overall instructions for abstract preparation (Authors: Rhona MacDonald, Ramon Shaban)
  3. Medical Library Association
  4. Alexandrov AV, Hennerici MG. Writing good abstracts. Cerebrovasc Dis. 2007;23(4):256-9
  5. Pierson DJ. How to write an abstract that will be accepted for presentation at a national meeting. Respir Care. 2004 Oct;49(10):1206-12.
  6. Durbin CG Jr. Effective use of tables and figures in abstracts, presentations, and papers. Respir Care. 2004 Oct;49(10):1233-7.
  7. Happell B. Hitting the target! A no tears approach to writing an abstract for a conference presentation. Int J Ment Health Nurs. 2007 Dec;16(6):447-52.
  8. Boullata JI, Mancuso CE. A "how-to" guide in preparing abstracts and poster presentations. Nutr Clin Pract. 2007 Dec;22(6):641-6.
  9. Include information from each of the major international conferences regarding unique instructions regarding the content or format of the abstracts (see list of conferences below).

Examples
A selection of both good and bad abstracts will be accessible here in order to illustrate the benefits of following the instructions. Due to copyright restrictions, the abstracts will be restricted to those freely available on the web.

Conferences
The following list of English-language conferences includes the most important and largest events that researchers should be involved in.

  1. Digestive Disease Week (DDW)
  2. International Association of Surgeons, Gastroenterologists and Oncologists (IASGO)
  3. United European Gastroenterology Week (UEGW)
  4. Asian Pacific Digestive Disease Week (APDW)
  5. South African Gastroenterology Society (SAGES)
  6. Pan-American Gastroenterological Association (OPGE)

Additional Resources
Links will be provided to the papers used to create the stepwise instructions such as the CONSORT guidelines paper.