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Library Resource Guide for Clinical Researchers

Writing Research Abstracts

What is an abstract?

A research abstract is a condensed summary of the essential elements of your project, with the purpose of giving a reader the “gist.”

Why would I “spoil” my paper at the beginning? Shouldn’t I want readers to take in the entire paper?

Abstracts not only provide a condensed version of your study, but in doing so they save reader’s time. An opportunity to quickly determine the relevance of your study to their needs is essential in a world of constantly evolving scholarship and clinical care.

How should my abstract be structured?

A handy mnemonic device for structuring your abstract is IMRAD: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. Working to keep your abstract between 100-250 words within the IMRAD structure is a great exercise in distilling your research into a few descriptive, concise sentences. Think of it as the elevator pitch for your research!

  • Introduction
    • AKA: Objective/Hypothesis/Background/Aims/Context
    • ~ 10-20% of abstract
    • Opportunity to describe problem, rationale, history, and/or context of existing literature on topic
  • Methods
    • AKA: Design/Case Presentation
    • ~ 30-40% of abstract
    • Describe:
      • How study was/will be conducted
      • Participants
      • Statistical analysis (if applicable)
  • Results
    • AKA: Findings
    • ~ 30 - 40% of abstract
    • Key findings
    • Statistical analysis
    • What if I have no results yet?
      • Describe the timeframe for completion of data collection and planned statistical analysis.
  • Discussion
    • AKA: Conclusions/Interpretations
    • ~ 10% of abstract
    • Pertinent recommendations
    • Relate back to study objective/research question
    • What if I have no results to discuss yet?
      • Address the impact the study will have if the research question is answered

DO

DON’T

Make your title concise and descriptive

Include abbreviations in abstract title

Limit abbreviations and define at first use

Use personal pronouns

Results should link back to methods

Over or under-report negative findings

Conclusions should link back to objectives

Include figures, tables, or citations

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember: While IMRAD is a useful device, not every journal uses these exact headings for their abstracts. Always consult the author guidelines in your target journal when constructing your abstract and your full-text manuscript!

Recommended Reading

Nagda S. How to write a scientific abstract J Indian Prosthodont Soc. 2013;13(3): 382–383. doi:10.1007/s13191-013-0299-x.

Nakayama T, Hirai N, Yamazaki S, Naito M. Adoption of structured abstracts by general medical journals and format for a structured abstractJ Med Libr Assoc. 2005;93(2):237-242.

The Public Library of Science (PLOS). How to write an abstract. Accessed Sept 22 2021