Understanding the Art Behind an Abstract

July 2023 Vol 14, No 7 —July 19, 2023



Writing an abstract is not unlike creating art, according to Beth Matthews, MSN, RN, OCN, ONN-CG, Division Navigation Director at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute/North Carolina Division. With both art and abstracts, many people doubt their abilities, think they’re not good or creative enough, and in the end, don’t create anything at all.

But simply knowing how to go about writing a research abstract can make all the difference. To create a masterpiece, the artist needs supplies; to create an abstract, so does the navigator.

“So the question is, what is keeping you from writing your own abstract masterpiece?” Ms Matthews asked at the 2023 AONN+ Midyear Conference in Orlando.

Why Create an Abstract?

Abstracts are used to communicate complex research in a concise manner and may act as a stand-alone entity instead of a full paper.

When it comes to demonstrating value and enhancing the credibility of navigation, building on evidence-based research in the field is crucial. New research also helps navigators to discover and share novel ideas, and in turn, improve on existing processes. Ms Matthews pointed out that it’s not a problem to replicate another study, as this only serves to strengthen the prior hypothesis. Envision it as an artist tracing an existing image onto a canvas but making a new work of art that’s all their own, she said.

Conducting new research also advances professional development by challenging navigators and helping them hone their problem-solving and presentation skills.

“So we need your help in developing evidence-based research abstracts about navigation,” she said.

Gathering Your Supplies for Creating an Abstract Masterpiece

Ms Matthews admitted that getting started on an abstract can seem incredibly daunting, but it all starts with an initial step: formulating a research question.

Just like there are 4 sides to a canvas, formulating a research question for an abstract can be tackled by considering 4 components of a framework: problem/population, intervention/improvement, comparison, and outcome.

An abstract should include a title, author names, background, objectives, methods, results, and conclusions. But as with making art, these don’t have to be completed in a certain order.

First, define the problem by figuring out what question you want answered. For example, in your navigation program, is advance care planning being addressed? If so, at what point in the cancer journey? Ms Matthews encourages navigators to “find their why” and define a research question that means something to them personally.

Moving to the next section of the canvas, define your intervention/area of improvement: ie, introducing conversations about advance care planning in the survivorship phase, or adding questions about advance care planning to the patient intake form.

The comparison is just that: comparing the current state of something to how it can be improved. In the example of advance care planning, compare the prior to the new proposed process.

When it comes to the outcome, it’s all about the data. “This is probably the part that scares us the most,” she said. “How do we collect the data? How do we analyze the data? And then, what do we do with it?”

She encourages navigators to do what comes most easily to them in terms of tracking data. If you’re a whiz at making Excel spreadsheets, use that method. If you’d rather pay a fee and compile less data on your own, consider a service like SurveyMonkey. “But the data are so important, because ultimately, it’s going to tell us what’s going on,” she said.

Writing Your Abstract

According to Ms Matthews, the second scariest part of writing an abstract tends to be deciphering the terminology involved, but she encourages navigators to think of these words as a foreign language. We may not use words like “framework,” “prospective,” “retrospective,” “quantitative,” and “qualitative” on a daily basis, but countless resources exist online to help make sense of these terms.

An abstract should include a title, author names, background, objectives, methods, results, and conclusions. But as with making art, these don’t have to be completed in a certain order, according to Ms Matthews. If the title is written last, no problem.

She offered a few simple tips: write in a concise manner, pay attention to word limits (these vary according to publisher), present only unbiased research, use an agnostic format (no use of “I,” facility name, etc), and use literature databases to fill out historical background.

“Get together with your peers and find navigators with the same passions who want to answer these same questions,” she urged. “It’s a lot easier to divide and conquer with your peers than it is to do all of this on your own.”

When you’re finally ready to step back and look at your results, you may realize that they don’t correlate with your objectives or hypothesis, but be sure to detail these unexpected or negative findings in your abstract. These types of results can be just as helpful as positive findings in terms of research, as they show other navigators what not to do.

“It’s okay if it doesn’t come out the way you thought it would,” she said. “[Your intervention] might not have worked at all, but that’s still telling us that no significant difference was seen in evidence-based practice.”

“Most importantly, making bad art is better than making no art,” Ms Matthews concluded. “So go out and make some art.”

Submit your late-breaking abstract to the AONN+ Annual Conference.


Related Articles
Publishing Your Navigation Research: From Abstract to Print
July 2023 Vol 14, No 7
Publishing your navigation research may seem like a daunting task, but becoming familiar with the step-by-step process involved in getting published can make it a more manageable and realistic undertaking, according to Kristin Siyahian, VP, Editorial Director of JONS
Last modified: August 10, 2023

Subscribe Today!

To sign up for our print publication or e-newsletter, please enter your contact information below.

I'd like to receive:

  • First Name *
    Last Name *
    Profession or Role
    Primary Specialty or Disease State