Magnum Proofreading Services
- Jake Magnum
- Feb 19, 2021
How to Write an Abstract Before You Have Obtained Your Results
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
When you need to produce an abstract for research that has not yet been carried out, you should write what is known as a descriptive abstract . In this type of abstract, you explain the background, purpose, and focus of your paper but not the results or conclusion.
Obviously, it is preferable to write the abstract for your research after you have obtained your results. While you might be under pressure to submit an abstract months before your research has been completed, it is still best to postpone writing your abstract until you have your results if this is at all possible. The advice given in this article is intended for authors who have no choice but to submit an abstract before they have their results.
Guidelines and Tips for Writing an Abstract without Results
When you need to write an abstract but haven’t yet gathered your results, you can write a descriptive abstract . While these are typically used for papers written in the humanities and social sciences, you may adapt them to a scientific work if you have no other option — for example, if you need to submit an abstract eight months before your research is scheduled to be completed.
A typical descriptive abstract accomplishes three things — namely, it (1) provides background information about your study topic, (2) expresses the purpose of your study, and (3) explains what you will do to accomplish your study’s purpose. Descriptive abstracts do not usually make any mention of a study’s results. However, if a description of the results is a general requirement for your abstract, you can briefly state that you intend to express your results at a later time (after you have gathered your data).
This article will guide you through writing all three parts of a descriptive abstract for a scientific paper. Afterward, examples of full abstracts written in this style are provided.
1. Background: Give general information about your topic.
The background section of a descriptive abstract is longer than that of an informative abstract (which is the abstract style used in most scientific works). The background information provided in an informative abstract is often restricted to two sentences, one mentioning the study topic and the other introducing the general problem to be addressed. A further discussion of these kinds of abstracts can be found here . In a descriptive abstract, you can use two sentences for each of these purposes, which allows you to give more detailed background information.
The background section of an informative abstract might read as follows:
Body dissatisfaction has adverse effects on women of all ages. However, research suggests that women can apply self-compassion to reduce body dissatisfaction and create a positive body image instead. This paper aims to…
In this example, the author very quickly lets the reader know the overall topic of their paper (body dissatisfaction among women) and what avenue of this topic they will explore. They then immediately transition into discussing the purpose of their paper.
If the author had written a descriptive abstract instead, the background section might look like this:
Body dissatisfaction has adverse effects on women of all ages. It has been linked to low self-esteem, depression, social anxiety, and eating disorders. These problems can be made worse when a woman criticizes herself because of her body. Conversely, practicing self-compassion, which entails being warm towards oneself when recognizing one’s failures or inadequacies, can reduce body dissatisfaction and help to create a positive body image. This paper aims to…
In this second example, the author uses an extra sentence to list some of the specific adverse effects of body dissatisfaction. The author also defines the key term of “self-compassion” to give non-experts of the subject a better understanding of the topic.
2. Purpose: Describe the general problem that your research aims to explore.
This part of a descriptive abstract is typically made up of a single sentence. Here, you should describe your purpose for conducting your research work. This sentence should be more specific than the preceding sentences, as it should describe the specific constructs that the study will investigate. Unlike the other parts of a descriptive abstract, the sentence describing the study’s purpose should be the same as it would appear if you were writing an informative abstract.
This paper aims to explore sources of positive and negative body image by investigating whether the association between self-esteem and body image avoidance behaviors is mediated by self-compassion and appearance contingent self-worth.
This example was taken from an informative abstract but could just as well be included in a descriptive abstract.
3. Focus: Explain what you intend to do to solve the problem.
Normally, you would now describe what you did to accomplish your research goal. However, if you have not yet carried out your research, you have nothing to report. As such, you should instead explain what you intend to do to accomplish your goal. It is best to be specific regarding what tools you will use and what parameters you will measure.
In an informative abstract, the author could express the focus of their research as follows:
Using a multiple mediation model, we assessed the responses of 222 female participants who completed the Body Image Avoidance Questionnaire.
Here, the author quickly explains who the participants were, what the researchers measured, and what tool they used.
If you are writing a descriptive abstract because you do not yet have your results, then this part of your abstract will be different in two ways. First, you will have to leave out information that you do not have (e.g., the number of participants). Second, you cannot write this sentence in the past tense since you haven’t done anything yet. If the example sentence above were part of a descriptive abstract, it might read as follows:
We will employ a multiple mediation model to assess the responses given by a group of females to the Body Image Avoidance Questionnaire.
Here, the author has not included the number of participants, and they have stated what they will do rather than what they have done.
Do not in any way express what you expect or hope to find.
If you were writing an informative abstract, the next step would be to describe your results. If you are writing a descriptive abstract instead, you might be tempted to describe what you expect or hope to find. However, this should be avoided, as it reflects a lack of scientific integrity and will be perceived as misleading if you do not obtain the expected results.
On this note, you must be very careful about how you express the purpose of your study. To clarify this, I will revisit a previous example.
