Writing a Conference Abstract

Original Editor - Amanda Ager

Top Contributors - Amanda Ager, Tarina van der Stockt and Kim Jackson  

What is a Conference Abstract?[edit | edit source]

A conference is a "meeting" usually organised by academic societies. They invite people to do submissions, usually in the forms of abstract to present their medical or scientific research findings. These type of conferences usually have a scientific or programme committee that is responsible to review submitted abstracts and select who would present at the conference. [1]

A conference abstract is a review or summary of your work that you wish to present at an upcoming conference. A conference abstract can be both clinically and/or research-oriented. It can be understood to be a concise summary of a proposed conference presentation. It is a stand-alone piece of writing that explains your intended presentation to the conference committee. As the conference abstract is often the only way in which the conference committee can judge your intended presentation, it is, by nature, promotional. [2] [3]

It is important to understand that a conference abstract is not a research paper abstract. Conference abstracts are independent pieces of writing that “succeed or fail on their own merits”[3]

A conference abstract should typically respond to the 5 Ws of your research (who / what / when /where and why), paying particular attention to the “why”.

Writing and presenting your abstract is your opportunity to put your best foot forward and to highlight the importance of your research.

When you start thinking about submitting a conference abstract, keep the following three things in mind [4]:

  1. You have research to present
  2. You are choosing an appropriate conference for your work
  3. The type of presentation you would like to give

The following video is from Dr Amina Yonis on How To Write A Strong Abstract | Report Writing Guide. She also references how to great abstract or summary here.

1. You have research to present[edit | edit source]

Before beginning to conceptualize and write an abstract, you will need to have a project or research study completed (or near completion) and have some results or findings (at least preliminary ones) to share. Stating that “results are to follow” will normally result in an immediate rejection of your abstract.

2. Is this an appropriate conference for your work?[edit | edit source]

It is important to ensure that your work is appropriate and of interest to the conference you are submitting to. In their call for abstracts, several conferences will typically have a general theme, multiple themes or an overarching theme with several sub-themes. Make sure that your topic or focus is at least somewhat related to the theme/s of the conference of interest[4].

3. The type of presentation you would like to present[edit | edit source]

Verify that the call for abstracts caters for the type of presentation you would like to present, for instance, while virtually all conferences accept abstracts of research projects and quality initiatives, not all conferences accept literature reviews and case studies.[4]

Yes, there are scam conferences - be aware[edit | edit source]

Is it possible that this is a scam conference? As there are scam scientific journals, there are scam conferences as well. If you are not sure, do your homework and ask your colleagues. This is important to consider before you commit any money to your abstract submission.

Before deciding to commit to a conference, here are a few questions to consider:

  1. Why do I want to participate?
  2. Is this conference going to help my professional growth?
  3. Is this a well-known conference, or a phishing (fake) or spam conference?
  4. What are the conference fees?
  5. Is it online, in-person or a hybrid of both?
  6. Who is the audience of this conference?
  7. Is it a competition with awards, or an open-access type of conference?
  8. Will this conference help me build my professional network?
Another consideration for your abstract is that a scientific abstract is all about respect:[edit | edit source]
  • Respect for the conference
  • Respect for your peers
  • Respect for the work of your collaborators
  • Respect for your own work
  • Respect for the science and moving the needle forward

The 4 Cs - your first impression[edit | edit source]

Your abstract is your first impression. You only have a few seconds to capture the interest of your audience. Your abstract needs to respect the 4 Cs.

The 4 Cs of Abstract Writing :[5]

  1. Complete: Covers the major parts of the project
  2. Concise: Contains no excess wordiness or unnecessary information
  3. Clear: Readable, well organized, and not too full of jargon
  4. Cohesive: It flows smoothly between the different parts
Be sure that your abstract addresses: [6][edit | edit source]
  • Why? Value/significance of subject matter/ research question
  • Who? People affected/involved in study/program
  • Where? Place of study/program
  • When? Study/project time frame (retrospective, prospective, longitudinal study)
  • How? The method used to achieve results
  • So What? Practical implications of findings/work

Key Elements of an Abstract[edit | edit source]

  1. Word count
  2. A title
  3. Main author and co-authors
  4. Background
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Conclusions section
  8. Keywords

Some conferences may also ask you to state your affiliations (where your work was done), if you received any funding, are there any conflicts of interest and if you require ethical approval for your work.

