Writing the Best Abstract
The deadline for abstract submission for the American Association for Anatomy Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology 2020 is rapidly approaching (November 14, 2019). The Committee for Early-Career Anatomists (CECA), which reviews the abstracts submitted by trainees for the Student/Postdoctoral Awards, has developed the following guidelines based on our collective experience with what makes a clear and compelling abstract. While abstracts do not need to contain explicit headings, the best abstracts contain the general information described below. We encourage everyone, regardless of career stage, to evaluate their own abstracts with these criteria in mind!
Introduction: Clearly state the question/hypothesis/objective that your research addresses. The introduction should provide context to your reader and an introduction to your topic and its importance.
Method: The methods section should include brief, clear statements of the methods used to conduct the study. These methods should be appropriate for the study objectives. Keep this section as straightforward as you can. If the methods were unusual or novel, describe in slightly more detail.
Results: All abstracts should include results! Clearly state your results and place them in their appropriate context. Include support data and appropriate statistics to support your claims. Avoid phrases like “results will be discussed.”
Conclusion: Relate your findings back to the study objectives, and clearly communicate the take-home message from your study.
Significance and implications: Briefly but clearly discuss the importance of the findings, and directions for future work and next steps. This is your opportunity to describe the significance of your findings to science and/or the translation of your findings to progress in your field.
Remember that the goal of your abstract is to engage the wide audience of researchers who attend the AAA Annual Meeting at EB, and to convince readers to attend your poster or podium presentation. You may have noticed that the abstract writing guidelines focus on clear and concise communication. You have 3,000 characters (excluding spaces) to describe your research! Use that space wisely to convey the “big picture” of your research to your audience. Engage the readers at the outset with a strong introduction, and then relate your findings and conclusions back to your research question.
Perhaps most importantly, ask multiple people (mentors, peers, colleagues, etc.) to critically review your abstract before submission. Ask at least one person who was not involved in the study or who is not an expert in your area of research for their feedback. Your abstract should convince a general audience of the importance of your research.
Good luck with your abstract writing! We hope to see you at the AAA Annual Meeting at EB 2020 in San Diego.