The use of the word “whether” is crucial in this sentence, as it expresses doubt. That is, it indicates that you don’t know what you will find. Therefore, no matter what results you obtain, this sentence cannot be considered misleading.
The following example includes a subtle change in wording, but it changes the implied meaning of the sentence:
This paper aims to explore sources of positive and negative body image by showing that the association between self-esteem and body image avoidance behaviors is mediated by self-compassion and appearance contingent self-worth.
“Investigating whether” has been changed to “showing that.” Because of this change, the author is now claiming that they will obtain a certain result (i.e., that self-compassion and appearance contingent self-worth mediate the relationship in question). This statement will be considered misleading if either variable does not turn out to be a mediating factor.
Examples of Abstracts without Results
I will begin with an abstract from the field of English literature, where descriptive abstracts are common. Afterward, I will provide a second example that shows how you can adapt this style to an abstract written in a scientific field.
(1) Revolutions are considered as a way to replace a situation or system of government with a better one. (2) However, many writers have addressed the question of whether revolution really is the right way to improve people’s lives or if it merely changes the faces of rulers or the names of governments. (3) George Orwell, who was considered an apolitical writer, is one of the writers who tackled this issue. (4) His novella Animal Farm is an allegorical story of some animals living on a farm who successfully revolt against their owner, only to create a dystopia in the end. (5) This paper aims to explore the nature of revolution throughout human history in general and how this phenomenon is treated by Orwell in his novella. (6) Specifically, we intend to use examples from Animal Farm to investigate whether we should consider revolution as an appropriate way to generate a true change in a political system and in the way people think.
The above abstract is a modified version of the abstract from “The Nature of Revolution on Animal Farm.” It contains the three main parts that have been described in this article:
First, Sentences (1)-(4) provide background information for the present study. In sentence (1), the author makes a very broad statement about a widespread topic (i.e., revolutions). Sentence (2) describes the general problem that the paper addresses. The author then gets more specific in Sentences (3) and (4), mentioning a specific writer and a specific novella.
Second, the author states their purpose for writing the paper in Sentence (5), indicated by the introductory phrase “this paper aims to.” Notice that the purpose stated in this sentence is quite general, though it is more specific than the problem described in Sentence (2).
Third, in Sentence (6), the author explains what particular question they intend to answer (i.e., “Should we consider revolution as an appropriate way to generate a true change in a political system?”), and they mention what tools they will use to do this (i.e., examples from Animal Farm ).
(1) The physical self has been considered one of the most important factors impacting global self-esteem. (2) Moreover, the physical self has recently become widely accepted as a multidimensional construct that contains several specific perceptions across various domains. (3) However, limited research has examined the physical self of athletes with physical disabilities, especially in Middle-Eastern countries. (4) Therefore, the purpose of this study is to explore the physical self-esteem and global self-esteem of wheelchair basketball players from Middle-Eastern countries. (5) Using the Physical Self-Description Questionnaire (PSDQ) as a measurement tool, this study aims to determine (i) whether there is a correlation between physical self-esteem and global self-esteem and (ii) which of the nine domains of the PSDQ (Health, Coordination, Activity, Body Fat, Sport Competence, Appearance, Strength, Flexibility, and Endurance) are correlated with physical self-esteem.
The above abstract is a modified version of the abstract of the article entitled “Physical self-esteem of wheelchair basketball players.” It has the same three main parts as the first example:
First, Sentences (1)-(3) are devoted to providing the background of the study. Specifically, Sentences (1) and (2) describe the general topic that will be investigated, while Sentence (3) states the general problem that the author intends to explore.
Second, in Sentence (4), the author states the overall purpose of their study by explaining what aspect of the issue mentioned in Sentence (3) they will be tackling.
Third, Sentence (5) describes the specific questions that the study will address (i.e., “Is there a correlation between physical self-esteem and global self-esteem, and which of the nine domains of the PSDQ are correlated with physical self-esteem?”). It also lets the reader know what kind of data will be used to answer these questions (i.e., PDSQ scores). Notice that the authors do not state that they expect to find any correlations.
- How to Write an Abstract
How to Write a Research Paper in English: A Guide for Non-native Speakers
How to Write an Abstract Quickly
Using the Present Tense and Past Tense When Writing an Abstract
- Open access
- Published: 08 November 2021
Frequency and characteristics of promissory conference abstracts, i.e. abstracts without results, accepted at Cochrane Colloquia 1994-2020
- Darko Novak ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-5607-2351 1 &
- Livia Puljak ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-8467-6061 1
BMC Medical Research Methodology volume 21 , Article number: 243 ( 2021 ) Cite this article
The purpose of a conference abstract is to summarize the main points of a research-related report that will be presented at an academic conference. However, some conferences accept and publish abstracts without results, which is contrary to the basic idea of a conference abstract as a dissemination tool. A conference abstract without results included is called a “promissory abstract”. This study aimed to analyze the frequency and characteristics of promissory conference abstracts, i.e. abstracts submitted without results, accepted at Cochrane Colloquia.
