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April 18, 2014

Gimme Structure

Daisiesby Stefanie

Abstracts have been addressed on the APA Style blog before (twice, in fact, and very well both times—do give them a read or reread!). The following is a humble contribution to the literature on APA Style abstracts that discusses a particular type: the structured abstract.

The structured abstract is a way of writing and formatting abstracts that is very, well, structured. Gimme structure photo Often used with empirical articles (i.e., those detailing experiments), structured abstracts include headings that run into the text and identify the different elements of the article that are described in the abstract. According to the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health,

These formats were developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s to assist health professionals in selecting clinically relevant and methodologically valid journal articles. They also guide authors in summarizing the content of their manuscripts precisely, facilitate the peer-review process for manuscripts submitted for publication, and enhance computerized literature searching. (para. 1)

The headings do count toward your word limit, which is typically somewhere in the range of 150 to 250 words (for APA journals; other publications, databases, or projects may have different limits). However, headings add around four to six words to the total, depending on which headings you use, so the strain should not be great.

Set in bold and italic type, each heading is followed by a colon and the first sentence of that subsection. The headings and their subsequent text immediately follow each other; that is, your abstract is going to be a single paragraph, so please do not hit Enter after each heading’s text. The usual headings for APA journals requiring them (with some variations; see the Instructions to Authors for each journal) are Objective, Method, Results, and Conclusion(s). The Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal author instructions provide an excellent example of abstract instructions with heading options to better fit different types of articles.

When should you use structured abstracts? When someone asks you to or if the headings help you write your abstract. You can always remove the headings on request and still be left with a strong, comprehensive abstract.

Example abstract:

Objective: In this study, we investigated the psychological effects of radical gamma-radiation-caused mutation and transformation to determine whether the transformation affects personality and mood as well as physicality. Method: The single participant filled out the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory—2 and other self-report measures assessing his state of mind, stress (Acute Stress Disorder Scale), and depression (Beck Depression Inventory). The participant was then asked to mediate an argument between 2 confederates, who had been told to not yield on any point of their entirely unreasonable positions. Once the participant had experienced a massive cellular shift triggered by adrenalin (“hulked out”), he (eventually) filled out the various self-report measures again. Results: The participant’s results showed significant differences in both personality and mood. Among other results, the participant maxed out his pretransformation Hypochondriasis scale score, whereas the score bottomed out posttransformation. Scores pre- and posttransformation were similar on the Paranoia scale, whereas Hypomania and Schizophrenia scale scores were low pretransformation and high posttransformation. Stress and depression scores were high at both testing occasions, but we observed that the madder he got, the stronger his scores became. Conclusions: Gamma radiation changes people exposed to it psychologically as well as physically; it also affects mood. More research is needed to replicate these results; participant recruitment is underway.

Photo: Viktors Ignatenko/Hemera/Thinkstock.

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