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RNJ Corner: Writing an Abstract

Learning to write an abstract is a skill that will help you disseminate scholarly work through publication, a poster, or conference presentation. An abstract is a summary of a research study, quality improvement (QI) or evidence-based practice (EBP) project, or body of work. The abstract is as important as the article itself since it is often the first part of the article read. It allows the reader to determine if they want to read the entire article. The abstract should be concise (typically 150-250 words) but detailed enough to stand on its own. Abstracts are written after the article is complete and should be written in the past tense since you are reporting on what has already been completed. Below are headings typically found in abstracts:

Title- The title should represent the content of the article and include key terms that allow the article to be found in a literature search. Titles that are lengthy or that include acronyms without spelling them out should be avoided.

Background/Introduction- This section should include what is known about the topic of interest. Identify gaps, why it was important for the study/project to be done, and the purpose of the study/project. The background section should be concise. Abstracts should not include references to other literature or citations.

Objectives/Aims- Include research aims/objectives or questions, goals for quality improvement projects or patient/intervention/comparison/outcome/timeframe (PICOT) questions for evidence-based practice projects.

Methods- This section should identify the design, setting, sample, and procedures. Include instruments used to collect data and the length of the study or project.

Results- Identify the number of subjects who completed the study, a brief description of sample demographics, and results that answer your research question(s). For research studies, report both significant and non-significant results.

Conclusion: Include how results will impact nursing practice and a take-home message. If reporting research, identify recommendations for future research.

Do not include information that is not in the article. To maximize space, do not use unnecessary adverbs or adjectives. Images, tables, figures, and illustrations should be avoided in the abstract.

Before writing the abstract refer to the guidelines provided by the journal, organization, or conference since there may be variations or specific requirements for the abstract submission. If the abstract is not reporting a research study, QI, or EBP, a summary paragraph should be used without indenting paragraphs. Guidelines for abstracts are also available in the APA Manual 7TH edition.

The author and a colleague should proof-read the abstract with attention to clarity, organization of the information, typos, jargon, or incorrect spelling. Poorly written abstracts can appear unprofessional and deter the reader. Make sure not to exceed the word limit or miss the submission deadline.

Disseminating scholarly work is important; not only does It add to the rehabilitation nursing body of knowledge, but it also promotes professional development of nurses.

Shelly C. Amato, PhD, APRN-CNS, CRRN, CNRN

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