If it is an international conference, the chances are they will require your submission in English.

1. Word Count[edit | edit source]

When preparing to write the abstract, the first thing to check is the word limit and other specifications, as every conference (and corresponding call for abstracts) has its own requirements. An abstract word limit is usually around 250 words, so you must consider and use your word limit very carefully .[4]

2. The importance of the title[edit | edit source]

The title is your most important sentence, think of it as your “research bait” or “sales pitch” - as it will be the first thing to catch the reader’s attention and help them decide if they are interested in your research.

The title is important because:

  • It is the first impression of your work.
  • It will appear in the conference agenda with a possible link to your abstract.
  • More people will only read the title than read the abstract or attend the presentation.
  • People remember and recite your article by its title.
  • Keep your title short and effective.
  • Aim to keep your title around 10 - 15 words.
  • Avoid using obvious words such as "Research on", "Results of ", "Investigation", "Role of".
  • Remove unnecessary words such as "the".
  • Avoid special symbols, units or abbreviations.
  • The title needs to be catchy, it could even be in the form of a question.
  • The title should describe the abstract clearly.
  • It should be brief and interesting.
  • Keep an active voice and choose words that are energetic and enthusiastic.
  • Your aim is to grab your reader’s attention.

Abstracts can be grouped into sessions based on the topic headings and titles. It is important for your title to be clear and detailed. Your title should be detailed enough to allow the conference organizers to put you in the appropriate class or session.

3. Authors and Contributors[edit | edit source]

Anybody who contributed significantly to the work should be an author. Authorship should be discussed with all collaborators prior to submission and the abstract should be approved by all authors prior to submission.

Provide the names of all the authors in a consistent format, for example ( T Jones, A Smith) and work addresses, including the department name and the full postal address. Typically you are to provide the email address of the lead author.

Your supervisors should also be co-authors, you must ask their permission before submitting an abstract with their names as co-author. All abstracts are anonymised before they are peer-reviewed.

4. Writing the Background/ Rationale/Problem Statement [6][edit | edit source]

  • Define health problem/concern; give health issue background
  • Justify research/work[7]
  • Describe why problem/issue important; relevance to field; new insights
Table 2 retrieved from: Andrade C. How to write a good abstract for a scientific paper or conference presentation. Indian journal of psychiatry [Internet]. 2011 Apr [cited 2022 Apr 24];53(2):172–5.

Describing Participants [6][edit | edit source]

  • Identify people addressed, for example, individuals, families/groups, community, society, population
  • Identify the level of engagement, for example, individual, interpersonal, cross-cultural, worldwide
  • Describe demographics, for example, sex/gender, age, race, ethnic group, occupation, geographic location

5. Explaining the Method [6][edit | edit source]

This section should be the shortest part of the abstract and should very briefly outline the following information:

1. What is already known about the subject, related to the paper in question

2. What is not known about the subject and hence what the study intended to examine (or what the paper seeks to present) [8]

Your methods need to describe the research method(s) used to achieve your results.

You should also use easily recognized terms in the area of study.

Table 3 retrieved from: Andrade C. How to write a good abstract for a scientific paper or conference presentation. Indian journal of psychiatry [Internet]. 2011 Apr [cited 2022 Apr 24];53(2):172–5.
Table 4 retrieved from: Andrade C. How to write a good abstract for a scientific paper or conference presentation. Indian journal of psychiatry [Internet]. 2011 Apr [cited 2022 Apr 24];53(2):172–5.

