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5 Common Mistakes in Abstract Writing

As the Digestive Disease Week® (DDW) abstract deadline rapidly approaches (Sunday, Dec. 1), I would like to highlight a few common mistakes and how to avoid them so you can write an award-winning abstract for DDW.

Mindy Engevik, PhD

If you are new at writing abstracts, seek the advice of an experienced mentor and, if possible, have them edit your work. Additionally, abstracts that were accepted for DDW 2019 are available in the DDW Mobile App, available for download in the Apple and Googe Play Stores, and in online supplements to Gastroenterology and GIE: Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, so find an example of an abstract previously accepted for presentation for you to review.

Mistake #1: Not setting aside enough time to write.

How to avoid it: Although abstracts are short in length, writing a good abstract typically takes several days. Make sure you also send your abstract to the other authors in plenty of time for them to review it and provide any feedback before you submit. All abstract authors are required to confirm their participation and provide disclosure forms.

Mistake #2: The title is long, irrelevant or boring.

How to avoid it: The title should summarize the abstract topic and catch the eye of the reviewers, conveying the essential message in as few words as possible. Note that the character limit for titles is 255, including spaces. To create a memorable title, I recommend writing 10 key words found in the abstract and constructing different sentences that highlight those key words.

Mistake #3: The methods section isn’t detailed enough, or is detailed but exceeds the abstract’s word count.

How to avoid it: I recommend including the following areas:

  • Description of the model (cells, animals, patients, etc.).
  • Number of patients enrolled, animals in the study or independent repetition.
  • A list of types of experiments performed (immunostaining, PCR, RNAseq, western blot, etc.)
  • The statistical methods used to analyze the data.

Alternatively, it is acceptable to combine your methods with the results in order to cut down on the amount of text.

Mistake #4: The results simply list the findings, sentence after sentence.

How to avoid it: Identify what part of the question the experiment addresses and whether the hypothesis is supported by the findings. Provide rationale and try to link the sentences together to tell a story with the data. Using phrases like “consistent with our x data”, “building upon our x findings”, or “next we sought to address…” can help create a flow of information. Try to avoid excessive jargon and abbreviations in this section, as the readers may not be familiar with the terms.

Mistake #5: The abstract has grammatical errors, word omissions, or doesn’t flow well.

How to avoid it: Read through the abstract out loud to yourself. Ask yourself the following questions: “Are the objectives clear and well presented? Is the data analysis and interpretation appropriate? Are the conclusions clear? Do you highlight the innovation of your work?”

To fine tune your abstract, look for these common mistakes:

  1. Lack of editing (i.e. unclear sentences, typos, etc.).
  2. Delving too far into the minutiae, thereby distracting the reader from the main research points.
  3. Too much jargon or difficult terminology.
  4. Excessive abbreviations.

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Mindy Engevik, PhD, is an instructor at Baylor College of Medicine in the Department of Pathology & Immunology. She has a PhD in Systems Biology & Physiology and an interest in microbe-epithelial interactions in the gastrointestinal tract, with a particular focus on infection and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Mindy currently serves as an AGA Young Delegate.

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