We analyzed 8297 conference abstracts accepted at 25 Cochrane Colloquia, organized in 1994–2020, which were publicly available on the website of the Cochrane Library. Two authors screened abstracts to identify promissory abstracts. We extracted characteristics of promissory abstracts.
Among abstracts accepted for Cochrane Colloquia, 8.7% were promissory; 475 (66%) were accepted as poster presentations, 241 (34%) as oral presentations and 1 as a workshop. The median number of authors in promissory abstracts was 4 (interquartile range: 3 to 6 authors). In 245 (34%) promissory abstracts, affiliations of authors were not reported. The authors were most commonly affiliated with the following countries: UK (472; 36%), Canada ( N = 123; 26%), China ( N = 76; 16%), United States ( N = 66; 14%) and Australia ( N = 53; 11%). There were 512 (71%) promissory abstracts in which study design was not reported.
Promissory abstracts were commonly accepted at Cochrane Colloquia. Such abstracts deserve further attention, as they are detrimental in terms of the dissemination of new knowledge presented at a conference. Conference organizers could ask authors to update the abstract results subsequently to enable the dissemination of information presented at a conference.
Peer Review reports
Research conferences are attended by individuals sharing a common interest, wishing to learn something new from their peers and to share their results. Sharing of knowledge and ideas is usually the main purpose of research conferences [ 1 ].
Conference abstracts are important tools in sharing knowledge and ideas, as they are usually written long before the conference date and submitted in hopes that scientific committees will choose them for a conference presentation. Conference guidelines determine the format of a conference abstract, but generally, researchers are expected to provide a brief background to their research topic, study aim, methods, main results and conclusions. Depending on the conference, it may be acceptable to submit a conference abstract for preliminary results or even for work that is not finished, but it is expected to be completed by the time the conference takes place [ 1 ].
A conference abstract without results included is called a “promissory abstract”. This “promissory abstract” concept can be found in instructions for authors of conferences that accept promissory abstracts (an example: [ 2 ]). Additionally, it is mentioned occasionally in instructions on writing research abstracts [ 3 ].
A Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word “promissory” as “ containing or conveying a promise or assurance ” [ 4 ]. A significant problem with promissory abstracts is that such abstracts will be included in an abstract book, and then audiences that did not have a chance to attend that specific conference oral or poster presentation will be deprived of the main study results presenter will show at the conference. This has important implications for disseminating research findings, as conference abstracts may be relevant first sources of new research information. Thus, the promissory abstracts may be contrary to the idea of conference abstracts being used as a scientific dissemination tool.
Cochrane is an international network of individuals committed to producing and disseminating high-quality systematic reviews regarding health care. Cochrane also plays a key global role in developing new methods in evidence synthesis [ 5 ]. The Cochrane methodology is considered the gold standard and is frequently used as a model in the research field of evidence synthesis and research methodology. Thus, it is important to assess research practices within Cochrane.
This study aimed to analyze the frequency and characteristics of promissory conference abstracts, i.e. abstracts submitted without results, accepted at 25 Cochrane Colloquia in the period 1994–2020.
This was a cross-sectional analysis of a sample of conference abstracts.
We retrieved all abstracts from Cochrane Colloquia that were available before the year 2021. We analyzed 8297 conference abstracts accepted at 25 Cochrane Colloquia, organized in the period 1994–2020, which were publicly available on the website of the Cochrane Library, in the section titled “Abstracts of oral and poster presentations, and workshops (from most past Colloquia)” [ 6 ].
We created a list of all analyzed Cochrane Colloquium conference abstracts and screened each abstract to determine whether the abstract was promissory, i.e. without any results reported. We also considered promissory abstracts that described studies based on literature searches (i.e. systematic reviews, methodological studies analyzing literature) that reported only search results and no results regarding the study objectives.
Abstracts reporting minimal results or results of preliminary/interim analyses were not considered promissory. We also did not consider as promissory abstracts reporting descriptive commentaries/perspectives without research study methods reported. If the abstracts were designated as oral presentations or workshops, we carefully screened them to analyze whether they presented the results of original studies.
We excluded abstracts for which text was completely missing (only title and authors were provided), and abstracts for which part of the text was missing. In addition, we provided web references of such cases for transparency. We also excluded duplicate abstracts.
One author screened all abstracts, while the second author randomly screened 10% of all abstracts and, in addition, all abstracts that were categorized as promissory or unclear by the first author.
We extracted the following data from promissory abstracts: conference city, conference year, title, type of presentation (i.e., oral, poster, etc.), number of authors, number of unique countries in affiliations, affiliation countries using the “whole count” method in which each country got one mention when it appears in the affiliation of an author even if it was used multiple times for multiple authors, and self-reported study design.
We used descriptive statistics. We presented data as frequencies and percentages. The number of authors was expressed as the median and interquartile range (IQR). For data analysis, we used Microsoft Excel (Microsoft Corp., Redmond, WA, USA).
