Last week, as I was working on my ESA abstract, I realized that I was including things that I wouldn’t normally, just to make sure I showed I have data in hand. The ESA Abstract Guidelines include this requirement:
The abstract must report specific results. The results may be preliminary but they may not be vague. Abstracts without explicitly stated results will be rejected. It is understandable that abstracts describing non-traditional work may lack quantitative data; however, it is still expected that the abstract will address some question and have a “take-home message” describing specific findings.
The abstract I submitted this year combines what will end up being two different publications. We’re working on one of those publications now, and just have a few loose ends to tie up before it will be ready for submission. That project redescribes a parasite that attacks developing embryos of Daphnia, and characterizes its phylogeny, virulence, and ecology. But I’m guessing the phylogeny part won’t be as exciting to an ESA audience, and the virulence stuff can be summarized quickly, so I decided to combine portions of this first manuscript with a second, less fully developed analysis. That second project deals with both the parasite we’re redescribing and another one that is similar in some ways (in that both sterilize their hosts but do not affect lifespan) but differs in other key ways (one is an obligate killer, the other is not). The main data component of this second project is two years of field data on these parasites in 15 lakes. We have lots of data, and I’ve done some analyses on them, but haven’t fully analyzed them.
So, to summarize, I was writing an ESA abstract for a talk where we’ve done a ton of work, but I haven’t finished analyzing everything. The abstract guidelines are clear that that’s okay (and I’m sure it’s common). I, like many other people, want to talk about new work at ESA, and also use it as a deadline to motivate me to finish up some analyses. But, since I don’t know what the threshold is for enough specific results in an abstract and I want to be sure I’m above it, I suspect I tend to put more in than really would be needed. (*see footnote below; I am NOT criticizing this requirement!)
When I wrote my abstract last week, the point where it really struck me that I was tailoring my abstract because of this requirement was when I wrote:
Infections of both parasites were observed in all six host species and all 15 lakes. However, there was substantial variation between lakes in the prevalence of infection, with infections rare in some lakes but common in others.
After writing that, I thought, “Hmmm, is that specific enough? That could sound kind of vague and like I haven’t really analyzed the data on this.” So, I added in these sentences right after:
In 2014, maximum infection prevalences of the brood parasite reached 4.9-8.7% of the entire population and 9.1-20% of the asexual adult female population. Maximum prevalences of the bacterium ranged from 0.2-54.5% of the population.
That’s probably excessive detail for an abstract, but at least it makes it clear that we really do have data and it’s certainly specific!**
How much do you tailor your ESA abstract to address that part of the guidelines? Have you had an abstract rejected because it didn’t contain enough specific results?
*I want to emphasize that I am NOT criticizing ESA for this policy. It makes sense to me that they want to be sure there’s a reasonable chance the person can give a talk that will be interesting to others (and a talk with no data is less likely to be interesting). And I can’t even imagine the amount of work that goes into sorting through all the abstracts and making those decisions. I’m glad I do not have to do that! I’m simply describing how I think about that guideline (maybe more than is necessary) while writing my abstract, to try to make sure I’m above whatever bar there is for specific results.
**My abstract ends by talking about ongoing analyses that we are doing, so it makes it clear that we haven’t fully analyzed the data yet.