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Week of August 5 - "Writing a Compelling Abstract"

Join us to discuss ways to formulate your ABRCMS abstract to be as compelling as possible.

This webinar series is a follow-up to the June "Writing a Compelling Abstract" webinars. These sessions will provide feedback from reviewers of abstracts from the following fields, as well as information about example abstracts from the fields in these disciplines:


  • Biomedical Sciences and Social and Behavioral Sciences/Public Health
  • Chemical Sciences and Engineering/Physics/Mathematics


Webinar participants will:

  • Review criteria that reviewers use to rate abstracts for ABRCMS
  • Describe the elements of successful abstract submissions
  • Explore tips on writing a great abstract
  • Discuss examples from previous ABRCMS awardees


Date(s) and Time(s): Monday (8/5), Wednesday (8/7), Friday (8/9) at 6 p.m. E.T.; Tuesday (8/6), Thursday (8/8) at 3 p.m. E.T.

This webinar is hosted on ASM Events Online. ASM has implemented Single Sign On (SSO) for accessing ASM Events Online. If you have an ASM Events Online account, please login when redirected. If you do not have an ASM Events Online account, you will be prompted to create one.

View Webinar Recording

Christopher Skipwith 1 Presenter: Dr. Christopher Skipwith, Education Specialist, American Society for Microbiology


We have compiled a list of questions and answers from the webinar:

Q: When presenting at the conference, am I limited to only presenting the results I reported in my abstract or can I report results that were found after the deadline for abstracts?

This is a very common issue with abstract submissions, since the deadline often occurs well before the conference. You may report results that were acquired following the abstract submission deadline, on the condition that your project is not significantly changed by the incorporation of new data. The motivation, hypothesis, and approach described in your abstract should remain consistent.

Q: What if I don't have results yet but will have them soon? Can I still mention what we expect to see?

If you have no data, then it is too early to submit an abstract. However, if you have partial results but not enough to make definitive statements, you can present the data as preliminary making descriptive comments such as “the observations suggest that…” or “there is a trend in..” You should indicate that “ongoing experiments seek to increase the number of subjects..” You will certainly have more results at the time of the conference, and these may be updated on your poster (for poster presentations) or slides (for oral presentations) after abstract submission, as long as the project does not change significantly.

Q: If my project has three components, is it ok to discuss data and results for each component individually or should all data be grouped followed by all results?

Note: This question, as worded, does confuse some terminology, however the answer will address multiple possibilities.

That depends if you can make a cohesive story out of all components of the project. It would be best to try to weave the three components of your project into a "story" that incorporates elements of all three throughout the description. You may indicate multiple hypotheses for multiple approaches and list all of your results--simply be sure to clearly link your hypotheses to the proper procedures, results, and conclusions. If you mean “methods and results”, then I strongly discourage going back and forth. If you mean “results and conclusions” then I recommend presenting all the results then providing concluding statements.

There are cases when there are multiple parts to a bigger project and one is logical continuation of the other and the data of one part serves a basis for the next one. If that is the case, results of each component should be given right after description of methods of the certain individual component as without it, that might be hard to understand whole story. However, there might be that in different components of the project you are comparing multiple variables/conditions in the same model, like for example if you are testing effect of three different drugs on colorectal cancer tumors in mice. The same model( mice strain, type of cancer, etc.) stays constant and one variable under study varies, in that case that makes sense to present your all of you results together after the description of methods.

Q: How do you express your results when they may only be partially conclusive?

The "partially conclusive" interpretation, itself, is very valuable. It is based on an interpretation of your results, however. Present your results without interpretation and make sure that you indicate that they are not entriely conclusive in your conclusions statement. Use terms as “partially suggest that…” or “the data, in part, suggest that…” or “there is a trend towards…” 

Q: When you say that citation will be removed, do you mean parenthetical citations or references used in the background section which refer to those listed in the bibliography?

For your abstract submission, there should be no bibliography included. Nor should your abstract text contain any references, citations, or keywords. You should include your bibliography or works cited on your poster (for poster presentations) or on your slides (for oral presentations).

Q: I hope to attend and present my research at ABRCMS. However, my mentor doesn't want my abstract to be available to public in case they get scooped. Is it possible for me to attend the conference without showing my abstract to the public?

While it is a great honor to present at a scientific conference, the issue that you’ve posed is common in the sciences. The best advice that I can give is that you shouldn’t present your work at the conference if there is a credible threat to the integrity or uniqueness of your work. By the conference, you are generally far along enough in your work that it is not reasonable for someone to “catch up” to you and scoop you, even with a massive amount of resources and connections.

If the concern is not only regarding the abstract, but the presentation as well, then you should definitely consider not presenting. However, if the concern is only regarding the abstract, this appears to be a timing issue. The abstracts will be available to the public (meaning those with access to the online program planner) around the time of the conference in November. You should discuss with your PI whether the timing of the abstract publication matters for their concerns.

Regardless of the outcome, you should definitely have a conversation with your PI regarding how to best protect the integrity of your work while taking advantage of the opportunities presented by sharing your work.

Q: Can we refer to figures and tables attached after the end of the text in our abstract and explained in a figure legend?

There are no figures allowed in your abstract, even as attachments. The abstract is meant to be a text description of background of your project, what you hypothesized, what you did, your results, and conclusions. If there are particularly compelling figures or tables that add to your description, please formulate them to describe the data or concept in the text of your abstract.

Q: Does the abstract have to be a one big paragraph? Can we break it up into different paragraph?

You may formulate your abstract in a manner that makes it clearly and concisely presented. Some abstracts may need to be split into seperate paragraphs to convey the point, while others are fine as a single paragraph. One rule of thumb is to split completely separate ideas or thought streams into separate paragraphs. This is typically NOT needed with most abstracts. Please see the 2017 student examples for insight.