We analyzed 8297 abstracts submitted to 25 Cochrane Colloquia from 1994 to 2020. The list of Colloquia, and the number of abstracts presented at each is presented in Table 1 . Two abstracts were written in the French language [ 7 , 8 ], and the rest were in English.
Among the 8297 abstracts available on the Cochrane Library, we excluded 89 abstracts because they were duplicates ( N = 43) or not evaluable ( N = 46). The abstracts were not evaluable either because the abstract text was completely missing (4 cases) or part of the abstract was missing, so the abstract was not evaluable (42 cases). The list of excluded abstracts, with reasons, is provided in Supplementary file 1 .
The remaining 8208 abstracts were analyzed. A flow chart of abstracts’ inclusion is presented in Fig. 1 .
Study flow chart depicting the process of selecting promissory abstracts
Among the analyzed abstracts, there were 717 (8.7%) promissory abstracts. The percentage of promissory abstracts among the abstracts presented at Colloquia over the years ranged from 2.1 to 16.5% (Table 1 , Fig. 2 ). The trendline indicates that overall the number of promissory abstracts is decreasing over time (Fig. 2 ; red line).
Percent of promissory abstracts in Cochrane Colloquia in 1994–2002 and the trendline (red line)
Among 717 promissory abstracts, 475 (66%) were accepted as poster presentations, 241 (34%) as oral presentations, and 1 as a workshop. The abstract that described this future workshop indicated that results associated with the topic would be presented at the conference.
The median number of authors in promissory abstracts was 4 (IQR: 3 to 6 authors). The number of authors ranged from 1 to 26.
In 245 (34%) promissory abstracts, affiliations of authors were not reported. In the remaining 472 promissory abstracts, authors were affiliated with a total of 56 different countries. The authors were most commonly affiliated with the following countries: UK (169; 35.8%), Canada ( N = 123; 26%), China ( N = 76; 16.1%), United States ( N = 66; 14%) and Australia ( N = 53; 11.2%). A table with all affiliations is in Supplementary file 2 .
There were 512 (71%) promissory abstracts in which study design was not reported. In the remaining 205 promissory abstracts, the authors used 75 different descriptors for their study designs. The most common self-reported study designs of promissory abstracts were systematic review ( N = 58; 28.3%), scoping review (N = 12; 5.9%), cross-sectional study ( N = 11; 5.4%), case study ( N = 9; 4.4%), meta-analysis (N = 9; 4.4% and randomized controlled trial ( N = 7; 3.4%). A table with all study designs is in Supplementary file 3 .
Among the 58 studies self-described as systematic reviews, some were explicitly described as Cochrane reviews. An example is an abstract titled „A Cochrane Collaboration systematic review of melanoma incidence in randomized controlled trials of lipid-lowering agents“. While some of the systematic reviews were devoted to clinical questions, others addressed methodological aspects, for example „How to search practice guidelines efficiently: systematic review“. Details of these abstracts, together with all raw data collected within the study, are provided in Supplementary file 4 .
Among the analyzed Cochrane Colloquia abstracts, 8.7% were promissory, i.e. without results. The trend indicates that the number of promissory abstracts is generally decreasing over the years in the analyzed 25 conferences. We could not find other reports in the literature analyzing the frequency and characteristics of promissory conference abstracts.
Results of many types of scientific studies are presented at professional meetings, and their summary is available in conference abstracts. The value of abstracts, both those from conferences and abstracts from scholarly publications, is well recognized. Conference abstracts are often the first report about a study, and journal abstracts may be the only information accessible to readers due to paywalls. There are multiple reporting guidelines for abstracts that can help authors of abstracts and help readers access transparent information about the studies. In 2008, CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials) for Abstracts that report randomized controlled trials [ 9 ] was published. PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) for Abstracts, which was originally published in 2013 to foster transparent reporting of systematic review abstracts [ 10 ], was updated in 2020 [ 11 ]. It has been shown that uptake of these reporting guidelines may not have been optimal [ 12 , 13 , 14 ], but this will hopefully improve.
Multiple studies have shown that data reported in conference abstracts may not be reported in full-text scholarly articles many years after the conferences [ 15 , 16 , 17 ], and thus conference abstracts may be the only public record about a study being conducted. In the absence of full research reports, the abstracts may also be used in systematic reviews, as a source of information about eligible studies. Although conference abstracts are associated with particular issues, such as preferential publication of positive results, i.e. publication bias, systematic reviewers are urged to at least consider the availability of evidence informing the review [ 18 ].
However, the concept of promissory abstracts, i.e. abstracts only promising to deliver some results by the time the conference is organized, is not beneficial for researchers who are looking forward to reading results in the abstract books. The authors of the promissory abstract may indeed prepare results to be presented at a poster, oral talk or a workshop during the conference. However, none of the results will be included in the abstract book, as these books are prepared based on the abstracts that were submitted before the conference.
