A 33,000 foot view: The Abstract

 Abstracts are great; abstracts are not enough!
An abstract will not give you enough information to accurately apply the study findings to practice.   An abstract typically summarizes all the other sections of the article, such as  the question the researcher wanted to answer, how the researcher collected data to answer it, and what that data showed.  This is great when you are trying to get the general picture, but you should Never assume that the abstract tells you what you need to know.
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Abstracts can mislead you IF you do not read the rest of the article.  They are only a short 100-200 words and so the authors have to leave out key information.   You may misunderstand study results if you read only the abstract.   An abstract’s 33,000 foot level FootprintsInSand
description of a study, cannot reveal the same things that you can learn from an up-close look at details.  You want to know exactly who was in the study, exactly what the researcher did, & exactly how outcomes were measured!  You want to follow the researcher’s footprints up close, not just do a fly-over.
So…what is the takeaway?  Definitely read the abstract to get the general idea.  Then read the article beginning to end.  Don’t give up reading the full article just because some parts of the study may be hard to understand.  Just read and get what you can. Then try a re-read or get some help understanding any difficult sections.   This is an important step toward EBP.   [revised from my former blogsite]
Critical thinking:  What info is missing from this abstract at this link that you would want to know before using the findings of this pain study to practice?
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25659796QUESTION
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4 thoughts on “A 33,000 foot view: The Abstract”

    1. Hi “BigRed…” I think you are referring maybe to the post right before this on finding needles in haystacks(?) is that right? If so,….then
      Yep, this is a pretty detailed way to literature search. It is designed for targeted research and not as a way to keep up with literature. The example given is just trying to get the scope of updated literature on one narrow subject. Another example, if you wanted to know who was most susceptible to falls in an inpatient setting or how staff development educators use research in their practice–then you would do this type of detailed search.
      You have a great idea that it would be nice to post something about how to keep up with literature generally. That is indeed a challenging topic. What strategies have you found helpful, or what questions do you run in to about keeping up to date generally.

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      1. I’m thinking of a clinician’s perspective. The search takes time, as do the articles, and unless you have a very narrow focus, you can’t keep up without skimming. If you look up how howe journal articles come out daily. without a very narrow clinical focus it’s impossible to keep up, even if you did nothing else 24 hours every day. This is why patients increasingly know more about their illness than their doc does: they focus on nothing else. As for me, I have broad interests and I try to maintain largely vague awareness of the literature, and even that takes up much time. We need more summarizers we can rely on: folks who gather the good stuff & boil it down.

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  1. I agree with the idea that an abstract doesn’t give specific ideas of what’s going on in the study. The reason is because I misread the articles by skipping the detailed study and I messed up my paper before. An abstract doesn’t give any specific statistics.

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