How to Write an Undergraduate Abstract

Writing an Abstract for the Undergraduate Research Poster Session

By Elzbieta Cook, Louisiana State University

General Rules and Accepted Practices

Successful abstracts exhibit what is generally accepted as good scientific communication. The following guidelines specify all aspects of how a good abstract is written.

  • Title

    The Title is informative; it is neither too long nor too short, and it does not oversell or sensationalize the content of the presentation.

    • Make the title descriptive, yet short and sweet.
    • Do not start the title with “The”, “A”, or “An.”
    • Capitalize only the first letter of the first word of the title, the first letter of the first word after a colon, and any proper names, acronyms (e.g., NMR) or chemical formulas (e.g., NaOH).  
    • Do not put a period at the end of the title.
  • Body

    The body of the abstract briefly frames the researched issue, succinctly describes the performed research, and outlines the findings and general conclusions without going into too many details or numbers.

    • Do not write everything you did in your work. Briefly frame the research you will be describing. Your poster will be a better place to elaborate on selected aspects of your research. Instead, make general statements in regards to what was done, what techniques were used, what type of information was gained (without going into details of specific results), and what the potential benefits or significance of the findings are.
    • Ensure that the content of the abstract is approved by your research advisor. In addition to getting valuable feedback on how you write, your research advisor will know which results are ready to be shared in your presentation and which belong elsewhere. Additionally, the advisor is responsible for your work and, consequently, your work and results.  
    • Do not make literature references to other published research in the abstract. A good place for literature references is in the introduction of your poster. Likewise, unless specifically requested by the session organizers, do not include funding information in the abstract. Your research program and funding sources can be mentioned in the acknowledgment part of your poster.
    • Do not use “I” and “we” when reporting on you research. It is okay to state, for instance, that “research in our group is focused on…” The passive voice is still the standard in scientific literature, even if it makes your English teacher cringe.
    • Exercise restraint when placing figures, schemes, and tables in the abstract. The body of your poster is a much better place for the majority of artwork. Having said that, figures, schemes, and tables are allowed in the abstract, but you need to watch the character count, as these features quickly add hundreds of characters.
    • Limit the number of characters for the entire abstract to 2,500. This includes the title, the body, and the authors, along with their affiliations.
  • Authors

    The list of authors, in addition to the presenting undergraduate student(s), always includes the name of the research advisor(s) as well as any other non-presenting author who contributed to the presented work.

    • The list of authors must include the presenting author(s). The presenting author is you and any other undergraduate student who will present the research with you.
    • Include the name(s) of your research advisor(s) on the list of poster authors. With few exceptions, undergraduate research is typically funded through a grant applied for and received by a research mentor, and must be properly acknowledged. Your research project is likely the brainchild of your research advisor, even if you contributed to its development. Remember that credit must go where it belongs! Even if you are the only person who performs the experiments, you do so under the supervision of a research advisor or graduate student (who, in turn, is financially supported by the mentor). In addition, the costs of hosting you in the laboratory, including disposables, software licenses, hazardous waste disposal, and even the costs of keeping the lab air-conditioned, the lights on and the elevator functioning, are typically courtesy of the host group (covered from your mentor’s indirect costs). The reviewer of your abstract will check whether the list of authors includes the name of the research advisor. Submissions without this information will not be accepted until the necessary correction is made.
    • List the presenting author first. While there is no strict rule about the order of authors, it is common that the presenting author is listed first. If there is more than one presenting author, the order should follow that of their contributions, followed by non-presenting authors, with the research mentor being listed at the end. Some research mentors elect to be the first authors on undergraduate research posters, but care must be taken so that they are not listed as presenting authors. Again, the reviewer of your abstract will check to see whether the research mentor is listed as a presenting author, and if that is the case, the abstract will be returned to the authors for further clarification.

    NOTE:  Only undergraduate students are allowed to present in the Undergraduate Research Poster session. Any research mentor who wishes to present the results from an undergraduate project must do so in another session.

  • Affiliations

    • Ensure that the name and the address of each college, university, institute, etc., is the same for all authors who come from that school. For instance, MAPS, the ACS’s abstract submission system, will “think” that Penn State and The Pennsylvania State University are two different schools and will assign two different affiliations to authors who were, after all, working in the same lab!
    • The order of affiliations should follow the order of authors.
  • Submitting an Abstract to the Correct Session

    It is a common error for students and faculty to submit a poster abstract to an incorrect session. The confusion often comes from the fact that the Chemical Education division of the ACS (DivCHED) accepts two types of poster abstracts: those from faculty about their chemical education research and those from undergraduate students about their research in a particular technical discipline.

    The Undergraduate Research Poster Session in DivCHED is custom made for undergraduate student research. It is a good place to submit an abstract here, whether it’s your first presentation at a National Meeting or your third or fourth (as long as you’re still an undergrad).

    Nevertheless, you should consult with your research advisor to find the right place to submit. If you do plan on submitting to a division other than DivCHED (e.g. Division of Analytical Chemistry),  it’s a good idea to check with the division program chair to find the best place to showcase your research.

    The Undergraduate Research Poster Session is meant only for undergraduate student presenters (i.e., you!). ACS has created several sub-divisions for the various sub-disciplines in chemistry, so you can present in an area that closely relates to your research.

    In the Undergraduate Research Poster Session, you’ll want to choose the area of chemistry your research fits best, such as biochemistry, environmental, etc.  If your undergraduate research is organic chemistry, for example, select Undergraduate Research Posters: Organic Chemistry-Poster. Only if you have helped to develop a new laboratory experiment or in-class demonstration, or you have analyzed learning outcomes of new learning strategies or a new pedagogy—will you want to submit your abstract to Undergraduate Research Posters: Chemical Education-Poster.

    Remember, you, as an undergraduate researcher, must register and attend the meeting to present your work. Please note that if a faculty researcher, a postdoctoral candidate, or a graduate student wishes to present a poster on chemistry education research, they should submit their abstract to the CHED division in the General Poster Session. This article is not meant for such submissions.

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