Annual Meeting

Tips for writing an abstract

Emily Ulrich
By Emily Ulrich
Oct. 5, 2023

Writing compelling titles and abstracts is a key skill for scientists at any career stage. These highly visible elements of a manuscript or conference submission must draw readers in while also showcasing your whole project.

With the Nov. 30 deadline for submitting abstracts for Discover BMB 2024 just a couple of months away, you may be asking yourself: How do I boil down the details of my research into something concise, clear and approachable to read?

As the technical editor for the publications department at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, I help scientists perfect the clarity and reach of their titles and abstracts. I find that the most engaging ones effectively convey the project as a story — with every piece of the abstract fitting together to enhance a central narrative.

Here I provide a few suggestions on how to construct titles and abstracts that are easy to read and will appeal to a broad biochemistry/molecular biology audience. My main take-home message is to put yourself in the reader’s shoes and think about what you find eye-catching when quickly skimming a publication website or conference agenda. I am guessing it is NOT a super-long, jargon-heavy title. (Always remember to check the character/word limits!)

Titles

  • State the main finding of your study as a sentence (eg, “Overexpression of the kinase ABC promotes …”). This style may not fit every project, but it can be easier for the reader to quickly grasp where your story is going.
  • Provide context for field-specific terms. The reader may not know if “ABC” is a protein, a small molecule or something else entirely. If you have space, give some general information such as “phosphatase ABC” or “aminoglycoside ABC.” The full definition is not crucial.

Abstracts

  • Convert your project into a story you would tell a colleague. Cohesiveness is more critical than completeness.
  • Start with why your research topic is important, including relevant background information needed to follow other pieces of the abstract.
  • State what knowledge is missing.
  • Relay your results to build a story about filling this gap in knowledge. Avoid stringing together sentences about each individual experiment without emphasizing how they relate to each other and the broader goal.
  • Describe the key method(s) that would help the reader assess your conclusions. Work these methods into your summary of results.
  • Conclude with a statement that relates back to the broader biological significance.
  • Use the active voice. This style makes the abstract feel more like a story. For example, say “We found that …” instead of “X was found to be …”
  • Read your draft out loud. I find this strategy helps to catch sentences that pack in too many details and are hard to follow.
  • Ask a colleague to read your abstract. Choose someone who is not too familiar with your project, maybe someone in another field of biochemistry or molecular biology. Ask if they can understand the gist of your project after one quick reading.
  • Finally, adapt any of these suggestions to fit your personal writing style and instructions from your advisor. These are guidelines, not rules, from the perspective of someone who reads tons of abstracts.

Discover BMB abstract categories

When you present your research at Discover BMB 2023 in Seattle, you’ll get the recognition you’ve earned and the constructive feedback you need to make your work even better. Submit an abstract for the opportunity to:

  • Present your work — Get noticed when you share your findings at this highly regarded research forum. Practice communicating your science to audiences of varying interests and specialties.
  • Circulate your findings — Contribute to the community’s collective body of knowledge by sharing your successes and challenges.
  • Gain a competitive advantage — Get a step ahead of other job seekers by presenting your findings in front of experts and employers whose work you know and admire. Discover BMB abstract categories.
  • Find new collaborators — Forge partnerships with other scientists with shared interests.

Abstracts presented at #DiscoverBMB 2024 will be published in a supplement to the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The on-time abstract and travel award application submission deadline is Nov. 30. Submission instructions and a link to the submission system are at discoverbmb.asbmb.org/abstracts.

Abstracts will be accepted in the following categories.
Advocacy Training Program
AI and Data Science in BMB
Bacteriology and Virology
BMB Education and Professional Development
Chemical Biology
Drug Discovery
Enzyme Chemistry and Catalysis
Experimental and Computational Methods and Resources
Glycobiology and Extracellular Matrices
Lipids and Membranes
Metabolism
Nucleic Acids
Omics
Organelles and Compartments
Pharmacology and Signal Transduction
Plant Biology
Protein Synthesis, Structure, Modifications, and Interactions
Science Outreach Activities

 

You'll find a more detailed list of categories and spotlight talk themes, information about submitting abstracts  and more at our Discover BMB site.

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Emily Ulrich
Emily Ulrich

Emily Ulrich is the ASBMB’s science editor.

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