Manuscript & Abstract Writing

Steve Davis, MSW, MPA
Danielle Davidov, PhD
Once your research project is finished (or
almost finished), you should be thinking
1) Submitting your research as an abstract to a
scientific conference
2) Writing a manuscript for submission in a peerreviewed journal
Four essential steps that occur prior to actual
1) Finding and selecting a journal
2) Determining the article category
3) Examining the Instructions for Authors in
4) Obtaining a copy of the AMA Manual of Style
A critical first step is identifying a journal that
is the “best fit” for your project/paper.
◦ Locate a journal using popular lists
◦ Read the first part of the Instructions for Authors
Locating a Journal and reading the first part
of the author instructions.
◦ Popular Journal Lists by Specialty
Tip #1: One or two potential journals should
be identified during the design stage
Tip #2: Scan two or three recent journal
editions for “hot topics”
Tip #3: Examine the Instructions for Authors
After you have identified a journal, you must
determine the article category
◦ The category determines how the article is written
◦ Categories are usually topics like:
Public Health
Infectious Disease
A manuscript’s topic is not within the
journal’s scope  The scope of a journal
can change over time
◦ What a journal published ten years ago is
not necessarily what it will publish today.
If you are unsure if your topic is within
the scope of a journal, email the editor
and ask! This can save you a LOT of time
and effort.
The AMA Manual of Style
Used by most medical journals.
◦ Exceptions are administrative journals which may
use the APA or Chicago Manual of Style
Writing the Manuscript
Common Sections of a Manuscript
The title should concisely and correctly
convey the content of the article
◦ Other researchers may not be able to locate your
article if the title does not convey the article’s
Do not exceed the specified length limits in
the Instructions for Authors.
◦ Use the word processor to check.
Shorter is better!
The abstract is a brief summary of your
entire article (no more than 250-500 words)
Usually, it is one – two sentences from each
section of the manuscript and it is written
It can be either:
1. Structured (Background, Objective, Methods,
Results, Conclusions)
2. Unstructured (No subsections)
Conference abstracts are similar to those in
research manuscripts
When submitting an abstract for a
conference, you will want to include 1 – 2
sentences for each section:
Background: Why is the topic important?
Objective: Purpose of the study
Methods: Type of study design, data analysis
Results: Main findings, specific
Conclusions: General findings, future directions
Start with the background and end with the study
objective and/or question
3 paragraphs (Background, Importance, Goals/Objectives)
Must pass the “So what?” test
Must be brief!
 Background: What is known?
 Importance: Why should anyone care? (Relevance to
journals’ readers, i.e., emergency medicine)
 Goals/Objectives: What are we going to do to study it?
 Usually no more than 1 to 1.5 double spaced word
processor pages.
Background section
◦ Usually start off with an alarming statistic or
something that is known as a fact to grab the
reader’s attention:
 Ex) “Domestic violence is a pervasive public health
 Ex) “Approximately 4.8 million rapes and sexual
assaults are committed against women each year”
 Ex) “Overcrowding is a common problem faced in the
emergency department”
Expand upon the background of the problem by
citing what previous research has been carried
out on the topic
◦ Ex) “The past twenty years of research examining patient
satisfaction in the emergency department has found three
main components of satisfaction”
Almost every sentence in the Background section
should have AT LEAST one reference
◦ Unless:
 It is an original thought (not really common in research)
 It is something that is common knowledge
After the background, you need to discuss
why the topic is important and worth
◦ Before you present the goal or purpose of your
study, state why it is worth doing:
 Ex) “To the best of our knowledge, no study has
examined this topic in rural patients…”
 Ex) “Literature is scarce on X, Y, and Z, and this
important information has implications for clinical
At the very end of the introduction, state the
purpose of your study
Tell the reader your specific aims and your
◦ Ex) “The aims of the current study were threefold: 1) to
_________, 2) to __________, and 3) to ________.
◦ Ex) “The purpose of the current study was to examine
emergency medicine physicians’ attitudes towards bedside
ultrasound using a web-based survey.”
◦ Ex) “We hypothesize that emergency medicine physicians
will have favorable attitudes towards bedside ultrasound.”
Failure to carefully and clearly define a
research question before a study is initiated.
Too long. Do not make this section a book
report or formal literature review.
In this section you describe:
◦ The who, what, when, where, how and how many
Participants (aka, sample)
Data Analysis
◦ How many participants did you survey?
◦ What was the final response rate?
◦ How many patient charts were reviewed?
◦ What survey questions did you ask?
