The abstract is the most important words you can assemble to introduce, summarize, and, to some degree, “sell” your scholarly work to the readers.1–3 It is important to remember that oftentimes readers will stop after the abstract if they are not convinced your work is important to their needs. Regardless of what type of abstract you are writing, many of the same principles apply, most importantly, be clear and concise. The purpose of this editorial is to provide guidance for authors about how to write for poster, paper, and conference session presentations as well as the manuscript abstract. We timed this editorial to persuade all of our readers to consider submitting an abstract for NANN's 31st Annual Education Conference in Dallas, Texas, October 22–25, 2015. The abstracts are due November 2, 2014.
Whether you are a neonatal staff nurse, advanced practice nurse, nurse educator, or researcher, we hope you will consider developing an abstract for the annual conference. If you have an evidence-based practice project, quality improvement project, or research findings, please also consider submitting an abstract to the 2015 NANN Research Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona, from March 24-26, 2015. Abstracts for the summit will be due at the end of January 2015. Finally, we hope you take your abstract submissions from the annual conference and research summit and convert them into manuscripts for Advances in Neonatal Care (ANC). If you are a new author, our entire ANC editorial board is poised and ready to mentor you through the manuscript submission process. If you have questions about how to work with an editorial board member, please feel free to contact us via our e-mails at the end of this editorial.
WRITING THE ABSTRACT
Most “calls” for conference abstracts and journals have specific instructions for an abstract. Please follow the abstract directions carefully. In many cases, the abstract cannot be uploaded into the electronic submission system if you have not followed the instructions and even if you can upload the abstract, most reviewers are unenthusiastic with an author who does not follow directions. In other words, if you do not want your abstract rejected without adequate consideration, just follow the directions.
The abstract instructions typically include information about the content to include, the word limit, and whether a structured format is required. The content of the abstract will vary depending upon the type or focus of the scholarly work you are summarizing. Abstracts may summarize a clinical practice innovation, clinical practice challenge, case study, literature review, program evaluation, best practice implementation, or research. The word limit for abstracts can vary greatly, depending upon the conference or journal, but they are typically between 150 and 250 words.3 The format of the abstract can be structured or nonstructured. A structured format uses specifically labeled section headings to guide the author. Structured formats were developed in the late 1980s as a guide for authors, particularly in healthcare, to ensure inclusion of pertinent information.4 The use of structured formats is also thought to help with critique of the abstract by reviewers and editors as well as improve literature searches when abstracts are published as the summary of a manuscript. The content included in unstructured formats is often the same as for structured abstracts, but without the specific headings. If a format is not required and you are new to writing abstracts, the use of a structure format may make the process of writing the abstract somewhat easier.
The following is a generally accepted outline of the most important content to be included in an abstract. In a structured abstract, there are many different terms used for the same content and thus we have listed various terms that denote similar content.
- Background/Significance/Rational/Problem Statement (2–3 sentences). The background typically includes some general information about the problem or issue to be discussed. For well-known issues/problems, the background should specify how you will address the issue or why it is important to address the issue/problem at this point in time. This section answers the question: “What gap in practice or research does this manuscript or presentation fill?” The last sentence in this section is often a purpose statement for the scholarly work to be presented. For example,
- “the purpose of this study was to evaluate the implementation of a cue-based feeding protocol on the time to full oral feedings in preterm infants.”
- “the purpose of this session is to describe the nonpharmacological and pharmacological management of gastrointestinal reflux disease.
- Methods (variable). The Methods section tells “how” the work was conducted for research, best practice implementation, program evaluation, and quality improvement scholarly work. The “how” includes information about the process used and setting and population. For clinically focused abstracts, the Methods section is the most important part of the abstract. This section includes details of the clinical issue to be discussed and typical patient and family outcomes.1
- Findings/Results (variable). The new information or what you learned from your work is included in the Findings/Results section. For example, your evaluation of a new clinical innovation may find that gastrointestinal reflux disease symptoms are improved or your review of the literature may find that we have little evidence to support the use of a particular product or method to secure an oral gastric tube.
- Discussion/Conclusions/Interpretation (1–2 sentences). The last part of any abstract briefly summarizes your take-home message to the reader. Depending upon the focus of the scholarly work, the take-home message may include implications for practice, education, public policy, or further research.
Although conference abstracts are never written after the presentation is completed, most manuscript abstracts are written after the manuscript is finished. Many authors may have a preliminary draft of the abstract, especially if it was written for a previous conference presentation. Most abstracts require significant revision once the manuscript is completed. Typically authors may add to the significance of their work with the continued reflection required in writing the manuscript. Therefore, be sure to give yourself adequate time to write this important summary so that you can appropriately “sell” your work. Once you finish your abstract, it is also a good time to reexamine your manuscript title to assess whether the 2 are adequately matched.3 Finally, you are ready to submit your work.
By 2015, we hope to update our specific author instructions, including abstract guidelines for each type of manuscript submission. While we expect that all of the abstracts will be limited to 250 words, there will likely be different components requested, depending on the specific journal section the manuscript is intended to address. Keep an eye out for guideline updates on the ANC and Editorial Manger Web sites. Sharing your expertise through dissemination of your scholarly work whether at a conference or through a manuscript is not only important to advance your career, but also to give back to the nursing profession through the education of all neonatal nurses from the novice to the expert.
Debra Brandon, PhD, RN, CCNS, FAAN
Jacqueline M. McGrath, PhD, RN, FNAP, FAAN