Tips for Writing an Excellent Conference Abstract

By Kathy Van Dusen, MSN, RN, CEN, CPEN, NHDP-BC, FAEN Apr 05, 2022

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Have you ever attended a nursing conference and thought to yourself that someday you would love to present a session at this conference?

Have you ever attended a nursing conference and thought to yourself that someday you would love to present a session at this conference? Perhaps you submitted an abstract that didn’t get accepted. Have you read a call for abstracts and wished you knew how to write an excellent abstract? Maybe you are ready to take your professional growth to the next level by presenting at a national conference. Following are some tips to help you write an excellent conference abstract.

The road to an outstanding abstract begins with carefully reviewing the submission guidelines for the conference.

Before You Begin

  • Read the directions carefully and often.
  • Understand the format, length and content expected.
  • Seek a mentor who has experience writing abstracts.
  • Allow yourself enough time to prepare a first-rate submission; waiting until the last minute rarely results in quality content.
  • Make sure there is evidence to support your topic, and provide current references.

Selecting a Topic

Let’s start at the beginning of your submission with the topic of your abstract. Consider the audience who attends the conference, and think of clinical or professional practice topics that would be meaningful and valuable to them. Timely and relevant topics with fresh ideas and takeaways are a great way to start, and they include:

  • New research or clinical guidelines
  • Topics that highlight your area of expertise
  • Topics that are relevant to conference attendees
  • Subjects that apply to current practice challenges or workplace concerns
  • Narrowing your topic to focus on key information that will fit in the time allotted

Abstract Titles

The title is the first thing abstract scorers and conference attendees will see, so it is worth spending some time trying a few variations to see what conveys the main point of your abstract and entices the audience to read further:

  • Keep the title clear and concise; be certain it accurately reflects your presentation.
  • Catchy titles grab the reader’s attention, yet describe the subject well.
  • A title with 12 or fewer words is optimal.

Abstract Content

Plan your abstract thoroughly before writing it. A high-quality abstract addresses the problem or question, the evidence and the solutions. It is important to give an overview of what you intend to include in the presentation. Abstracts should be concise but also informative. Sentences should be short to convey the needed information and free of words or phrases that do not add value. Keep your audience in mind as you prepare your abstract. How much background information you provide on a topic will depend on the conference. It is a good idea to explain how you plan to engage the audience with your teaching methods, such as case studies, polling or audience participation.

  • After the title, the first sentence should be a hook that grabs the reader’s attention and entices them to continue reading.
  • The second sentence should be a focused problem statement supported by evidence.
  • The next few sentences provide the solution to the problem.
  • The conclusion should reiterate the purpose of your presentation in one or two sentences.

Learning Objectives

If the conference abstract requires learning objectives, start each one with an action verb. Action verbs are words such as apply, demonstrate, explain, identify, outline and analyze. Refrain from using nonaction verbs and phrases such as understand, recognize, be able to, and become familiar with. Learning objectives must be congruent with the purpose, session description/summary and abstract text. For a list of action verbs, refer to a Bloom’s Taxonomy chart.

Editing Your Abstract

Editing is an important part of the abstract submission process. The editing phase will help you see the abstract as a whole and remove unnecessary words or phrases that do not provide value:

  • The final draft should be clear and easy to read and understand.
  • Your language should be professional and adhere to abstract guidelines.
  • Writing in the present tense is preferred.
  • If there is more than one author, each author should review and edit the draft.
  • Ask a colleague who is a good editor to critique your work.
  • Reread your abstract and compare it with the abstract guidelines.
  • Great content that is written poorly will not be accepted.
  • Prevent typographical errors by writing your submission as a Word document first, and copy and paste it into the submission platform after you check spelling and grammar.
  • Follow word and character count instructions, abstract style and formatting guidelines.
  • Do not try to bend the rules to fit your needs; authors who do not follow the guidelines are more likely to have their submission rejected.
  • After you finish writing your abstract, put it aside and return later with a fresh mind before submitting it.

Grammar Tips

  • Avoid ampersands (&) and abbreviations such as, etc.
  • Parenthetical remarks (however relevant they may seem) are rarely necessary.
  • It is usually incorrect to split an infinitive. An infinitive consists of the word “to” and the simple form of a verb (e.g., to go, to read).
  • Examples: “To suddenly go” and “to quickly read” are examples of split infinitives, because the adverbs (suddenly and quickly) split (break up) the infinitives to go and to read.
  • Contractions are not used in scholarly writing. Using contractions in academic writing is usually not encouraged, because it can make your writing sound informal.
  • Examples of contractions and full words:
    • I’m = I am
    • They’re = They are
    • I’d = I had
    • She’s = She is
    • How’s = How is
  • Avoid quotations.
  • Do not be redundant or use more words than necessary.
  • Use an active voice.

National Teaching Institute (NTI) Submissions

We invite you to participate in AACN’s mission to advance, promote and distribute information through education, research and science. The API (Advanced Practice Institute) and NTI volunteer committees review and score every abstract submitted for NTI. Abstracts are reviewed for relevance of content, quality of writing and expression of ideas. At NTI there are four session times to choose from. Your abstract should demonstrate that you have enough content to cover the selected time frame.

Session Types for NTI

  • Mastery: 2.5 hours of content
  • Concurrent: 60- or 75-minute sessions
  • Preconference half-day: 3 hours of content
  • Preconference full-day: 6 hours of content

Links for NTI Submissions

Putting time and effort into writing an excellent abstract is the gateway to a podium presentation. It’s time to kickstart your professional growth and confidently submit a conference abstract.

For what conference will you submit an abstract?