How to write a conference abstract…and beyond!


The Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control (ACIPC) asked me to give a webinar on writing a conference abstract for an infection prevention and control conference. I thought it would be useful to share the slides (which you can download here), and let you know how it went.

So why bother submitting an abstract to a conference? It’s all about the big speakers on the big stage, right? Wrong. Submitted abstracts delivered through oral and poster presentation is the life blood of the science underpinning our infection prevention and control practice. There’s a useful PLOS blog along these lines here.

It can be pretty daunting to prepare an abstract for a conference if you’ve not done it before, or had a bad experience in the past. So the idea of the webinar was to provide a step-by-step guide to producing a winning conference abstract.

There are a number of hurdles to overecome to get your abstract accepted. You need to tick the ethics box, be transparent with conflicts of interest, decide on appropriate authorship before getting down to the abstract itself. Follow the ‘house rules’ of the conference carefully to avoid your abstract being rejected simply because it’s in the wrong format.

The title of your abstract is especially important; it will be all that many people will read (particularly if it’s bad). I’ve included some illustrations of titles that I think are good, and some that are not so good. The ones in the ‘not so good’ category are by no means bad: these are accepted abstracts from a scientific conference. It’s just that if the authors thought again about a creative, engaging, informative title, I think they’d come up with something difference. (I should add here, that my abstract titles tend to default to really dull because I’m not brave enough to do anything more creative, so who am I to talk!)

When it comes to writing the abstract itself, the following ‘Dos and Don’ts’ should help:

dos and donts

Once the abstract is accepted, it will be time to produce the poster or prepare the slides. Both posters and slides to illustrate talks should be just that – a visual illustration. For me, the text of the abstract should suffice for the text of the poster and, to a lesser degree, the slides. Save the dense text for the paper that should follow.

Finally, if you have any queries about an abstract for a conference, get in touch with the conference organisers. Behind the impersonal abstract submission site will be living, breathing human beings who would love to support you in disseminating your findings for the good of the community.


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