Our finding that promissory abstracts are very prevalent could prompt changes in the way abstract books are prepared. For example, organizers of all conferences that allow submission of promissory abstracts should request the authors to deliver the updated abstracts, with results, by the specific date. In this way, the abstract books would not include the “promissory” version of the abstract but the version with results instead. Some conferences indeed expect this from the authors of promissory abstracts. For example, The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) provided the following instructions for authors submitting abstracts to the STS 2022 Annual Meeting: “ If you are involved in Phase I, II, or III clinical trials for which no preliminary data will be available by the August 3 deadline, you can submit a promissory abstract (data must be available by December 13, 2021) .” [ 19 ].
Our study also points to some areas for improvement of Cochrane Colloquium abstracts. Firstly, we found several abstracts published in the French language. Both of these abstracts were accepted for a Cochrane Colloquium organized in Quebec City, Canada. With the full appreciation that Canada’s two official languages are English and French, publishing all Cochrane abstracts in the English language would be preferable for wider reach. Furthermore, for some Cochrane Colloquium abstracts, the text was completely missing, and for some abstracts part of the text was completely missing. A number of abstracts were duplicate, with different web links pointing to clearly duplicate abstracts. These findings can help curators of Cochrane Colloquium abstracts in cleaning their online files.
Future studies could analyze whether the authors indeed present their data from the promissory abstract at a conference, and whether there is any difference in the publication rate between the promissory and non-promissory conference abstracts. Also, it would be interesting to analyze the frequency and characteristics of promissory abstracts in non-Cochrane conferences. However, the problem with planning such studies is that conference abstracts are often not available to the public.
To our best knowledge, this is the first study on the frequency and characteristics of promissory abstracts at a series of major conferences. Our findings may help conference organizers to consider the potentially detrimental effect of promissory abstracts in the dissemination of knowledge from conferences. We also hope that our study may help Cochrane in improving the content and presentation of Cochrane Colloquia abstracts.
In this study, we relied on our subjective assessment when categorizing the abstracts as promissory or not. However, for transparency of our judgments, we have reported all our categorizations and verbatim extracts for the abstracts categorized as promissory in a supplementary file. Thus, readers can easily scrutinize our categorization.
Additionally, it would be worthwhile to analyze also submitted abstracts to see how many submitted promissory abstracts (if any) were rejected. However, this was not possible because information obtained from Cochrane in May 2020 indicated that the organization does not maintain a record of rejected abstracts from past events or details about reviewer scores.
Some of the abstracts in our sample could not be analyzed. In addition, many of the issues were specific for certain Cochrane Colloquia only. For example, cases of abstracts with partial text missing belonged to the years 2017 and 2018. Abstracts whose text was completely missing were from the years 1999, 2017 and 2020. Duplicate abstracts were observed only at conferences from 1997 and 2013. It could be concluded, thus, that these errors are not systemic but limited to certain conferences.
Of note, the present study only analyzed the abstracts presented at Cochrane Colloquia. Thus, the results may not be generalizable to abstracts from other conferences.
Promissory abstracts were commonly accepted at the Cochrane Colloquia. Such abstracts deserve further attention, as their abstracts are not informative to the readers, and they are detrimental in terms of disseminating new knowledge presented at a conference. Conference organizers could ask the authors to update the abstract results subsequently to enable the dissemination of information presented at a conference.
Availability of data and materials
Raw data generated in this study are available in the Supplementary file 4 .
Gray B. Developing and writing a conference abstract. Int J Orthop Trauma Nurs. 2020;36:100721.
Article Google Scholar
Abstract, Surgical Video, and Late-Breaking Promissory Abstract Submission Instructions and Policies. Instructions for authors. STS 58th Annual Meeting to be held in Miami Beach, Florida, January 29–31, 2022. Available at: https://www.sts.org/sites/default/files/STS58thAnnualMeeting_Abstract_InstructionsPolicies_Final_rev.pdf .
Hairston MC. Abstracts. University of Minnesota Duluth. Available at: https://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/troufs/comp3160/Hairston.abstracts.html#writing_promissory .
Merriam-Webster. Word: promissory. Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/promissory
Cochrane. About us. Available at: https://www.cochrane.org/about-us .
The Cochrane Library. Abstracts and multimedia from past Colloquia. Available at: https://community.cochrane.org/news/events/colloquium/past-colloquia
Druetz T, Ridde V, Haddad S: La généralisation des résultats de méta-analyses dans les recommandations formulé es par les organisations internationales. Presented at the Cochrane Colloquium 2013 Québec City. Available at: https://abstracts.cochrane.org/2013-qu%C3%A9bec-city/la-g%C3%A9n%C3%A9ralisation-des-r%C3%A9sultats-de-m%C3%A9ta-analyses-dans-les-recommandations-formul%C3%A9 . In.; 2013.
Ziam S, L. B, G. C, Lauzier A: L’évaluation des outils d’aide à la pratique médicale de 1ère ligne : la perspective du transfert de connaissances. Presented at the Cochrane Colloquium 2013 Quebec City. Available at: https://abstracts.cochrane.org/2013-qu%C3%A9bec-city/l%E2%80%99%C3%A9valuation-des-outils-d%E2%80%99aide-%C3%A0-la-pratique-m%C3%A9dicale-de-1%C3%A8re-ligne-la-perspective . In.; 2013.
