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Conference Abstracts 101

by Amanda Andrews on 2019-10-11T11:11:54-03:00 in Achieve Results, Research, Searching, Citation, Grey Literature | Comments

When researching a topic, it is important to include a variety of recent and relevant information. You may find conference abstracts in your search results, or you may include them in your search if you are looking for grey literature. Conference abstracts often contain information on new and emerging trends which may not otherwise be available.

What are conference abstracts?

A conference abstract is basically a pitch for research or a project, which may or may not be accepted for presentation at an organization’s conference. The abstract is usually comprised of four sections: Introduction, Methods, Results and Conclusions. Abstracts are short, usually no more than 500 words. The conference abstract itself is a full-text item, but could also lead to a longer full-text publication about the research or project down the road. If the pitch results in the publication of a full article, that piece of literature and the original conference abstract will each have a unique citation.

A conference abstract is not considered a high-level source of evidence like a meta-analysis or systematic review. Conference abstracts are a useful source of grey literature, which can help to counteract the tendency toward exaggerated effectiveness of therapeutic interventions found in traditionally published literature (NSHA, 2019).

How do I search for conference abstracts?

Conference abstracts can be hard to find because they are not indexed in every database. PubMed, for example, does not index them (MSK Library, 2019). Conference abstracts can be found by searching in EMBASE®EMBASE® is a good place to start because it “includes conference abstracts from important biomedical, drug and medical device conferences dating back to 2009. It currently indexes 7,000+ conferences covering over 2.4 million conference abstracts” (Elsevier, 2019).

Let’s say you’re looking for abstracts from 2019 about gene therapy for cancer. Navigate to EMBASE® through Library Services’ Databases A-Z page. In the Advanced tab search box, enter terms and apply filters. When reviewing results, use Publication Type to filter by Conference Abstract.

Try this search by copying and pasting the following strategy in the main search box:

 ('cancer gene therapy'/exp OR 'cancer gene therapy') AND 2019:py AND 'conference abstract'/it

How do I identify conference abstracts in my search results?

When screening your results, look for the abstract citation to state ‘Supplement,’ as seen below.  This is a great indication that you have found a conference abstract.

Let’s recap: conference abstracts are a pitch for research or a project and are considered the full-text. Searching in EMBASE® for abstracts is a great way to ensure that you locate the literature you are interested in. Once citations are generated, look for Supplement to indicate that you have found an abstract.

Be sure to check out the Grey Literature subject guide for more advice on finding conference abstracts and other material outside of standard publishing processes. Remember: When submitting an interlibrary loan request, watch out for items that may be conference abstracts and not a full research article. As always, reach out to Library Services at any time!

Amanda Andrews

Health Sciences Librarian
Cape Breton Regional Hospital, Eastern Zone


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