Association of Polar Early Career Scientists


When preparing to share your research at a conference, you often have to write an 'abstract'. What is an abstract anyways and how can I write a good one? Here are some tips on abstracts for conferences and other resources that might be helpful.

What is an abstract?

An abstract is a short and informative outline of your work. It usually includes the following sections

  • 1-4 sentences to introduce your work so that the reader has some context
  • 1-4 sentences describing what you did (research question and methods)
  • 3-6 sentences on your major findings to date; and
  • 1-3 sentences describing what your work means to others.

An abstract tells the reader what they need to know to understand the big picture of your project.

An abstract is not a summary. A summary appears at the end of a piece of work, and is a restatement of the important findings and conclusions.

Abstracts are found at the beginning of journal articles, research papers, reports, theses, and dissertations. Abstracts can also be used to describe a talk or poster presentation at a conference.

Adpated from Dr J. Mark Tippett's "How to Write an Abstract"

Examples of abstracts

So now that you know how an abstract is structured, here's a few examples of conference abstracts that you can use as a guide:

How to write an abstract

The length of the abstract will be restricted to the limit set by the conference. They are often about 250 words (about 15 sentences). The abstract consists of 5 linked parts – background, problem or research questions, methods, results, and what your results mean to others. You need to get the attention of the reader with the abstract – make them interested in your work. You want to make them chose you to give a presentation!

Make sure your project, and the description of your project in the abstract, fits within one of the themes of the conference. If it does not, your presentation will likely not be considered. Don't be discouraged though! There are lots of conferences out there and there will be many that will fit your type of research project. Just keep looking until you find the right one.

Make sure your abstract is submitted by the deadline. Conferences do not usually consider abstracts that are submitted late.

Your abstract needs to be written in complete sentences and should be no more than one (rarely two) paragraphs in length. You will not specifically identify the categories below but each of these key areas need to be outlined in your abstract.

Why do you have to write an abstract for a conference?

The purpose of writing an abstract is to allow readers to quickly and accurately understand your work and to decide if your work is relevant to the purpose and topics of the conference. If your abstract is accepted, it will also help participants at the conference decide if they want to see your talk or poster.

Prior to the conference, all submitted abstracts are evaluated by reviewers or judges whose job it is to decide who gets to present at the conference. If your abstract is accepted, it gets printed in the conference programme, so that all attendees can find it, read it, and decide if they want to come hear or see your presentation (at a conference there will be many presentations happening at the same time). A well-written abstract will get you to present at the conference AND will also attract others to your presentation!

When you are submitting an abstract to a conference, it is because you would like to present your work or research to the people attending the conference. You would like others to hear about what you have been working on or what you have learned. So, the whole reason you are writing the abstract is to have a "short and sweet" version of your project presentation.

The judges who decide who will present a verbal presentation or poster at the conference don't have time to read through entire papers or long presentations for each submission - they ask for an abstract instead! Make your abstract so interesting and accurate that they say "We want this person to present!"

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