6. Findings/Results[edit | edit source]

The results section is the most important part of the abstract and nothing should compromise its range and quality. The results section should therefore be the longest part of the abstract and should contain as much detail about the findings as to the conference word count permits.[8]

Your results section should:[6]

  • Include only facts; no interpretation
  • State what you actually found; what is new; what is exciting about the findings
  • Decide how much to share, what to leave out to entice readers follow-up
Table 5 retrieved from: Andrade C. How to write a good abstract for a scientific paper or conference presentation. Indian journal of psychiatry [Internet]. 2011 Apr [cited 2022 Apr 24];53(2):172–5.
Table 6- Example of a Results Section.png

7. Conclusions[edit | edit source]

This section should contain the most important take-home message of the study, expressed in a few precisely worded sentences. 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.[8]

The conclusions may contain three elements:

  1. The primary take-home message
  2. The additional findings of importance
  3. 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.[8]

Table 7 retrieved from: Andrade C. How to write a good abstract for a scientific paper or conference presentation. Indian journal of psychiatry [Internet]. 2011 Apr [cited 2022 Apr 24];53(2):172–5.

8. Interpreting/Discussing Findings [6][edit | edit source]

  • Synthesize/analyze
  • May be more subjective; reflect passion/enthusiasm for work
  • Share your opinion regarding the meaning/value of findings
  • Mention major results restrictions/limitations [9]

9. Suggesting Implications for Practice/Future Research [6][edit | edit source]

  • Answer readers’ “So what?” question
  • Suggest potential research/program impact on practice, theory development, future research
  • Recommend areas for more research (Do not simply state - We recommend future research… be as specific as possible).

10. Key Words[edit | edit source]

Keywords are to help your audience understand the major themes of your presentation. You want to mention key themes that are not included in your title. Do not repeat words that appear in the title of your abstract.

11. Images, Tables or Graghs[edit | edit source]

Generally speaking, conferences do not accept images, tables or graphs with abstracts. If you have essential images, tables or graphs to share, consider submitting a scientific poster or applying for a podium presentation instead.

Different types of Abstracts[edit | edit source]

  1. Descriptive
  2. Informative
  3. Structured
  4. Semi-structured
  5. Non-structured

1. Descriptive Abstract[edit | edit source]

This type of abstract is usually very short (50–100 words). Most descriptive abstracts have certain key parts in common. Which include:

  • Background
  • Purpose
  • Particular interest or the focus of paper
  • Overview of contents (but this is not always included)

With a descriptive abstract, generally, there will be access to the complete article, so that your audience may follow up with the full results.[10]

2. Informative Abstract[edit | edit source]

From these abstracts, you must get the essence of what your report is about, usually in about 200 words. Most informative abstracts also have key sections in common. Each of these sections might consist of 1–2 sentences. The sections typically include:

  • Background
  • Aim or purpose of research
  • Method used
  • Findings/results
  • Conclusion

These types of abstracts provide accurate data on the contents of your work, especially the results section.[10]

3. Structured Abstracts[edit | edit source]

A structured abstract typically has a paragraph for each section:

  • Introduction
  • Materials and Methods
  • Results
  • Conclusion

There may even be paragraphs for the objectives or other sections.[10]

4. Semi-structured Abstract[edit | edit source]

A semi-structured abstract is written in only one paragraph, where each sentence corresponds to a section. All the same sections of the article are present, as in the structured abstract.[10]

5. Non-structured Abstract[edit | edit source]

When the abstract does not present divisions between each section, and it may not even present any of them, it is simply not structured. The sentences are included in one paragraph.[10]

How to Prepare your Submission[edit | edit source]

There are four main categories of people who will read and consider your abstract[edit | edit source]

  • Reviewers
  • Attendees / knowledge-users
  • Conference organisers
  • Timetablers (those who group topics together)

Reviewers: The individuals responsible for reviewing the content and quality of your presented conference abstract.