Q: Will the subheadings, if I choose to do a structured abstract, count in the 2,500 characters limit?

If you choose to do a structured abstract, the subheading WILL count against the 2,500 character limit.

Q: Will research that is ongoing and still developing be reviewed for presentation?

We understand that some research projects are not fully developed or completed by the time of abstract submission. Projects that are still ongoing will be reviewed. Please remember to keep your results in perspective.

Q: Would we receive the critique sheet from our reviewers? I might be helpful to improve our writing skills.

You will not be able to receive the evaluation sheet from reviewers. You are encouraged to have as many people (faculty members, postdoctoral researchers, other students, scientific colleagues) as possible review your abstract prior to submission.

Q: The guidelines state not to use any "references, tables, or keywords", what is meant by keywords?

Keywords are sometimes included with abstracts from published journals to orient readers to terms that capture the most important aspects of the article. They are typically used for indexing and citation purposes. These keywords are not allowed in the submission of your conference abstract.

Q: Since parenthetical citations are not allowed in the text of the abstract, is a works cited/references page required?

A works cited/references page is not required. You should include your bibliography or works cited on your poster (for poster presentations) or on your slides (for oral presentations).

Q: The guidelines state that "only the first letter is capitalized", however the examples presented showed all letters capitalized. What is the proper format?

A point of clarification: the guidance that "only the first letter is capitalized" refers to each word in the title. It DOES NOT refer to ONLY the first word of the entire title. In addition, prepositions are not capitalized (the, and, of, with, etc.), no part of the title should be bold, the title should not have a period at the end of the sentence, and only scientific names should be italicized.

Q: How do you consider abbreviations or acronymns in abstract titles?

There are very common abbreviations and acronymns that exist in scientific fields (such as "DNA"). These are generally acceptable terms to use in titles. Abbreviations or acronymns that are highly specific to your field or research project (i.e. something that a general scientific reviewer would not immediately recognize) should be written in full in the title.

Q: If abstracts don't contain citations/references, how can we avoid plagiarism?

It's important to remember that your abstract is meant to be a summary of the field, your approach, your hypothesis, your results, and your conclusions. Here, more than ever, it is important to articulate knowledge from your field in your owns words. You should abolutely cite sources on your poster/presentation, but your abstract (if well-written), should not be at risk of plagiarism. What would be considered plagiarism, however, is if your abstract attributes ideas or interpretations to you that aren't yours.

An example is that, if you are presenting prior research to establish background, your language must indicate that the work is that has already been established in the field such as, "it has been shown" or "previous research has demonstrated". As long as what you are presenting is your recap of prior work and not represnted as your own work, it is acceptable. 

Q: When writing the methods, how much detail should be included about the model animal? More specifically, how much information about transgenic modifications?

In the abstract, the name and what the gene is, that’s really it. Then go into how you used it. Unless the project was making the model then you can get into more details. If any info it should be as specific and minimal as possible on your poster. You are the expert in your experiment hence you are expected to know the components and the reasoning behind each component. By including every single detail on your poster, you will simply overwhelm your audience.

Q: What if I do not have statistically significant results in a subgroup analysis, but I do identify trends? How can I present this analysis?

It is better not to discuss non-significant trends in your poster. This might be something you could point out when speaking with judges but be sure to make it clear that you understand that the observed difference is not significant. Report the result with honesty, make sure you can say that it is trending. Maybe have a p value as well. If it is over .2, then there likely isn’t a real trend. Just make your case.

Q: How can we articulate that our results are supported by data when we cannot include experimental data (in the form of figures or tables) in the abstract? I have difficulty turning figures and tables into words.

Try using sentences like, "We found that boys (average height = 50 inches) were significantly taller than girls (average height = 40 inches)."

Q: You mentioned that reported conclusions must be supported by the data presented in your abstract, but students must not include figures, tables or citations. How can we articulate that our results are supported by data when we cannot include experimental data in the abstract? Could you please clarify?

Think of your abstract as the verbal articulation of your results. While there are some people who can very clearly convey the results of a figure or table in words, there are others that may struggle with it. Literally say our results show that x is more than y. You don’t need numbers, what would you put in the figure legend title is a good thing of what you would put in the abstract.

Q: How do you word your results section if the research is still on-going?

I would just notate that you found new data but if you are comfortable, it is perfectly fine to discuss that data. Judges and other people present at the conference will be interested on what is forthcoming even if expected results were not acquired.

Q: What are the ABRCMS guidelines for using the passive voice when writing? My PIs were completely anti-we/our/I, but I noticed that in your examples, you said, "we found this result, etc., etc.,".

This is PI specific and I would go for the rules of your lab. Some people will fight you with on both sides. There is not total consensus.

Q: Are superscripts and subscripts allowed in the text of your abstract, such as that used for compounds? Will the formatting hold when we submit it through the website?

Subscripts and superscripts are allowed in the abstract, and are enabled by the abstract submission portal. Any entered formats will be preserved.

Q: What if I don't have results yet but will have them soon? Can I still mention what we expect to see?

It is hard to say these things if you have not yet done the experiment. You could say that you expect to see, but not having done the experiment will probably result in harsher abstract judgement. Is there something novel about the technique that you can talk about?

Q: How do you express your results when they may only be partially conclusive?

With honesty. “more studies are needed to confirm x phenotype” State the truth when it comes to your results and make sure that you know the reasoning behind why the results are in the state they are.

Q: If abstracts don't contain citations/references, how can we avoid plagiarism?

By keeping things more general/with general knowledge. Citations can be on your poster to reference info on your poster. Just write it in your best words and avoid copy paste.


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