Presenting an abstract at a scientific meeting is an exhilarating and rewarding benefit of training and represents a fundamental component in the career development of academic physicians. Above all, abstract presentations serve to disseminate your research findings, advance a specific field of investigation and crystallize your reputation on a national level. Abstract presentations provide opportunities to build nascent relationships with other investigators, network with colleagues, and garner critical feedback of your research. Interactions with leaders in the field can also serve as a nidus for future academic promotions and identifying new career opportunities. Insights and suggestions from content experts will undoubtedly strengthen your work and can often lead to new collaborations and scientific directions.
Abstract submission for Digestive Disease Week® (DDW) 2020 is now open and I wanted to share a few of my best practices with you as you consider submitting an abstract for presentation this year. If you have additional questions, ask them in the comments below.
Writing an exceptional abstract is not a task that can be left to the last minute, so budget adequate time well before the Dec. 1 submission deadline. This allows for multiple iterations and for co-authors to have time to read and make substantive, instead of cosmetic, critiques to the work. Many authors capitalize on the wisdom of individuals at their home institution whose expertise may not be directly aligned with the content of the abstract, which helps ensure the work will have broader appeal. Visit the DDW website, and follow the abstract guidelines precisely.
It is also helpful to review abstracts that were previously presented at DDW. Abstracts presented at DDW 2019 are available in the DDW Mobile App and in online supplements to Gastroenterology and GIE: Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. Carefully consider the interests of the audience and target those fields of interest as you develop the overall theme of the abstract. Finally, in general, the most highly-scored meeting abstracts present fresh insights and new data and are not simply a repackaged version of a prior abstract1.
Reviewers have a very truncated period of time to review manuscripts or meeting abstracts. The abstract submission deadline for DDW is Dec. 1. Reviewers for DDW typically have between seven to 10 days to complete their reviews, hold teleconference calls to discuss abstract rankings, and construct tentative programs. For ease of review of an abstract:
- Use simple declarative sentences in the active voice to describe your findings.
- For clinical studies, use generic names for drugs and devices unless a specific brand is critical for the study.
- Be careful about the use of abbreviations unless you are certain that the reviewers are completely familiar with the terminology. If abbreviations are used, spell them out at the time of initial introduction.
- DDW does not have specific requirements for font style, size and line spacing, but proportional fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman allow more words to be included. Do not, however, decrease the font size below 11 or 10 point or reduce line spacing to less than single space, as this can infuriate an exhausted reviewer.
This is where you can provide substantial curb appeal to the work. A clear and engaging title frequently sets the tone for how a reviewer and the audience will interpret and evaluate the work. Manuscript and abstract titles are typically 10 to 12 words in length and include the scope of the work, the study design and the goal. It is preferable to create a descriptive title, rather than to state the results. Finally, an engaging title should be easy for reviewers and attendees outside of a particular niche to understand and should not contain unfamiliar abbreviations.
Introduction/Background/Context/Aims (Why did you do this study?)
Because space is a limiting factor, only include one to two sentences of background that clearly set the stage for your results. Abstracts that contain a prodigious amount of background information can send a signal that the amount of actual data may be scant. Focus on clearly describing the gap that your research will address and then segue into the Specific Aims of the study. It is appropriate to also include a hypothesis, but be rigorous and objective in conveying that your goal is not to prove that a particular hypothesis is true but instead to test whether it is true3.
Methods (What did you do?)
For abstracts, only convey a concise description of the methods and study design; details can be provided at the time of presentation. For clinical studies, important parameters to include are: a description of the populations under study, whether a study was retrospective or prospective, whether there was randomization, the context of the study, and any measurements that were made.
Results (What did you find?)
This is the most critical component of an abstract, and it should include complete sentences that present real data described in units for all measurements (e.g., do not indicate that results will be presented later). The primary outcome (even if it does not support your hypothesis or is negative data), relevant secondary outcomes, and relevant statistics including p values should all be included. Weaker abstracts include statements such as “the results demonstrated a trend toward significance”; simply present the results and let readers draw their own conclusions.
Many scientific meetings allow the inclusion of a Figure or a Table, which can augment the visual appeal of your work; however, make sure symbols and font are legible, and only include these items if they convey your results more effectively. Frequently, meeting abstracts are reduced in size for publication so if a figure or table is included, refer to previously published abstracts for suboptimal formatting to avoid2.
This section should be two to three sentences and focus on a brief description of the main outcomes without overstating the findings. Implications should reflect how the findings will impact other fields, clinical practice, policy, or subsequent research directions. Avoid overstating the ramifications of your results.
Prior to submission, review the DDW Abstract Submission Guidelines to ensure that your abstract is absolutely concordant with its specifications. Proofread the final version several times yourself, and also have a colleague read the final version. Your goal is to have a grammatically perfect abstract with no misspelled words or typographical errors. In conclusion, preparing and presenting scientific abstracts at meetings clearly benefits junior investigators, provides a wealth of opportunities, advances science, and serves as a nidus for publication of your research. Using clear declarative language, strictly adhering to abstract specifications, and allowing adequate time for you and others to carefully proofread the work will help ensure an exceptional piece of work.
Good luck and I look forward to seeing you at DDW 2020!
- Wood, GJ et al. J Palliat Med 2011;14:353-9.
- Pierson, DJ. Respir Care 2004;49:1206-12.
Dr. Peek has served as the Mina Cobb Wallace Professor of Medicine and Cancer Biology and Director of the Division of Adult Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition for the past 14 years. Dr. Peek’s professional affiliations include the American Society for Clinical Investigation, Association of American Physicians, Association of Specialty Professors, and the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA). He previously served as as Vice-Chair and Chair of the Esophageal, Gastric and Duodenal Section of the AGA Institute Council from 2007-2011, and was the AGA Institute Council Chair until 2015. He is now Co-Editor-in-Chief of Gastroenterology and a member of the NIH NIDDK Council.