Preparing an Informative and Effective Abstract

Posted 3/31/12 by . Filed under News and Updates.
Read these tips on how to write an effective abstract by Susan Bagley, Professor of Environmental Microbiology, Department of Biological Sciences at Michigan Technological University.

What CONCISELY lets everyone know about your great research results? An Abstract! These are prepared for oral or poster presentations at meetings or for publications and can be very widely distributed through the Internet. Here are some tips on how to prepare an informative and useful abstract so that your research efforts can really be appreciated.

What an Abstract Should Do

An abstract is actually a (very) short version of the key components of your presentation/poster/paper. Simply put, it lets everyone know:

Why is this study important/necessary?
How was the study conducted?
What are the key results?
What do they mean?

If there is room (abstracts typically have word or character limits), an abstract may end with:

What will happen next?

So, if I, for example, could not attend your presentation/poster at a meeting, I can read your abstract and still get the key points that were covered (and I could decide to contact you to get additional information). As many on-line searches show abstracts first, I can use the abstract for your paper to decide if I want to take the time to access the entire paper (and you DO want to have your paper read).

What an Abstract Should NOT Do

What an abstract definitely should NOT include are statements containing any of the following wording combinations because I would have little idea what would be/was covered:

Results are/will be presented/discussed.

In fact, abstracts lacking specific details may not be considered acceptable!

Abstract Example

Here’s an example of an abstract used as part of poster presentation that incorporates all aspects of what an abstract could/should contain:

Molecular Approaches for Selective Isolation and Enumeration of Brevundimonas diminuta ATCC 19146

R. S. Donofrio1,2, S. T. Bagley2, L. L. Bestervelt1
1NSF International, Ann Arbor, MI, 2Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI.

Due to its small diameter (0.3 µm), Brevundimonas diminuta has been employed as a challenge organism in a variety of filtration-based drinking water (DW) treatment protocols. Current enumeration methods for B. diminuta lack selectivity for this organism and are routinely subject to interference by indigenous heterotrophic plate count bacteria (HPC). The goal of this research was to confer selectivity to B. diminuta ATCC 19146 so that recovery in the presence of HPCs could be accomplished. Two molecular approaches were used: introduction of antibiotic resistance and expression of a fluorescent protein (FP). Forty HPC isolates (identified by 16S rRNA sequence comparisons) were evaluated against several antibiotics, with 50 µg/mL kanamycin providing the highest susceptibility. B. diminuta was then transformed via electroporation with a transposon/plasmid vector (pUC19) containing a kanamycin resistance gene (kanR). Electroporation was also used for the incorporation of a FP into B. diminuta. Two strains were generated: one expressing AcGFP1 (Aequorea coerulescens green FP) and the other expressing DsRed-Monomer (Anemonia sulcata red FP). The FPs were chosen based on their differing excitation wavelengths and the potential for microscopic enumeration interference by autoflourescing particulates in water samples. The FP (red, green) and kanR strains were screened against the individual HPCs to evaluate impact on recovery/enumeration. Spike recovery studies (at 5×104 CFU/mL for both HPC and B. diminuta) showed that the kanR strain was not subject to interference when using kanamycin amended media. Under similar conditions, the two FP strains displayed no visual HPC inference when performing microscopic enumerations. The AcGFP1 strain exhibited a more intense fluorescence. Thus, both the transposon approach and FP vector addition appear to be viable methods for conferring selectivity to B. diminuta, resulting in decreased HPC interference and more accurate target enumeration. Studies are being performed to investigate the affect of pH, total dissolved solids, total organic carbon and -80°C storage on the stability of the inserts.

Do You Have Any Tips?

Feel free to share your ideas, tips for writing an abstract in the comments section below.

About the Author, Susan Bagley
Susan Bagley is a Professor of Environmental Microbiology in the Department of Biological Sciences at Michigan Technological University.  She has over 30 years experience working in academia and government (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) on microbial-based treatment of air, soil and waterborne organic wastes, mutagenicity and toxicity of environmental pollutants, and microbial production of bio-based fuels and polymers.

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