37.5 Writing scientifically: Abstract

The Abstract is a short section at the start of an article which summarises the whole paper; it is not an introduction! An Abstract includes the most important and interesting parts of the research. The Abstract is often the most important part of any article, as it is the only part that many people will read.

Writing the Abstract after the paper is fully written is often sensible. Some (but not all) journals require a structured abstract, where the Abstract contains sections to be briefly completed (see Sect. 36.2). These abstracts are usually much easier for a reader to follow.

The Standards for Reporting Diagnostic Accuracy (STARD) statement (Cohen et al. 2017) list essential items for Abstracts; these are (slightly adapted):

  • Background and Objectives: List the study objectives (the RQ).
  • Methods: Describe:
    • The process of data collection;
    • The type of study;
    • The inclusion and exclusion criteria for individuals;
    • The settings in which the data were collected;
    • The sampling method (e.g. random or convenience sample);
    • The tools or methods used to collect the data.
  • Results: Provide
    • The number of individuals in all groups included in the analysis;
    • Estimates of precision of estimates (e.g. confidence intervals);
    • Results of analysis (e.g. hypothesis tests).
  • Discussion: Provide
    • A general interpretation of the results;
    • Implications for practice, including the intended use of the index test;
    • Limitations of the study.

These loosely align with the six steps of research used in this book.

Example 37.3 (Structured abstract) A research study examined the long-term effects of mortality after amptutation (Singh and Prasad 2016). The (structured) Abstract (slightly edited for brevity) is repeated below:

Background: Mortality after amputation is known to be extremely high and is associated with a number of patient features. We wished to calculate this mortality after first-time lower-limb amputation and investigate whether any population or treatment factors are associated with worse mortality.

Objective: To follow up individuals after lower limb amputation and ascertain the mortality rate as well as population or treatment features associated with mortality.

Study design: A prospective cohort study.

Methods: Prospective lower-limb amputations over 1 year (\(N=105\)) at a Regional Rehabilitation Centre were followed up for 3 years.

Results: After 3 years, 35 individuals in the cohort had died, representing a mortality of 33%. On initial univariate analysis, those who died were more likely to have diabetes mellitus (\(\chi^2 = 7.16\), \(\text{df} = 1\), \(p = 0.007\)) and less likely to have been fitted with a prosthesis (\(\chi^2 =5.84\), \(\text{df}=1\), \(p=0.016\)) […] Diabetes (odds ratio\({}=3.04\), confidence intervals\({}=1.25-7.40\), \(p=0.014\)) and absence of prosthesis-fitting (odds ratio\({}=2.60\), confidence interval\({}=1.16-6.25\), \(p=0.028\)) were independent predictors of mortality.

Conclusion: Mortality after amputation is extremely high and is increased in individuals with diabetes or in those who are not fitted with a prosthesis after amputation.

Singh and Prasad (2016), p. 545


Cohen JF, Korevaar DA, Gatsonis CA, Glasziou PP, Hooft L, Moher D, et al. STARD for abstracts: Essential items for reporting diagnostic accuracy studies in journal or conference abstracts. BMJ. British Medical Journal Publishing Group; 2017;358:j3751.
Singh RK, Prasad G. Long-term mortality after lower-limb amputation. Prosthetics and Orthotics International. 2016;40(5).