CPD: PTUK and the art of abstracts

CSP education adviser Nina Paterson offers an in-depth guide on to how to submit an abstract – with help from Fran Fitch and Katie Prangle – as this year’s Physiotherapy UK deadline looms.


Welcome to the second in this year’s series on continuing professional development. In 2018 we’ll focus on naturally occurring opportunities that allow you to demonstrate your own continuing professional development. This first article aims to help you evidence your practice. 

We’re going to look at how to submit an abstract. Although we’ll use Physiotherapy UK as our example, the principles apply to any conference. If you’re not quite ready to submit an abstract and want some encouragement or pointers to get you started, this article from 2014 will be helpful. Bookmark it and return when you’re ready.

Since that article, physiotherapy research has gone from strength to strength and Physiotherapy UK has shifted focus significantly to reflect that. The emphasis is now firmly on it being a scientific conference.  

This year, there’s a choice of three abstract themes: musculoskeletal, primary care and workforce transformation, and rehab matters. As usual, research and special interest reports are eligible and you’ll have a choice of three presentation methods: ‘platform’ (where about 10 minutes is allocated to present), ‘rapid five’ (where five minutes is allocated) and presenting a poster. 

To help you prepare, I asked CSP research adviser Fran Fitch and Katie Prangle, support officer with the Council for Allied Health Professionals Research, to explain what constitutes a good submission and their responses are reflected in the sections that follow.

Read the guidelines 

This might seem obvious, but many people make the mistake of writing their abstract first, and then have to spend more time editing to make it fit. It is much more straightforward when you read the guidance first. This outlines what is expected. Most importantly, it gives the scoring criteria against which your abstract is reviewed to help you understand what to focus on. The Physiotherapy UK website has a description of each theme – read them all carefully. 

Peer review – find a critical friend 

When you know your subject inside out, it can be difficult to see how it comes across to someone who isn’t involved in your work. Find a critical friend. Choose a colleague who isn’t involved in your work, but is perhaps familiar with your methodology or topic area, and ask them to read your finished abstract. Have them mark/rate it against the scoring criteria. They are much more likely to ask questions and/or pick up on things that aren’t clear. If they ask, it’s likely a reviewer would too. This will help you to ensure your abstract is relevant and reads well.  

Ethics – be clear on requirements

Queries/concerns over whether a piece of work should have had ethical approval is one of the main reasons for rejection. It is not enough to say you didn’t think it needed approval. You will be asked to provide a statement about how your work meets a set of ethical principles as stated in the guidelines. Make sure you follow the ethics guidance provided by the conference organiser.


Think carefully about the use of abbreviations.  Abbreviations are great for long or technical terms, but don’t over use them. Overuse interrupts the flow of the ‘story’, especially if the reader needs to keep checking what the different abbreviations mean. Don’t forget that when you do use an abbreviation you must always write it out in full first.


It might sound obvious, but this is the first thing the reader sees. The title sets the tone of your abstract. Make it interesting. Your title tells the reader what your abstract is about so make sure it’s an accurate description of the work. For example, if you are describing a feasibility study, say so. That said, don’t over-describe – be concise.     

Key messages – make every sentence count 

There’s a word limit for all abstracts. It can be tempting to provide lots of information but there just isn’t room. Make a list of the major points you want to cover in each section and start from there. Make each sentence count and if a word or sentence doesn’t add anything, don’t include it.  

Published work – look at successful abstracts

Have a look at previous successful abstracts. Get ideas from them about style and content. Every abstract from Physiotherapy UK 2017 was published in a special edition of Physiotherapy (bit.ly/2nrz52J). These will give you a good idea of the quality expected. 

Check and double check

Remember to spellcheck your abstract. Better still, ask someone to proofread it prior to submission. Once submitted an abstract can’t be amended and, if successful, it will be published with those mistakes!

Think about the format 

You can state how you would like to present your work at Physiotherapy UK. As you prepare, think about the pros and cons of each presentation method. Some research lends itself better to poster presentation, others to a rapid five or platform. It can’t be guaranteed that you will get your first choice, but it’s wise to consider this while you write the abstract so you can set the tone.

Finally, give it a go! The process of submitting is a great exercise, irrespective of the outcome. Much goes into selecting abstracts; each one is reviewed three times. Reviews are always double-blind, which means the peer reviewers and abstract authors don’t know each other’s identity. Then all results are moderated by a separate group who will also determine the presentation types offered. And – for any conference – because the process is robust, any feedback you receive will help you hone your skills for next time..


Nina Paterson CSP professional adviser

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