Hopewell S, Clarke M, Moher D, Wager E, Middleton P, Altman DG, et al. CONSORT for reporting randomised trials in journal and conference abstracts. Lancet. 2008;371(9609):281–3.
Beller EM, Glasziou PP, Altman DG, Hopewell S, Bastian H, Chalmers I, et al. Group PfA: PRISMA for abstracts: reporting systematic reviews in journal and conference abstracts. PLoS Med. 2013;10(4):e1001419.
Page MJ, McKenzie JE, Bossuyt PM, Boutron I, Hoffmann TC, Mulrow CD, et al. The PRISMA 2020 statement: an updated guideline for reporting systematic reviews. BMJ. 2021;372:n71.
Saric L, Dosenovic S, Mihanovic J, Puljak L. Biomedical conferences' author instructions rarely mention guidelines for reporting abstracts of trials and systematic reviews. J Comp Eff Res. 2020;9(2):83–91.
Janackovic K, Puljak L. Reporting quality of randomized controlled trial abstracts in the seven highest-ranking anesthesiology journals. Trials. 2018;19(1):591.
Maticic K, Krnic Martinic M, Puljak L. Assessment of reporting quality of abstracts of systematic reviews with meta-analysis using PRISMA-A and discordance in assessments between raters without prior experience. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2019;19(1):32.
Puljak L, Saric L. Should we trust abstracts from pain conferences? Publication bias and discordance between abstract and publication. Pain Manag. 2020;10(1):5–7.
Saric L, Dosenovic S, Saldanha IJ, Jelicic Kadic A, Puljak L. Conference abstracts describing systematic reviews on pain were selectively published, not reliable, and poorly reported. J Clin Epidemiol. 2020;117:1–8.
Saric L, Vucic K, Dragicevic K, Vrdoljak M, Jakus D, Vuka I, et al. Comparison of conference abstracts and full-text publications of randomized controlled trials presented at four consecutive world congresses of pain: reporting quality and agreement of results. Eur J Pain. 2019;23(1):107–16.
Article CAS Google Scholar
Scherer RW, Saldanha IJ: How should systematic reviewers handle conference abstracts? A view from the trenches. Syst Rev-London 2019, 8(1).
STS: Abstract Submission. Instructions for authors. STS 2022 Annual Meeting. Available at: https://www.sts.org/meetings/sts-annual-meeting/abstract-submission .
This study is based on the research conducted within the Master of Nursing thesis of Darko Novak, which was mentored by Livia Puljak. The thesis was written and defended in Croatian language at the Catholic University of Croatia on September 30, 2021.
No extramural funding.
Authors and affiliations.
Center for Evidence-Based Medicine and Health Care, Catholic University of Croatia, Ilica 242, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia
Darko Novak & Livia Puljak
You can also search for this author in PubMed Google Scholar
Study design: LP. Data collection and analysis: DN, LP. Writing the first draft of the manuscript: DN, LP. Critical revision of the manuscript: DN, LP. Approval of the final version of the manuscript: DN, LP.
Correspondence to Livia Puljak .
Ethics approval and consent to participate.
Not applicable because the study analyzed publicly available content – abstracts from Cochrane Colloquia.
Consent for publication
Livia Puljak is a volunteer member of Cochrane Croatia; this manuscript has analyzed abstracts from Cochrane Colloquia, but this study was not an official Cochrane project.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Additional file 1:..
List of excluded abstracts, with reasons
Additional file 2:.
Countries of author affiliations
Additional file 3:.
Self-reported study designs in promissory abstracts
Additional file 4:.
Raw data collected and analyzed within the study (available at Open Science Framework: https://osf.io/hwsa6/ ).
Rights and permissions
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ . The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/ ) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
Reprints and Permissions
About this article
Cite this article.
Novak, D., Puljak, L. Frequency and characteristics of promissory conference abstracts, i.e. abstracts without results, accepted at Cochrane Colloquia 1994-2020. BMC Med Res Methodol 21 , 243 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12874-021-01442-3
Received : 28 September 2021
Accepted : 21 October 2021
Published : 08 November 2021
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1186/s12874-021-01442-3
Share this article
Anyone you share the following link with will be able to read this content:
Sorry, a shareable link is not currently available for this article.
Provided by the Springer Nature SharedIt content-sharing initiative
- Promissory abstracts
- Research conference
- Knowledge dissemination
BMC Medical Research Methodology
Writing an abstract before finishing the research
- November 21, 2013
Recently, I received this mail from a reader:
I’m an early-stage PhD student in humanities, and my question is whether or not it is advisable to write an abstract for a conference before doing much of the research or any of the writing. I did this quite successfully for a graduate student conference, but I’m a bit more apprehensive about doing the same for my first professional conference.
