Writing and Reviewing Research Abstracts for Presentation
An abstract submitted for presentations that is well written provides the context and background of the study, a case for why this study is important and unique and the specific purpose of the project (an introduction). Moreover, it shares the research procedures/method and analysis the investigator(s) utilized, the results and why they were important, and any implications (discussion/conclusion). Most importantly, the abstract does this in a clear and concise fashion that gives the reader a comprehensible and realistic preview of what the study entailed.
Accomplishing all this in one paragraph can be a challenge! This tutorial provides guidelines and tips to help increase the chances of having research accepted for presentation. Furthermore, it offers abstract reviewers tips for conducting a thoughtful and thorough review.
For the Research Consortium Conference sessions of the National AAHPERD Convention, this section is titled Background/Purpose. In this section, you want to communicate:
- Why the reviewer (and ultimately the session participants) should care about the problem and the results.
- The importance of the research; the impact that the study might have.
- If applicable, the theoretical framework for the study (e.g., critical theory; attribution theory; planned behavior theory; [eco-]behavioral framework; self-efficacy theory).
- The purpose of the study.
Common pitfalls in the Introduction:
- Presenting only a single Purpose statement with no rationale.
- Very lengthy – leaving too little space for the other abstract sections. Failing to provide a brief overview of previously completed research that is pertinent to the current study.
In the method or methods section of the abstract (this term depends on the style guide being followed; the Research Consortium uses APA style – so method singular), the author(s) should articulate:
- Participants and Settings: The "who", "why them?", "where", "what", "when", "how" (selected).
- Key target variables (i.e., dependent, independent, and possible mediating variables). Explain why these variables were chosen.
- Intervention (if applicable) – fidelity of treatment; i.e. - what effort was made to ensure that the intervention was implemented faithfully/as intended.
- Research Design used: Identify whether the study was qualitative or quantitative; longitudinal, vs. cross-sectional; descriptive, correlational or experimental. If experimental, identify the specific type of design (e.g., quasi-experimental, pre-test/posttest – control group; case study; multiple baseline, etc.). If a mixed-method or hybrid design was used (e.g. direct observation and interviews) specify the various methodological features.
- Procedures: Include any information that describes general processes and protocols employed.
- Data collection tactics used: This refers to tools such as pedometers, direct observation, interviews, document analysis, surveys, electromyography, metabolic carts, etc. Provide evidence on the reliability/validity of the data collection tools employed. This will help convince the reviewer/reader of the credibility of the resulting data.
Common pitfalls in the Method:
- Failure to include key information.
- Lack of specificity (e.g., a survey was used, but no information is provided as to the validity).
- Misalignment between the research design and the analytical procedures used.
- Fatally flawed research designs (e.g., one group pretest – posttest design).
- Failure to include a justification of the method employed.
In this section, describe:
- Data analysis: Explain what analytical tools were used. Examples would be constant comparison; descriptive statistics; multiple regression; repeated measures-ANOVA; hierarchical modeling; visual analysis of graphic data; constant comparison, etc.).
- Share the key results. In addition to the descriptive statistics, (means and standard deviations); when reporting statistical findings, be sure to report the key aspects (e.g., F-value; degrees of freedom, p-values, effect size etc.).
- As space allows, put results into categories or subcategories (e.g., total group; gender differences; ethnicity differences.
Common pitfalls in the Analysis/Results:
- Poor fit of the data analysis for the method used in the study.
- Vague (small, significant) results – failing to use concrete numbers.
DO NOT skimp on this section. If you do not state and cannot sell a "so what" – even with the other sections well written, your proposal may not be accepted! Think carefully about how you can succinctly communicate these aspects of your study:
- The major conclusions and significance.
- The meaning of the results (so what?); the implications of the findings.
- How results of the current study compare to previous research findings.
- Are your results (and method) generalizable, or are they specific to only a particular situation?
- The limitations (every study has them!)
Common pitfalls in the Conclusion:
- Failing to include much, if any of the above information!
- Reaching beyond the scope of the study/data.
You may choose a title up front; or you may write the abstract and then review it in order to decipher an appropriate title. The title should clearly indicate the TYPE of research and specific TOPIC of the study.
Additional Tips and Reviewer Checklist
The following are excellent resources for more detailed information regarding the role of abstracts and additional guidelines for writing effective research abstracts.
Locke, L. F., Silverman, S. J., & Spirduso, W. (2010). Reading and understanding research (3rd ed.). London: Sage Publications.
Locke, L. F., Spirduso, W., & Silverman, S. J. (2007). Proposals that work: A guide for planning dissertations and grant proposals (5th ed.). London: Sage Publications.
Purdue Online Writing Lab: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/656/01/
Thomas, J., Nelson, J., Silverman, S. (2005). Research methods in physical activity. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
The content for this tutorial was developed by Hans van der Mars (Arizona State University). We would also like to acknowledge: Drs. Heidi Grappendorf (North Carolina State University), Pamela Kulinna (Arizona State University), Monica Lounsbery (University of Nevada-Las Vegas), and Thom McKenzie (San Diego State University) who provided suggestions and review.