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How to get your science noticed: Tips on writing a great scientific abstract

Posted By Connections Editor , Friday, February 28, 2014
Updated: Thursday, February 20, 2014

Eugenia Flores-Figueroa and Teresa V Bowman

New Investigators Committee Members

The call for abstracts for this year’s ISEH meeting has now arrived! Submissions will be received February 17 through April 11. Time to think about writing up your exciting science; here are some tips to help you get organized and get noticed.

An abstract is a brief summary of a research project written to catch the organizers attention so they decide if it fits the conference criteria, and it also serves to attract participants to visit your poster or attend your presentation. A good abstract begins with good science, do not write an abstract of work that you have not done or is not completed.

Before you start writing the abstract, it is important to focus on pre-writing. Ensure that you have a clear idea of the aim of your study, results and conclusions, and that the abstract relates to the conference theme (try not to be driven only by the location of the conference, e.g. Cancun or Paris). Once you pick the conference, review the abstract format guidelines and deadlines very carefully. Avoid sending your abstract the last day; you may encounter a technical problem. If this is your first time writing an abstract, it is always a good idea to read past conferences' abstracts (most of the time they are available on the conference webpage or journal); focus on the abstract with similar methods or subject.

Ready to start typing? The abstract should not exceed the word limit, and within one or two paragraphs you have to be able to cover your study on a clear, concise and stylish way. Do not attempt to write the perfect abstract on your first draft, according to Dr. Kristin Sainani, the longest part of the process is pre-writing and review.

At our 2013 annual meeting in Vienna, Dr. Leonard Zon gave us his advice for presenting your science, that can also be apply to abstracts:

1. Know your audience

2. Start with a brief description of the general topic

3. Second sentence should be the rationale of your work

4. Present the data

5. Conclude

6. Finish with the use of your research

The way you present your ideas is crucial; if you are not a native speaker or a good writer, look for courses online, they are usually free. Dr. Kristin Sainani’s advice for scientific writing includes:

1. - Cut the clutter, after you finish writing your abstract, look for unnecessary words, excessive background and negative sentences. If you find yourself looking for synonyms to avoid repetition that means your sentence and paragraph need review.

2.- Use active voice and strong verbs, avoid using the verb to be, highlight all the verbs on your abstract and review them. Use active voice.

3.- Beware of punctuation -there is more out there than points and commas-. A bad use of punctuation can change the meaning of your sentence; a good use will make your ideas clear and stylish.

The last part to evaluate from your abstract is the logical flow of ideas.

Examine the logical structure; can it attract visitors to your poster?

Before submitting your abstract:

Make sure it is within the word limit and that authors, institutions and content are correct. Have someone else approve the abstract and hit the send button!

Remember that your abstract will talk about you and it could be the first impression of you and your science.


How to write a good abstract for a scientific paper or conference presentation

Chittaranjan Andrade. Indian J Psychiatry. 2011 Apr-Jun; 53(2): 172–175.

Kristin Sainani. Writing in the sciences.

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