Here’s what Auntie Eva has to say on this topic:
I’d say – as goes with so many questions – “It depends”.
IMO it depends on a few things:
1. Time schedule
There’s a good number of conferences that require you to submit an abstract 2 years before the actual conference. For that situation, you have plenty of time between submitting the abstract and the due date of the paper – so you can plan to do your research in those months.
2. Contents of the abstract
How much of a grasp of the research do you have to make a conclusion to your abstract? Your concluding sentence does not need to be something like “it was found that property Y depends for X% on parameter Z”, but you need to tell them if you are going to come up with recommendations, parallels – you need to point in the direction of what will be the result of the research already. So, if you have a schedule and know what you’ll be digging into, you can have an idea of what TYPE of results you can promise in the abstract (the precise quantity can come later). Note that I write this from an engineering point of view – it might slightly differ in the humanities, although the general setup of abstracts and papers is the same along disciplines.
Do you have everything in your hands to get started on the research, or do you still need to sharpen your pencil and collect materials to make up your mind about where you will be going with this research? This question ties back to the time schedule part again as well.
With that said, I wrote my first abstract (for a conference for PhD students only, though) when I was less than 2 months in Delft, and the paper within 4 months of starting. It was all very preliminary, but it was a good lesson. By all means, conferences are one of the best places to learn , so if you have the chance, go to as many places as you can!
Happy Holidays, dear readers!I hope you all can take some…
The Shires and the Thoroughbreds of Academia
Flickr Image under CC by audi_insperationFor the holidays, I hope…
The A-Z of the PhD Trajectory
Dear readers,I've published a new book "The A-Z of the…
I would urge caution here. Submitting an abstract containing claims or conclusions from research yet to be undertaken is a bad habit to get into and in some cases may be research misconduct.Remember the conference abstracts are often published so the claims you make are in the public domain and up for scrutiny!
Yes, although the chance of going to a conference early on in your doctorate can be absolutely enriching (and getting early feedback from outside of your institution)
… and I must add, thanks a lot for your thoughtful comment!
Leave a Reply Cancel reply
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.
- previous post: Project #tweetprop: Shear capacity at the continuous support
- next post: Preparing for life after the PhD: re-train your brain
- Research and Publications
- Guest Posts
Free Templates for your Research
Sign up here to get access to worksheets for your research that help you have more efficient meetings, reflect on your work, and plan your month. Suitable for anyone from Master’s thesis students to full professors!
An official website of the United States government
The .gov means it’s official. Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.
The site is secure. The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.
- Account settings
- Advanced Search
- Journal List
- Indian J Psychiatry
- v.53(2); Apr-Jun 2011
How to write a good abstract for a scientific paper or conference presentation
Department of Psychopharmacology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore, Karnataka, India
Abstracts of scientific papers are sometimes poorly written, often lack important information, and occasionally convey a biased picture. This paper provides detailed suggestions, with examples, for writing the background, methods, results, and conclusions sections of a good abstract. The primary target of this paper is the young researcher; however, authors with all levels of experience may find useful ideas in the paper.
This paper is the third in a series on manuscript writing skills, published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry . Earlier articles offered suggestions on how to write a good case report,[ 1 ] and how to read, write, or review a paper on randomized controlled trials.[ 2 , 3 ] The present paper examines how authors may write a good abstract when preparing their manuscript for a scientific journal or conference presentation. Although the primary target of this paper is the young researcher, it is likely that authors with all levels of experience will find at least a few ideas that may be useful in their future efforts.
The abstract of a paper is the only part of the paper that is published in conference proceedings. The abstract is the only part of the paper that a potential referee sees when he is invited by an editor to review a manuscript. The abstract is the only part of the paper that readers see when they search through electronic databases such as PubMed. Finally, most readers will acknowledge, with a chuckle, that when they leaf through the hard copy of a journal, they look at only the titles of the contained papers. If a title interests them, they glance through the abstract of that paper. Only a dedicated reader will peruse the contents of the paper, and then, most often only the introduction and discussion sections. Only a reader with a very specific interest in the subject of the paper, and a need to understand it thoroughly, will read the entire paper.
Thus, for the vast majority of readers, the paper does not exist beyond its abstract. For the referees, and the few readers who wish to read beyond the abstract, the abstract sets the tone for the rest of the paper. It is therefore the duty of the author to ensure that the abstract is properly representative of the entire paper. For this, the abstract must have some general qualities. These are listed in Table 1 .
General qualities of a good abstract
SECTIONS OF AN ABSTRACT
Although some journals still publish abstracts that are written as free-flowing paragraphs, most journals require abstracts to conform to a formal structure within a word count of, usually, 200–250 words. The usual sections defined in a structured abstract are the Background, Methods, Results, and Conclusions; other headings with similar meanings may be used (eg, Introduction in place of Background or Findings in place of Results). Some journals include additional sections, such as Objectives (between Background and Methods) and Limitations (at the end of the abstract). In the rest of this paper, issues related to the contents of each section will be examined in turn.
