Once again it’s time for the abstracts from the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialist (NACNS) annual conference to appear in the journal. If you are thumbing through this issue and find them missing, it’s because they are in the journal’s e-content section on the Web. The continued success of the conference means that the quantity of abstracts has outgrown the paper limits of the journal. Additionally, the quality of the abstracts has increased, a reflection of increasing clarity of the clinical nurse specialist (CNS) role and practice and greater numbers of CNSs taking responsibility for scholarly dialogue about practice outcomes. Abstracts disseminate the results of research, quality measures, practice innovations, educational programs, and other clinical initiatives. An abstract serves 3 purposes: (1) is the basis for the review committee to judge the quality and relevance of the work, (2) allows for grouping such as topics for presentation at the scientific meeting, and (3) provides consistency in the publication of the conference proceedings, which for NACNS takes place in the journal.1
Last year in the abstract issue editorial, I reflected on the importance of the abstract title—it should be brief and include key words so interested persons can easily find the work in an electronic database search. No jargon, no abbreviations, no cute phrases. In a word, scholarly. Here are some additional tips for preparing a successful abstract.
Always follow the directions posted in the call for abstracts. Stay within the word limit for the abstract and the character limit for the title. When a format is required, use the headings specified. In general, abstracts should include the purpose, significance, scientific rationale (theory, framework), methods, findings, conclusions, and implications. Within the abstract, state the purpose of the research or project, not the purpose of the presentation. When continuing education credits are being awarded for attendance at abstract presentations, the directions may ask for presentation objectives, which are separate from the purpose of the research. Presentation objectives complete the sentence: After attending this presentation attendees will be able to….
Every word counts, but don’t engage in editing while drafting. Get words on paper, then go back and edit for clarity and brevity. Consistency in terms can greatly enhance clarity. For example, use “sepsis rates” consistently in discussing bloodstream infection outcomes, and avoid alternating with phrases such as rates of infection, infection rates, patients with line infections, and so forth. All the alternatives may be correct, but choose one word or phrase and stick to it. Brevity is supported by short, consistent terms and by eliminating any unnecessary words—as in this example, where the word any is unnecessary.
Use simple word formatting—no bullet points, tables, graphics. The conference presentation format usually is not restricted, and tables, diagrams, and graphics can be incorporated into a poster or podium presentations. Most journals, including Clinical Nurse Specialist, have specific instructions for submitting graphics to ensure true reproduction. In publication production, the abstracts are handled as Word documents, and graphic formatting will not be preserved.
Avoid references in the abstract. The limited number of words does not allow for the full references to be included, and unless the work cited is a classic, the citation will not be informative. The exception may be for citing a framework or theory; for example, Lazarus and Folkman (1984) coping process framework supported the study. In this example, the full reference would not be included in the abstract.
A few words about copyright transfer. Every abstract is a summary of a work; the next step is to prepare a complete manuscript. Abstracts are cutting-edge reports of preliminary findings or a snapshot of a narrow aspect of a larger study or project. A final manuscript may report different findings and a more detailed, comprehensive description of the study. Granting copyright transfer for an abstract to a journal publisher applies to the abstract only. Any subsequent manuscripts are considered separate works, and copyright will be the concern of the manuscript publisher. Having an abstract published in one journal does not commit the author to publishing the comprehensive manuscript in that journal; however, it is likely that a journal publishing an abstract will also be a good choice for reaching the target readership for a complete manuscript. Each abstract and manuscript is a separate work, and unless the sponsors of the conference have a specific policy about manuscripts, subsequent works may appear in a different journal. Where abstracts are listed in electronic databases, be careful to give the abstract and the manuscript slightly different titles to avoid having both appear in a database as duplicative works. Abstracts are very focused summaries; keep the abstract title tightly focused.
A couple of reminders. Always spell out clinical nurse specialist in the title. In nurse-speak, we are CNSs, but to the outside world, CNS is usually interpreted to mean central nervous system. Clinical nurse specialist is a role—a unique set of functions (competencies) acquired through education and experience. The work of a CNS is called practice. Phrases such as “the impact of the CNS role on…” should be changed to read “the outcomes of CNS practice….” Forget the notion of subroles. There is 1 role, the CNS role, and clinical activities of the role are CNS practice. Making the shift to practice and outcomes language is critical to making the CNS visible and valuable in an outcome-focused healthcare system.
Kudos to everyone who submitted an abstract for this year’s conference and congratulations to those whose abstracts were accepted for presentation. Anyone interested in new ideas and innovations for improved outcomes, check out the NACNS abstracts!