Writing a good abstract for medical articles


An abstract is the key calling card for any article as most readers sort through articles based on the abstract. This then creates considerable pressure on authors to ‘package’ their article attractively via an abstract to draw eyeballs.

Depending on the journal under consideration, an abstract is around 200-250 words. The big challenge is then to pack in all relevant information within the limitation to offer as maximum information as possible. This becomes all the more challenging for technical fields, like those of medical practitioners.

Here are some tips on how to write good abstracts for medical articles.

Step 1: Follow the rules or instructions of the journal carefully. Many journals have set templates for abstracts and a medical writer should follow it perfectly. The word count limitation for instance is one such instruction that must not be violated.

Step 2: Irrespective of specific instructions, all abstracts usually follow a set template of a structured abstract; background/objective, methods, results, conclusion. Even within the limited word count, one has to offer a structured abstract in an unambiguous manner.

Background/Objective: This basically sets the premise of your exercise. This section basically states what you set out to do and specifically why. Think of this as setting the context and the basic hypothesis. However, it is better to reverse the order; start with what you did and why, instead of giving an elaborate background and then trying to posit your hypothesis, as you would do in the original article.

Methodology: This is a critical part, as many of the keywords used by readers while searching an article should resonate in this part. Some of the key questions that this part must answer are; the research design, the methodology used, the field of study, any specific terminologies involved in the methodology, the type of treatment or diagnosis under question. Be careful to report specifics like sample size, numbers of patients in different groups, doses of medications, duration of the study. These not only grab eyeballs but also help set the relevance of the article for the readers.

Results: This is the most important part of the abstract as it is the crux of the entire article. Any potential reader will only read your article if your findings excite them. Highlight the positives results or the topline statistics of your findings. Report the frequencies of the most important variables in your results, or a brief comparison of the results in the subgroups sampled.

Conclusion: this part should highlight the key take-home message of the entire article. As a medical writer, you are trying to establish a definite finding and that needs to be expressed strongly in the conclusion.

Step 3: the language of the abstract must be direct and affirmative. Using active verbs in the abstract helps give a sense of dynamism and sense of purpose to the whole article. It is also advisable to avoid too much technical jargon. The key should be clarity in the message conveyed.

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