◦ Do your measures have reliability and validity?
◦ How did you send your surveys?
◦ How did you review patient charts?
◦ Which statistical procedures (e.g., logistic regression) and
statistical packages (e.g., SAS, STATA, SPSS) were used to
analyze the data?
The Methods should:
◦ Contain enough information so that others can
exactly replicate your study
◦ Be organized using subheadings (unless journal
states otherwise)
◦ Mention IRB review and approval
Tip: You can look at the methods sections of other manuscripts
to get an idea about how much detail to include in this section
In this section you will describe:
 The outcomes of the study
◦ Organize this section parallel to the methods section
 Start with demographics
◦ Use mostly tables and figures and limit text (< 4)
 Tables should be detailed enough so that they can
stand alone without explanation and be understood
 Refer to a table for important results, only:
 Ex) “As can be seen in Table 1, there was a significant
association between X and Y”
◦ Do NOT interpret the results, only present them
Presentation of data in a misleading way or
incongruence between tables and text
Not all subjects enrolled in the study are
accounted for in the tables or text
Percentages in tables add up to more than
100% without explanation
Tables and graphs are too complex to
reproduce well
In this section you:
◦ Link the results found in your study to other previous
studies (should flow from general to specific)
◦ State conjectures regarding the reasons for your
results in this section, but be careful to emphasize
that it is your opinion
◦ Try to include all major studies regarding an issue
◦ Do not omit studies that have findings contrary to
your own. Rather discuss why these findings might
be different from your own.
Author conjectures about the results are
presented as fact without evidence.
The importance of the study is overestimated.
All major previous studies are not included or
Too much time is spent on discussing or
explaining commonly known or accepted ideas.
The limitations of the study are not mentioned
(can be in a freestanding section).
In this section you:
◦ Provide an answer to the research question and
suggest a future direction
◦ Do not merely restate your study results
◦ Do not overstate the external applicability of your
◦ Be sure to state the need for future study (if
The references should list all works that you
discuss or take ideas from in the manuscript
◦ Remember: unless you are stating an original thought or
commonly known piece of information, you need a
◦ References should be current, if possible (within past 3–5 yrs)
◦ Format references using AMA style unless otherwise indicated
◦ Do not number the references while writing the manuscript!!
 Place author names and date in parentheses (i.e. Davis, 2006),
then go back later and insert superscripts  this will save you
hours of work!
◦ Make sure every reference in your list has been matched with
and mentioned in the text
Use short sentences and avoid verbosity
Use the active versus the passive voice
◦ Active
 “Research assistants enrolled eligible patients.”
◦ Passive
 “Eligible patients were enrolled by research assistants.”
Minimize the use of abbreviations
◦ Spell out the full term the first time followed by the
abbreviation in parentheses
 “The use of ultrasound (US) in emergency medicine
has become…”  thereafter, use the abbreviation
The Review Process
Cover Letter:
◦ Address to the editor of the journal
◦ List the title of the article
◦ Identify the journal category for which your manuscript
is intended
◦ Identify the corresponding author
◦ Indicate study design
◦ Mention if the work was presented at a conference, if
any conflicts of interest or copyright constraints exist
Most journals now have an electronic
submission process that cuts down on time
to decision
◦ Google the name of the journal to find the
submission website
◦ Upload title page, manuscript, cover letter,
tables/figures, and indicate order of authorship
Four decision types:
1. Accepted (extremely rare)
2. Accepted pending revisions
3. Revise and resubmit
 Make sure you address all review comments, even the
ones you didn’t incorporate, in the revision cover letter
4. Rejected (more frequent that you might believe
You might have to try 2 – 3 journals before it gets
accepted – that’s okay! A publication is a publication.
DeBehnke DJ, Kline JA, Shih RD; Research Committee of the
Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. Research
fundamentals: choosing an appropriate journal, manuscript
preparation, and interactions with editors. Acad Emerg Med.
2001 Aug;8(8):844-50.
Taylor DM, Brown AF. Analysis of the study design and
manuscript deficiencies in research articles submitted to
Emergency Medicine. Emerg Med (Fremantle). 2001
Biros MH. Advice to authors: getting published in Academic
Emergency Medicine. Available at: Accessed February
20, 2006
Abu-Laban RB. The top 10 errors in EM research. Presented at:
Society for Academic Emergency Medicine Annual Meeting; May
23rd, 2005; New York City, NY
Writing and Publishing a Manuscript. Steve Davis. Emergency
Medicine Grand Rounds. September 9, 2010.
Start writing!
Good luck! 
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