Everything you need to know about writing abstracts…

Everything you need to know about writing abstracts…

The title is a bit misleading. I am certainly unable to share everything you need to know, but I can provide a few tips. As I was preparing to write this week’s blog post, I decided to take a look at abstracts I have written as a lead author or as a co-author – 204 accepted and presented since 2000. Of course, there are many others that were not accepted or that I did not do a very good job keeping track of, but I still think that is a lot of abstracts. Yet, I feel somewhat less than qualified to give advice. So, I asked someone.

I checked in with Asheley Schryer in the Office of Undergraduate Research – yes, I know this is a blog for graduate students but fundamentals of writing abstracts are fundamentals. The Office of Undergraduate Research has many resources available to support student research. Asheley does not view herself as an expert either, but then, she proceeded to provide an exceptional handout on writing an abstract. In fact, this handout and other excellent resources are available to help students write abstracts for Discover USC (http://sc.edu/our/discovery.shtml). An abstract should tell your reader:

  • WHAT you did
  • WHY you did it
  • HOW you did it
  • WHAT you found
  • WHAT it means

Yes. That is it! My work is done here. Good luck! No seriously… It is that simple. A structured format with subheadings – introduction (or background or purpose), methods, results, and discussion – aligns with these five bullets. “WHAT you did” and “WHY you did it” are most often presented in the introduction. “HOW you did it” is included in the methods. “WHAT you found” is described in the results. “WHAT it means” is explained in the discussion. Start with your responses to the five bullets and then organize the content by subheadings. This is a good way to start compiling the details. Make sure that you have reviewed carefully the abstract requirements, especially the word limit. As always, be sure to circulate your abstract to co-authors in advance to review and comment. Proofread carefully before you submit – with the approval of your co-authors. Do not put someone’s name on an abstract without his or her approval. Be sure to provide the final copy to your co-authors with the complete citation for the submitted abstract.

Right now, you have a chance to write and submit an abstract to Discover USC. Discover USC on April 21, 2017 showcases research, scholarship, leadership, and creative projects by undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and medical scholars representing the entire USC System, from the Upstate to the Lowcountry. Graduate students have the opportunity to submit abstracts for “3MT” (three-minute thesis) presentations or poster presentations. In addition, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer for this inaugural event. Abstracts are due on March 3. Learn more about how you can present your work at http://www.sc.edu/about/annual_events/discover/usc/index.php.

Dr. Heather Brandt is associate dean for professional development in The Graduate School and associate professor in the department of health promotion, education, and behavior in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at hbrandt@sc.edu.

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