This section should be the shortest part of the abstract and should very briefly outline the following information:
- What is already known about the subject, related to the paper in question
- What is not known about the subject and hence what the study intended to examine (or what the paper seeks to present)
In most cases, the background can be framed in just 2–3 sentences, with each sentence describing a different aspect of the information referred to above; sometimes, even a single sentence may suffice. The purpose of the background, as the word itself indicates, is to provide the reader with a background to the study, and hence to smoothly lead into a description of the methods employed in the investigation.
Some authors publish papers the abstracts of which contain a lengthy background section. There are some situations, perhaps, where this may be justified. In most cases, however, a longer background section means that less space remains for the presentation of the results. This is unfortunate because the reader is interested in the paper because of its findings, and not because of its background.
A wide variety of acceptably composed backgrounds is provided in Table 2 ; most of these have been adapted from actual papers.[ 4 – 9 ] Readers may wish to compare the content in Table 2 with the original abstracts to see how the adaptations possibly improve on the originals. Note that, in the interest of brevity, unnecessary content is avoided. For instance, in Example 1 there is no need to state “The antidepressant efficacy of desvenlafaxine (DV), a dual-acting antidepressant drug , has been established…” (the unnecessary content is italicized).
Examples of the background section of an abstract
The methods section is usually the second-longest section in the abstract. It should contain enough information to enable the reader to understand what was done, and how. Table 3 lists important questions to which the methods section should provide brief answers.
Questions regarding which information should ideally be available in the methods section of an abstract
Carelessly written methods sections lack information about important issues such as sample size, numbers of patients in different groups, doses of medications, and duration of the study. Readers have only to flip through the pages of a randomly selected journal to realize how common such carelessness is.
Table 4 presents examples of the contents of accept-ably written methods sections, modified from actual publications.[ 10 , 11 ] Readers are invited to take special note of the first sentence of each example in Table 4 ; each is packed with detail, illustrating how to convey the maximum quantity of information with maximum economy of word count.
Examples of the methods section of an abstract
The results section is the most important part of the abstract and nothing should compromise its range and quality. This is because readers who peruse an abstract do so to learn about the findings of the study. The results section should therefore be the longest part of the abstract and should contain as much detail about the findings as the journal word count permits. For example, it is bad writing to state “Response rates differed significantly between diabetic and nondiabetic patients.” A better sentence is “The response rate was higher in nondiabetic than in diabetic patients (49% vs 30%, respectively; P <0.01).”
Important information that the results should present is indicated in Table 5 . Examples of acceptably written abstracts are presented in Table 6 ; one of these has been modified from an actual publication.[ 11 ] Note that the first example is rather narrative in style, whereas the second example is packed with data.
Information that the results section of the abstract should ideally present
Examples of the results section of an abstract
This section should contain the most important take-home message of the study, expressed in a few precisely worded sentences. Usually, the finding highlighted here relates to the primary outcome measure; however, other important or unexpected findings should also be mentioned. It is also customary, but not essential, for the authors to express an opinion about the theoretical or practical implications of the findings, or the importance of their findings for the field. Thus, the conclusions may contain three elements:
- The primary take-home message
- The additional findings of importance
- The perspective
Despite its necessary brevity, this section has the most impact on the average reader because readers generally trust authors and take their assertions at face value. For this reason, the conclusions should also be scrupulously honest; and authors should not claim more than their data demonstrate. Hypothetical examples of the conclusions section of an abstract are presented in Table 7 .
Examples of the conclusions section of an abstract
Citation of references anywhere within an abstract is almost invariably inappropriate. Other examples of unnecessary content in an abstract are listed in Table 8 .
Examples of unnecessary content in a abstract
It goes without saying that whatever is present in the abstract must also be present in the text. Likewise, whatever errors should not be made in the text should not appear in the abstract (eg, mistaking association for causality).
As already mentioned, the abstract is the only part of the paper that the vast majority of readers see. Therefore, it is critically important for authors to ensure that their enthusiasm or bias does not deceive the reader; unjustified speculations could be even more harmful. Misleading readers could harm the cause of science and have an adverse impact on patient care.[ 12 ] A recent study,[ 13 ] for example, concluded that venlafaxine use during the second trimester of pregnancy may increase the risk of neonates born small for gestational age. However, nowhere in the abstract did the authors mention that these conclusions were based on just 5 cases and 12 controls out of the total sample of 126 cases and 806 controls. There were several other serious limitations that rendered the authors’ conclusions tentative, at best; yet, nowhere in the abstract were these other limitations expressed.
As a parting note: Most journals provide clear instructions to authors on the formatting and contents of different parts of the manuscript. These instructions often include details on what the sections of an abstract should contain. Authors should tailor their abstracts to the specific requirements of the journal to which they plan to submit their manuscript. It could also be an excellent idea to model the abstract of the paper, sentence for sentence, on the abstract of an important paper on a similar subject and with similar methodology, published in the same journal for which the manuscript is slated.
Source of Support: Nil
Conflict of Interest: None declared.