Attendees / Knowledge users: Attendees of the conference can be from different backgrounds including clinicians, students, researchers, stakeholders, investors, friends and family or perhaps those with a deep sense of curiosity.

Reviewers and attendees are the main two groups identified in the advice, but there are also two other groups:

Conference organizers: They are the individuals who decide if your abstract should be sent for review, or not.

Timetabler: They are the individuals who are responsible for timetabling and organising the conference. They need to be able to immediately see from the abstract that it fits with the discipline/topic/theme of the conference. The timetabler/s need to be able to understand what the main concerns of the abstract are so as to potentially group them with other abstracts in a session, or in a particular stream of the conference.

Common abstract grading factors:

  • Relevance of the abstract to the conference.
  • Originality.
  • Significance.
  • Clarity.
  • Adherence to abstract submission guidelines.

Using Deductive Reasoning[edit | edit source]

Deductive reasoning is linked with the hypothesis testing approach to research. Deductive reasoning, also known as top-down logic, is defined as the ability to make inferences about the veracity of a conclusion based on several, often competing, hypotheses. [11]

A good abstract will follow the formula of :


Use a deductive approach as to how you are presenting your work.

  1. What facts have you established?
  2. What does this mean for the scientific or clinical community?
  3. What remains to be explored?

The following applies to any type of clinical message or research you are hoping to share.

Firstly, identify the “what”

Develop a significant statement which summarises the problem you are addressing.

We have all heard of SMART goals before

S - specific

M - measurable

A - achievable (or attainable)

R - relevant

T - time or time-bound

The same SMART format does your “what” statement about your research or clinical message. Try to build a statement that is SMART.

What is the “so what”[edit | edit source]

  • Why should people care about your work or your message?
  • Who does your research impact?
  • What are your goals?

The “Therefore” statement[edit | edit source]

  • This is the outcome or results of your work.
  • What are your main findings (again be as specific as possible and do not embellish)
  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • What did your research accomplish and what is left to be done?

If you take this approach to write your abstract, you have a stronger possibility of writing a clear, precise and impactful abstract.

Adding References[edit | edit source]

Some abstract formats will accept references. You will need to check the guidelines of the specific conference for this criteria.

In general, an abstract should need no more than 2 or 3 references. Number references consecutively in the order in which they first appear in the text using superscript Arabic numerals in parentheses,

For example: “These findings are consistent with previously published data (1)”

References should be listed in a separate section at the end of the paper, in numerical order using the outlined referencing style (for example Vancouver, MLA (Modern Languages Association) system, the APA (American Psychological Association) system, the Harvard system, and the MHRA (Modern Humanities Research Association) As a reminder, if an article has more than three authors only the names of the first three authors should be given followed by ‘et al.’

Where are Conference Abstracts Used? [6][edit | edit source]

  • Journal articles
  • Conference paper proposal, the subsequent final publication
  • Poster session proposal, the subsequent final publication
  • Published abstracts: stand-alone pieces on breaking work or collection on specific topic
  • Proceedings publications from scientific/governmental policy/practice summits
  • Doctoral dissertation/master’s thesis
  • Research grants
  • Library references, for example, Social Science Abstracts (UMWC, 2011) [12]

Setting up your Timeline[edit | edit source]

Do everything you can to set yourself up for success. This includes establishing a timeline for your conference abstract submission.

An example of a timeline:

  1. Brainstorming - give yourself time to brainstorm, let your mind wander and create mind-maps.
  2. The first draft - write whatever comes to mind. Sometimes the first few words are the most challenging.
  3. Reduction of word count - where can you trim and be more precise? Generally, this can be done in the background and results section.
  4. Edit, edit, edit - Walk away from your abstract, do something completely different and come back to it. It is best to edit with a fresh mind.
  5. Internal review (For example have your peers or supervisors read your abstract)
  6. Review by someone not in your field (do they understand your work)
  7. External review (there can be conference support teams who can give you objectionable feedback before you officially submit your abstract)
  8. Deadline submission - Again, check the date and time zone.
  9. Plan a small celebration! This can be an activity you enjoy, or a get together with peers, friends and family. You do need to acknowledge your accomplishment.

Common Mistakes Seen with Conference Abstracts[edit | edit source]

  • Too wordy - Keep your language simple. Not only will this be a new topic for many people, English might also not be their first language. Try to keep your words easy to understand and follow.
  • Loss of focus - Stick to your deductive reasoning. What - So what - Therefore. Stay focused on your story and message.
  • Message not accessible - Messages can be easy to lose. Make yours obvious.
  • Passive voice - Passive voice sentences often use more words, can be vague, and can lead to run-on and confusing statements. Keep it simple and use active verbs.
  • The wrong tense - Use the past tense if the study has been conducted; use the present tense if the study is in progress.
  • Poor grammar / spelling mistakes / syntax
  • Using too many abbreviations - Using too many abbreviations breaks up the flow of reading and causes the reader to pause and think about the abbreviation instead of the message of your sentence.
  • Lastly - Don’t leave any room for interpretation. One acronym could mean something to you in your field, but something completely different in another field of study. Always spell out the first time you mention a term with an acronym.
Table 8 retrieved from: Andrade C. How to write a good abstract for a scientific paper or conference presentation. Indian journal of psychiatry [Internet]. 2011 Apr [cited 2022 Apr 24];53(2):172–5.

Bottom Line[edit | edit source]

A good abstract usually ensures a good article, but a weaker abstract often points toward an undesirable article. Conference abstracts are a challenge to write but are absolutely essential for a successful conference and publication. Set yourself up for success and carefully plan your strategy for your abstract.

Enjoy the writing process and we wish you nothing but success with your upcoming conference.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Foster, C., Wager, E., Marchington, J. et al. Good Practice for Conference Abstracts and Presentations: GPCAP . Res Integr Peer Rev 4, 11 (2019)
  2. Swales, J. M. 1996. Occluded genres in the academy: The case of the submission letter. In Academic writing: Intercultural and textual issues, ed. E. Ventola and A. Mauranen, 45–58. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Swales, J. M., and C. B. Feak. 2000. English in today’s research world: A writing guide. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Tume LN, McEvoy N, Vollam S, Trapani J. How to write an abstract for an intensive care conference. Nursing in Critical Care [Internet]. 2022 Jan [cited 2022 Apr 24];27(1):5–7.
  5. Ickes, M. J. (2010). How to write an abstract. Retrieved from http:// www.sophe.org/Sophe/PDF/How%20to%20Write%20an%20 Abstract.pdf
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 Ickes MJ, Gambescia SF. Abstract Art: How to Write Competitive Conference and Journal Abstracts. Health Promotion Practice [Internet]. 2011 Jul [cited 2022 Apr 24];12(4):493–6.
  7. Conboy-Ellis, K. A. (2007). How to write an abstract. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Retrieved from http://www.aaaai.org/members/allied_health/articlesofinterest/ conboy_ellis.pdf
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Andrade C. How to write a good abstract for a scientific paper or conference presentation. Indian journal of psychiatry [Internet]. 2011 Apr [cited 2022 Apr 24];53(2):172–5.
  9. Koopman, P. (1997). How to write an abstract. Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved from http://www.ece.cmu.edu/~koopman/ essays/abstract.html
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Nagda, S. How to Write a Scientific Abstract. J Indian Prosthodont Soc 13, 382–383 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13191-013-0299-x
  11. Keating, D.P.,  Demidenko, M.I.,  & Kelly, D. (2019)  Cognitive and Neurocognitive Development in Adolescence, Reference Module in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Psychology, Elsevier, ISBN 9780128093245, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-809324-5.23636-5. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128093245236365)
  12. University of Mississippi Writing Center (UMWC). Writing the abstract. Retrieved from http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/writing_center/ grabstract.html