A lot of advice and wisdom on writing an abstract suggests that you should leave it to the end. The belief is that is when you will have a solid idea as to what story your thesis or paper will be telling. Since an abstract is simply an abbreviated form of your thesis or paper, there is merit to this notion.
I have a different opinion on the matter, however. I think writing the abstract first can be helpful.
An abstract is essentially a “mini” thesis or paper, as it includes: an introduction/rationale; materials and methods/a study design; results/outcomes; and a discussion/summary section. If you can assemble a reasonable abstract with the key points for all of these sections before writing the whole thesis or paper, your abstract becomes a very nice outline that sets a solid framework.
In other words, writing the abstract first will help you clearly define what is important and identify the the main elements or findings your thesis or paper should highlight.
Writing a great abstract is arguably the toughest part of the whole process, as every word needs to count. You cannot drift to prose — you must get on with the task at hand and state it as clearly, precisely and concisely as you can.
Why am I focusing on abstract writing this month?
The 2015 London Health Research Day event will be fast upon us and the abstract submission deadline is February 2, 2015. This year’s event promises to be bigger than ever, and selection for admission into the oral and poster presentation competitions will depend heavily on the quality and excellence of your abstract.
I have combed the web looking for wisdom that can be directed at writing the best abstracts, and, interestingly enough, the University of Adelaide in Australia has some tips for abstract writing.
- Start by using point form to highlight the main ideas you must present in each section of the abstract;
- Link these ideas together into complete sentences and proper full statements;
- Review what you have written to ensure it will cover all necessary points required for each section of the abstract;
- Check the number of words you have used to ensure it conforms to the abstract guidelines (if it is too long, start chopping by removing unnecessary words);
- Check for flow and sequencing of your ideas;
- The abstract must stand alone separate from your thesis or paper;
- It cannot contain any information not included in your thesis or paper;
- Make sure you tell us why the outcomes are important or why we should care;
- It should be completely free of spelling and grammatical errors.
If you follow these tips, I believe you will have prepared a strong abstract that will challenge the LHRD program committee to select it for the event’s competition. More importantly, you will have developed an important form of communication that is essential for reporting your research findings to the world.
I look forward to reading your abstracts and learning about all that you have accomplished.
I wish you all the best for a wonderful holiday season. Take care, stay safe, stay warm and have some fun with family and friends.
See you in the New Year,
Andrew J. Watson, PhD
Associate Dean, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies