- Avenue Ceramique 222
- 6221 KX Maastricht
- The Netherlands
- Tel: +31(0)43 325 05 21
Iain A. Grant BVSc MRCVS DipACVIM (oncology), Vice-president European Society of Veterinary Oncology
If you are writing a scientific abstract you may require some guidance and in this review article, I will present some ideas that I hope will help to make your abstract outstanding.
Guidelines are published on our website regarding the abstract submission process. Please read these carefully. You may also find it helpful to read some abstracts from previous years’ meetings as examples.
I hope that if your abstract is accepted that you will choose our congress to present your scientific work.
Scientific abstracts summarise and promote your research work. Conference organising committees seek to draw up a program of the highest scientific interest and quality. All abstracts are therefore evaluated by a panel of reviewers for the research they present but also for the way in which they are written. Poor quality abstracts that lack preparation or that are not complete, concise and clear are obvious to reviewers and will generally be rejected.
A scientific abstract provides a vital first impression of you as a scientist, author and presenter. It is not the time to express your personal writing style; as you will see below, scientific writing is highly stylised and structured.
Almost certainly a good abstract, if accepted, will encourage attendance at your conference presentation. A poorly written abstract will represent a lost opportunity for you to share the results of the research work that you spent so much time and energy gathering.
Being accepted for either an oral or poster presentation is an achievement to be proud of and there are circumstances where a poster may actually be a superior platform. Oral presentations follow a strict time limit therefore if your work is conceptually or methodologically complex, a poster is potentially a better option that allows colleagues time to evaluate the information you are presenting and ask you questions about it. If your work is restricted to a limited interest group, a poster allows more time with colleagues that are specifically interested in your field of research.
As an inexperienced presenter, a poster presentation may feel less stressful than an oral presentation while you gain in your experience and confidence.
Most conferences impose a strict word limit for abstracts, encouraging you to communicate your research concisely in a very limited amount of space. A structured abstract is easier to read, recall and peer review. Broadly speaking, each section poses a question.
What to Include: Introduction (Why was this research carried out?)
Your abstract should begin with a brief introduction to the overall problem you are trying to address with your research and any information the reader may need to understand to establish the rationale behind it. Your hypothesis/hypotheses should be clearly stated.
What to Include: Methods (How was this research carried out?)
Your Methods section should describe the experimental approach used to test your hypothesis/hypotheses.You should provide your reader with a brief overview of your general experimental approach.The abstract does not need to provide every detail of your experiments—many of these details will be included in your final presentation.
What to Include: Results (What was discovered?)
Your abstract should only include the results from experiments you have conducted, not what you plan will happen in future experiments you will carry out (although you can mention future experiments in the Conclusion/Discussion section). You should provide a brief overview of the results you have obtained or the general trends you have observed from your results. Describe the most important and highest impact results you have in more detail.
What to Include: Conclusions/Discussion (What does the data mean?)
Your abstract should end with a conclusion and/or discussion that describes how your results fit within the general research topic you described in the introduction and with your hypothesis. You may also include future directions or planned experiments at the end of your abstract. These can provide a link to any updated results you may include in your presentation at the conference.
Additional Points to Consider for Conferences
In contrast to an abstract for a manuscript you will often write the abstract for a conference several weeks to months before you present your results. This can make it difficult to determine exactly what to include, as you may have experiments in progress for which you do not have results at the time of writing your abstract. Some conferences will allow minor last-minute updates prior to the conference, providing an opportunity for you to update your results and conclusions. Refer to the guidelines for abstract submission.
When writing your abstract, keep in mind that this will typically be the only information that conference attendees have about your research. Attendees will use your abstract to determine whether they are interested in visiting your poster or attending your talk, so make sure that it is easy to understand and highlights the importance of your findings. With a strict word limit, focus on the most important results and conclusions that you are trying to convey.
After completion of the abstract it is important to review, edit and correct it a number of times. If you are not a native English speaker, then ensure it is read by someone who can correct for grammatical and spelling errors or errors in English constructions. Remove unnecessary words and ensure that sentences are short, simple and purposeful. Peer review by a colleague, especially someone experienced in scientific writing or abstract preparation can improve your work before final submission.
The choice of title is very important. It not only conveys the content of the abstract, it is the first opportunity to attract the reader’s attention to the importance or findings of your work. It should be 10-12 words in length, and may be informative (outlining the nature of the study) or may be descriptive (giving an insight into the results of the study). Do not overlook the value of a good choice of title.
In brief, abstracts will be assigned to a number of different sub-categories for the purpose of review: pure clinical, basic science, radiation oncology/imaging, surgery and pathology. A panel of 3 reviewers, considered to be experts in their field. will be assigned to each category, and the abstracts will be scored using an electronic scoring system.
The process of review will be equally rigorous for both oral and poster presentation formats and failure to be accepted for an oral presentation does not automatically mean acceptance for the scientific program in poster format.
The following criteria will be evaluated, although not all assessment criteria carry the same importance. Points will be assigned for each criterion.
Individual scores will be compared amongst the 3 reviewers and the final decision to accept or reject the abstract will be made based on a consensus amongst the group. The reviewers’ decision will be final and no correspondence in any format will be permitted between the researcher and the review panel.
An abstract may be rejected because of inappropriate study design or lack of originality. If information has been presented previously or already published or the outcomes of the study present no new data that contributes materially to the current body of veterinary oncology knowledge, an abstract is likely to be rejected. In a very small number of cases, rejection may be based on ethical considerations. This may include such concerns as inadequate short or long term monitoring of side effects of a newly proposed therapy. Single case reports in either oral or poster format will generally not be accepted.
Like any creative endeavour, writing a scientific abstract requires practice and some individuals may be better at this process than others; however reading around the subject and following some of the recommendations made in this review will hopefully assist you in producing a successful abstract to be proud of.
‘Writing for Publication in Veterinary Medicine’ is a free online resource provided by Wiley Blackwell. I thoroughly recommend this as a valuable addition to your scientific library.