Writing about Your Research: The Abstract
In U.S. graduate medical education, conducting research typically is a key component of learning and professional development. When you have completed your research project—often with the help of a mentor and colleagues—you turn to publication. Publishing your research strengthens your curriculum vitae and enhances your competitiveness for future employment. Publication can take several forms. You can write an article or paper for publication in academic or scientific journals. You can present your work formally, as a speaker at a professional conference, or more informally, as a poster presentation.
A key part of the publication process—in whichever form you decide to publish—is the abstract. An abstract is a summary of the research you have completed and is a requirement for many paper, poster, or meeting submissions. Since the abstract mirrors the full publication, but on a much more compact scale, the same considerations apply in preparing your abstract as do in preparing the publication itself.
The abstract is often the key, if not only, document some reviewers of your work will consider when deciding whether to approve your submission. This may be submitted with or prior to sending your complete paper or poster. For approving posters, an abstract will usually suffice, but for papers, the whole paper may be required to be submitted with the abstract. It is important to adhere to the submission guidelines, as they vary.
The title of your abstract should clearly identify the purpose of the project. This title should be short and capture the reader’s attention. You will also need to include the names of authors who made contributions to the research. The content of the abstract is usually broken down into sections. This can help clarify your approach and organize your research presentation. A typical breakdown of such sections appears below:
- Background/Introduction – This is an introductory thesis that describes the motivation or rationale for your research based on past research and how research will add to existing literature. This information will help explain the importance and provide the context for the research.
- Aims/Objectives – This provides information people should know about your research. This type of information includes research questions you seek to answer as a result of the project and your hypothesis.
- Data/Methods – After identifying your objectives, detail what steps you took to achieve the results of your project. This could include data you gathered and methods you used to analyze your findings.
- Results – Illustrate what was learned and the outcomes of your research. This is a good place to present your data in the form of charts, graphs, and other display items.
- Conclusion/Discussion – Explain the larger implications of your findings as they relate to your objectives and thesis.
It is important to keep your abstract, as well as the full paper that accompanies or follows it, clear and concise. Be sure you adhere to the format and guidelines for submission, including word count and deadlines. Avoid using medical jargon and, when using acronyms, be sure to spell them out for the reader. Also, proofread your abstract and allow colleagues to review your language, making sure your grammar and explanations are clear.
For more information on publishing research please visit https://www.acponline.org/membership/residents/competitions-awards/abstracts/preparing.