Help for Authors
[NOTE: This guidance pertains only to abstracts for submitted articles, not abstracts in response to Requests for Abstracts. See our Requests for Abstracts guidelines for more information.]
Our reader surveys consistently show that the abstract is the most read part of any published paper. It is therefore a very important part of your paper, as many readers will make a decision about whether or not to read on based on what they read here. We have prepared the guidelines below to help you prepare an abstract that will meet our requirements. Please review these before you write your abstract and as you revise it. Not all examples will apply to all cases, but most can be adapted to fit a number of circumstances.
General formula for constructing an abstract
1) An abstract should be between 100 and 150 words, but if you can satisfy all of our requirements in fewer words, that is fine, also.
2) First one or two sentences of the abstract should provide useful or contextual background information. Example:
"Identification and treatment of postpartum depression are the increasing focus of state and national legislation, including portions of the Affordable Care Act. Some state mandates are modeled directly on programs in New Jersey, the first state to require universal screening of mothers who recently delivered babies for postpartum depression."
3) Next one or two sentences (or as below, a part of a sentence) should describe what authors sought to do or did. Example:
"We examined the impact of these policies on a particularly vulnerable population, Medicaid recipients...."
4) Next one or two sentences should describe results (if there are any). If there is a signal or representative quantitative finding, include it (be specific).
Example: "...and found find that neither this required screening, nor the educational campaign that preceded it, was associated with improved treatment initiation, follow-up, or continued care. We argue that New Jersey's policies, although well intentioned, were predicated on an inadequate base of evidence..."
5) Last sentence or sentences should describe policy implications or recommendations. Example:
"...and that efforts should now be undertaken to build that base. We also argue that, to improve detection and treatment, policy makers contemplating or implementing postpartum depression mandates should consider additional measures. These could include requiring monitoring, mechanisms to monitor and enforce the screening requirement; payment of providers to execute screening and follow up; and preliminary testing of interventions before policy changes are enacted."
1. Structure and Content
a. Does the abstract present the paper in miniature? Is it accurate and reflective of the paper's content? Is it self-contained so that the reader gets the main message without having to read the paper? Does it tell the reader:
i. What the paper is about?
ii. Why it is important? What its relation to policy is?
iii What it does to expand our knowledge or understanding? What's the news? What is the sound bite?
iv. How the results or message are related to the policy issue the paper addresses?
v. What problem it solves or what action it recommends?
2. Content and language: some specifics
a. Quantitative information
i. If the paper presents quantitative information, the abstract should include some of this; if there is anything in the paper that can be identified as the central finding and that can be quantified, that should be included in the abstract.
ii. Example of how to present such findings and how not to present such findings
1. Okay: "Our results show that Medicaid beneficiaries are two times more likely than those with private insurance to suffer from multiple chronic conditions."
2. Not okay: "Our results show that Medicaid beneficiaries are more likely to suffer from multiple chronic conditions compared to those with private insurance."
b. Discussion of methods should generally be avoided, but when it is necessary it should be at a very general level. For example:
i. Okay: "We present data from surveys conducted between 2005 and 2010..."
ii. Not okay: "We present results from our multivariate logistic regression model..."
c. Abstract should not contain any jargon or "high level" phrases that are likely to be known only among a specialized set of readers or that otherwise require some explanation.
d. No acronyms.
3. Length: Our length limits are flexible. We are mainly concerned that the abstract presents the paper in miniature, offering the reader a sense of the topic, the context, what the paper will do to contribute to the discussion on the topic, a specific sense of the findings or main point of the paper, and some sense of the implications or conclusions. We reserve the right to adjust the length of the abstract to achieve these goals, and will work with you to reach that.